Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


A visit to Bordertown...

Posted 2/14/17 (Tue)

In 1989, CTV began airing a western drama called Bordertown that was set on the 49th Parallel with half a town called Pemmican in the United States (Montana) and half in Canada (Saskatchewan).

When the western border was surveyed in 1870s, the name of the fictitious town, that had a U.S. Marshall, a Mountie and a French female doctor, was changed to Bordertown.

The show aired for five years and later went into syndication. It remains available on You Tube and can be purchased on DVD.

That’s the Hollywood version, but there are actual places that have names, that straddle the international boundary, including one community in North Dakota.

Perhaps the best known bordertown is that of Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec.

It was considered one town until a border fence went up in 2007 and a common street between the two nations was closed in 2009.

An NBC news segment showed there is one house in this community that is partially in Derby Line and part of it is in Stanstead.

The town shared just about everything, including water, sewer lines, sporting events and money.

Today they are split up because after 9/11, criminal activity in this small, sleepy colonial town began to increase.

Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario are the largest communities that straddle the U.S./Canada border. Detroit, of course, is a big city and Windsor takes full advantage of that, essentially being a de facto suburb of Detroit.

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario are also on the international boundary and share a lot of common bonds including a massive bridge that takes you across the border.

International Falls, Minn., and Fort Frances, Ontario are connected by nothing more than the Rainy River bridge. Commerce happens between the two communities daily despite an international boundary in the middle.

Here in North Dakota, the community of Portal, in Burke County, straddles the border and shares that border with North Portal, Saskatchewan.

It has a golf course where you can play a round of golf in two countries, the communities have similar telephone prefixes; Portal 926 and North Portal 927, but with different area codes, Despite having 701 and 306 area codes, calling across the border to either town is a local call.

We can only imagine how people in these communities move freely about. It might be a little tricky in Detroit or Windsor, but in some of these places like Derby Line and Portal, everybody knows everybody, including Border Patrol agents, so it’s less of a burden to go to Canada to have cake and coffee at Aunt Mildred’s house.

Social events are just one aspect of the movement of people between Portal and North Portal. They sit between, and are on the main route, between Minot and Regina.

When we consider commerce, the combined population of Portal and North Portal is less than 300, yet it is the second-most traveled of 18 ports of entry in North Dakota.

In addition, a major Canadian Pacific rail line connects the two communities and the two countries and trains roll across the border on a daily basis upon electronic monitoring.

Looking further west where Bordertown was supposed to be located, Sweetgrass, Mont., shares a port of entry with Coutts, Alberta.

Much like Portal and North Portal, the 49th Parallel is the only thing between these two communities and is a major port between two larger communities; Lethbridge, Alberta and Great Falls, Mont., with Shelby just south of Sweetgrass.

Several years ago, American farmers protested at that border crossing, denouncing Canadian grain coming into the United States.

We occasionally see or hear of strange circumstances at our ports of entry, like someone trying to ship a major amount of drugs or weapons.

About a year ago, a man who kidnapped a child in Soldotna, Alaska, tried crossing through Portal into the United States but was taken into custody.

None of these border towns are anything like the Hollywood version of rough and tumble, but Canada Customs and the U.S. Border Patrol are always vigilant in case trouble erupts.

Those agents sometimes get a bad rap but imagine if they weren’t there. Imagine if there were just pylons or crossbucks at border crossings. What then?