A 10-minute drive over the Blue Water Bridge is normally all that separates Sarnia’s Jim Sneddon from his wife in Port Huron, Michigan.
Or it was until COVID-19 closed the international border.
These days, it takes the Imperial Oil retiree nine hours and $700 to see his spouse Sue Noetzel.
The couple married in 2010 and Noetzel, a U.S. citizen, chose to stay in Port Huron where she works full time as a hair stylist.
Sneddon keeps an apartment in Sarnia and was crossing the border regularly to spend several days a week with his partner.
It was a great setup, until it wasn’t, he jokes.
“I was in Michigan when we heard the border was closing in March so I decided to come back to Sarnia,” explained the 68-year-old.
“I knew Canadians can always come home, but I wanted to avoid going into quarantine.”
Once the border closed, returning Canadians were required to self-quarantine for two weeks, subject to phone calls and in-person checks to confirm compliance.
Sneddon and Noetzel have waited ever since for the border to reopen, never imagining it would be so long.
“After a while, it was torture,” he said. “They just kept extending it. In June I hadn’t seen her in three months and made the decision to go over.”
Though Canada has loosened the rules for border-crossing families, Noetzel hasn’t travelled to Sarnia because she needs to work and can’t quarantine this side of the border for the required two weeks.
Sneddon soon learned their best option was for him to fly from an international airport.
“You can’t use regional airports like the one is St. Clair County because there’s no Customs there,” he said.
He paid a driver $100 to take him to Pearson Airport, and $500 for a return flight to Detroit.
A friend picked him up in Detroit and drove him to Port Huron.
“It was eight hours wearing a mask and that was hard, but I was looking forward to seeing Sue,” he said.
Sneddon said the airports in Toronto and Detroit were a study in contrasts. Pearson was nearly empty, without any shops or restaurants open.
“But everything was open in Detroit when I got there in June,” he said. “It was like nothing was going on, just completely different.”
After 61 days in Port Huron, Sneddon had to return to Ontario to fill a prescription, keep a doctor’s appointment, and make plans to see his children and grandkids.
He had expected to retrace the air route back to Sarnia but learned of a faster way.
“I called up City Cab in Port Huron and they have a driver who is native and can cross the border freely, without having to quarantine,” he said.
“He picked me up with a mask on, drove over the bridge, dropped me off at my door, and drove back.
“Border Services didn’t ask a single question after he handed him his status card.”
The 10-minute cab ride cost Sneddon another $100. It was strange, he said, being the only car on the Blue Water Bridge and seeing just a truck or two on one of North America’s busiest international border crossings.
Sneddon went directly into quarantine and walked out of his apartment for the first time on Aug. 30.
“Quarantine was alright until around the tenth day,” he said. “The isolation started to get to me after a while.”
But he plans to make the long trip again next month if the border is still closed.
“It’s Sue’s birthday on Oct. 2 and we plan to celebrate it together.”