Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is editor and publisher of the Stanstead Journal.
Posted 01.04.03
Stanstead, Quebec


Stand up for Emerson, Manitoba

This month it's Emerson, Manitoba. Next month it could be Beebe, Quebec.

We learned this week that the federal government plans to shut down the Canada Customs office in tiny Emerson, population 700. Traffic will be rerouted about a mile west to a second busier and more modern port outside of town

About 65 vehicles come across from Noyes, Minnesota into Emerson every day, compared to 1056 who come in on the other side of the Red River from Pembina North Dakota.

Naturally, the residents and business owners in Emerson are not pleased. In news reports, mayor Elmer Penner quite rightly stated that closing the door into his community will not only mean a loss of business but a loss of identity for the town.

The Emerson pharmacy has customers from small towns on the border in Minnesota. Travellers from that state wanting to get into Canada will have to travel about 10 miles out of their way if the small port is closed. But it's not just about drugs or, as one newspaper put it, cheap Canadian haircuts. The line and the back-and-forth across it are a huge part of who we are along the border. The border gives us the sense that we are both at the end of something and at the start of something else. We are gatekeepers, welcomers of strangers, and, in many ways, protectors.

In Emerson, the history of protection is not restricted to the presence of Canada Customs. Known as "Manitoba's First City," Emerson was home to the original headquarters of the Northwest Mounted Police. Like many border towns, Emerson has a proud heritage of standing on guard for thee.

Canada Customs and Revenue Agency argues that the larger facility on the North Dakota border has "advanced technology for superior customs clearance of people and goods." If the federal government closes the border at Emerson, what is to prevent small crossings like Beebe or Highwater from being shut down? Why not shut downtown Rock Island and divert traffic up to Autoroute 55? With Customs planning a major renovation of its 55 facility - complete with said "advanced technology" - the possibility is a real one.

The online news clearing house Bourque Newswatch has taken the initiative of calling on Canadians to express their concerns about the Emerson closure to Elinor Caplan, the minister responsible for Customs and Revenue ( or local MP Vic Toews ( As fellow border denizens, we should lend our support. Killing border towns in the name of efficiency is unacceptable.