THUNDER BAY — It’s just a matter of time before the U.S. opens its border to Canadians and northeastern Minnesota’s Grand Portage Lodge and Casino is full of anticipation for that day.
Brian Sherburne, enterprise administrator with the border-area destination on the shore of Lake Superior, says COVID-19 has been tough on everybody on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. Normally, the operation attracts many visitors from Thunder Bay, Ont., which is less than an hour’s drive away.
“This summer has been better than last summer because Isle Royale has opened back up and a lot of that southern traffic that goes out to the Isle Royale National Park has returned,” he said. “But we do miss that cross-border traffic.”
Sherburne says in a normal year they receive many people, particularly fishermen, who are on their way up to the resorts in Canada, stopping in and spending a night at the lodge when they go back and forth.
“We also have the people travelling south, and that obviously hasn’t happened,” Sherburne said. “That’s been little harder without having Thunder Bay and surrounding areas having been able to come down like they normally would. We’re hoping the U.S. decides to come out with more positive news versus what they did by extending for another month.”
Sherburne says they had hoped that the U.S. would follow with the Canadian border opening on Aug. 9. Instead, the U.S. has extended border restrictions until at least Aug. 21.
“We are also dealing with staff shortages and that’s been a problem all along the North Shore,” he said. Sherburne says this is due in part of not being able to access international visa workers that usually come to the area. He says there are a few of these workers in the area, yet none are working at the lodge and casino.
“The service is going to be challenged a little bit because we are not fully staffed as we would like to be, but everyone’s still going to be able to come down and play the slot machines and enjoy the lodging,” he said.
“A lot of people get out of town from Thunder Bay because it’s so close and it’s great to get out of town for a night or two to a place that is less than an hour away. We miss everyone coming down as well.”
Sherburne says they have been receiving telephone calls, emails, texts and social media messages from people hoping to soon visit.
“We are so looking forward to the day when we can welcome our Canadian friends back,” he said. “This is a symbiotic relationship and with all the northern businesses across the southern border of Canada being closed, it’s been a challenge for both sides and we would sure like to see that day when we could return back to normal.”
The lodge features a casino, dining room, bar, lodging, marina, trading post, local grocery and convenience store, gas station and Hollow Rock Resort, which is a small group of lakeside cabins a few kilometres down the road. There is an RV park that features water, sewer and electrical hookup on site as well.
Sherburne says there is a highway construction project going on and the highway is being completely replaced.
“They are moving along quickly so people will see a new road when they come to the U.S. side.”
The RV park is currently filled with the workers from the highway project.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal