Point Roberts – International Boundary Vacation Zone

Last weekend I had the good fortune to be invited to a friend’s beachhouse in Point Roberts, just across the border from Twassen, British Columbia. The border, viewed from Google Maps is quite a distinctive sight – full modern development on the north side gives way to 50’s beach houses and forest cover just south of the border. This distinctive difference is felt much more intensly in person. Crossing the border is always a magical experience – both sides are already halfway to the other, a kind of in-between space where everyone is on the way to somewhere else. But Point Roberts doesn’t even conform to this odd norm – once you cross the border you are already at your destination. Sort of an American Canada – you purchase fuel in US dollars, but in units of liters rather than gallons. The residents have no choice to submit to a sort of perpetual invasion – the clerk may have an opinion on some visitors’ poor understanding of English – but it seems futile, like a shopkeeper in occupied France complaining about the German soldiers’ poor grasp of French.

The border itself is guarded but not fortified. At the beach, we sat and floated in the water literaly less than 100 feet from the Candian border. The borer is not marked with a fence or even an angry sign – just a concrete lighthouse like structure emblazened with a “C”. If one didn’t know this was an international border, there would be no reason to assume that the “C” stood for the name of a country or that it was anything but a navigational marker.

The point is home mostly to summer cottages. I thought initially that this was pointless – why have a cottage in what is effectively suburban Vancouver? Boy was I wrong – the international border makes certain not only that development on the south side of the line is more New England than Suburban Vancouver, but also that a strange force isolates you from the rest of the lower mainland. While you may be able to see the Alex Fraser bridge, it is disconnected from your reality – like East from West Berlin standing next to each other, no wall, but the same mysterious groundless arbitrary yet perfect and unchanging borderline.

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