It’s been many years since we have traveled to Canada (since before they started requiring passports) so when I needed to go to International Falls to pick up a rental car, Lee and I decided to go early, see International falls, and then make the crossing into Fort Frances. Lee had been to International Falls a couple of times, but I had not,so I did a little research to see what there was to do in town. I was naturally intrigued because I saw on a map a major river ran through it, and thought there must be a falls there. Unfortunately for me, the falls had been commandeered by two paper plants (Boise Cascade on the American side and Resolute Forest Products on the other. So apparently there are man-made falls, but according to the locals you can’t really see them because they are under the bridge that crosses into Canada. 100 years ago the natural falls existed though and the locals are pretty philosophical about the fact that the largest part of the waterfront in downtown is taken up by Boise Cascade and there definitely is an industrial smell in the air. At one point I overheard a conversation between a local woman and her visitor, “Like we say, honey, as long as you smell the mill it’s the smell of prosperity.” Interesting viewpoint and pretty practical in a “mill town” of 6,154, but personally I wouldn’t want to live there. Even on a Sunday the smell really permeated everywhere outside. Let me start by setting the expectations pretty low on this post.
With the falls a bust, I had a couple of other items on my list. There is a small park in town called Smokey Bear Park that has a giant statue of Smokey the Bear and a football statue for Bronko Nagurski. I love football but wasn’t really familiar with Bronko who according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame “was the symbol of power football during the 1930s.” He was a fullback for the Chicago Bears in the 30’s and was known for his “sheer brutal line smashing.” This was back in the days when almost all players were bruisers so that’s saying something. I didn’t go into the museum though, my football interest is definitely more modern area, plus this little park is right next store to the Boise Cascade plant and the smell in the air really doesn’t encourage you to linger. No offense to anyone who lives there who might happen to read this, but I am pretty sensitive to smells and compared to everywhere else we have been in Northern Minnesota (which is blissfully pollution free) it was quite startling.
After the statues, we were looking for an outfitter. There was one in the “Top 5 Things To Do In International Falls”, but after driving in circles then stopping and walking up to the building we realized the business was no longer open. Fortunately, I had seen a couple of others as we were driving around and we stopped at Ronnings Borderland Outfitters to take a look. The store is way bigger than it looks from the outside and they have work clothes, hunting clothes, and a little bit of hiking stuff. They had just gotten in a few pairs of hiking pants and since this is something I would never want to buy without trying them on, I found a pair of Dakota Grizzly’s that looked like I could fit into them. Turned out they fit perfectly (Men’s size 34/31) and I really liked the color (Iguana green). Lee wasn’t crazy about the price ($59.99 on sale and really he may be taking this budget stuff to seriously), but he researched online and it was comparable with what they would cost at online retailers. Plus, I just don’t like buying clothes on the internet. I like to try things on and make sure they feel comfortable and these really did. After we bought my pants we walked downstairs and, wow, shoe heaven! They had a HUGE stock of hiking boots, working boots, and all kinds of Moccasins. Again, the prices weren’t rock bottom, but definitely in line with what I have seen in other places. I exercised some self-control and no shoes were bought. I would really like a pair of those fur-lined Moccasins but I can’t see spending $55 on them and although Lee and I agree at some point we need to get hiking boots, we have no idea what brand, type, etc and definitely need to research and hike more before investing in something like that.
I was hungry after the shopping and Lee knows when I’m the first of us to say “I’m hungry”, there is a ticking clock on maintaining my sweet disposition. So we headed to the Chocolate Moose, our chosen dining “experience” restaurant. I love little local places and wanted to eat some Walleye since our friend Steve had recommended it. The service was very good, the decor was awesome, and we both really like the walleye. I did skip the dark chocolate mousse desert (not a fan of dark chocolate) and instead got a very delicious milk chocolate moose pop. Had a nice time and at $25 (before tip) not too pricey for an experience lunch.
After lunch, we stopped at another outfitter hoping to find Lee some hiking pants. This place was mainly fishing and hunting equipment and the folks working there were not nearly as nice. I did like their sign outside though and ended up buying two Coughlan mosquito head nets we can slip on when things get too buggy. I could have saved $1.75 if I would have bought it at a Wal-Mart but since the nearest one is 1-1/2 hours away, I didn’t mind ponying up the money…plus supporting a local business.
So since the outfitting was a bust we decided to pop over into Fort Frances, Canada. I will admit I was a little nervous crossing the border and it turns out I had some reason to be cautious at least. First, I was surprised to see a sign for a $6 charge to cross the bridge. Since the bridge was extremely short and nothing special, and only took cash, I was suspicious. Ridiculous really to charge to cross this, but at least it was only a one way charge. This is not a major crossing and it was obvious locals moved back and forth through here. But I have to say despite the line of vehicles being long (at least 15 vehicles going into Canada) it was only 21 minutes going out and 10 minutes coming back. Also, we remembered to turn off our cell phone roaming as Linda recommended. Actually, we weren’t sure what the rules were so we just put them into airplane mode. I recommend knowing how your plan works prior to getting anywhere close to the border so you don’t inadvertently charge yourself extra fees. Also, coincidentally there was a Class A in line in front of us, and although they made them turn the engine off and an agent walked through the rig, it was quicker than I thought, taking less than 5 minutes.
Where the experience got interesting was the questions we were asked. Going into Canada we were stumped by the following questions:
- Where are you from? “Uh…..we are FT RVers who roam the country.” We got a cocked eyebrow on that one, so going back the other way we just said our “home state”, Florida which has the advantage of matching our driver’s licenses. Plus do you really want to have a long involved explanation with a customs agent???
- Whose RV are you going to fix? “Uhhhhh..whaaat?” Oh yeah, Lee has the magnetic signs on his truck for RV repair work. “Oh no we are just going to explore a bit not working on anyone’s vehicle.” This we got grilled on a bit, next time leave the signs at home and this was a non-issue when we returned to the US side.
- Do you have any eggs or poultry with you? “Uhhhh…no.” But I had to think about it, and frankly we should have checked the rules prior to crossing.
So there were a couple of uncomfortable moments but we made it through so thought we were OK. Coming back we had totally different questions.
- Are you bringing anything back with you? “Yes, we bought some potato chips.” which she didn’t seem to care about. Again, should definitely have known the rules before buying stuff.
- Where did you get that firewood? OK this one was bad. We carry a significant amount of wood in the truck at any time and the US agent was surprised they let us into Canada with it. (The Canadian agent never left his chair so he probably didn’t see it). Lee told the story of where he had gotten the wood and she seemed a bit bemused, stating “I can’t believe you made that up, so it must be true.” So we got lucky twice and were allowed to bring the wood back into the US but we could have lost $40-50 worth of wood either way.
So, lesson learned, no such thing as a “simple” border crossing in today’s world and a little bit of research prior to each trip is in order. Once we got to Fort Frances Lee turned on our GPS and I was really pleased that it not only worked,it also immediately translated our speeds into kilometers and still gave speed warnings. We weren’t sure what to do, so Lee said “Let’s stop at the grocery store and check it out.”. That was interesting as the prices were really good in some areas (especially with the exchange rate) and not so good for others. Plus we were fascinated by the new brand names, different packaging for established brands (Oreo’s had a cool package), and the new flavors of certain items like Lay’s potato chips. We bought about $27 worth of chips and snacks and used our American Express Gold Card which I vaguely remembered did the exchange for free (not 100% sure about that though.) After that we just drove around a little and looked at the town. It’s waterfront area was much nicer than the International Falls side and apparently people are much hardier as there were folks swimming on the 75 degree day. I guess it’s all relative.
So it was an OK day but sometimes I plan days and they are kind of a bust. That’s part of the story though. Sometimes you start a day with low expectations and end up being totally wowed, but other days you go in thinking things will be amazing and not so much. Lee enjoyed it way more than I did, but I felt vaguely uneasy the entire time we were in Canada. Hopefully that will change with more crossings, but I did feel pretty unprepared, and really didn’t like not knowing the rules. I am traveling to Louisville for business this week, so you won’t see anything from me for a little while.
- Be familiar with your cell plan rules prior to getting close to an international border.
- Use your home state to answer the question where are you from when leaving the country.
- Take magnetic work signs off your truck prior to crossing the border so they don’t think you are working in their country.
- Check the restricted product rules prior to making the crossing. These do change.
- Remove wood from your vehicle prior to making the crossing
Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Search Amazon.com here