icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Research & Thoughts

Trial by Miscommunication: The Canadian Border

There I am, sitting in a little room facing a glass screen, waiting for the immigration official. What did I do wrong? Why do I appear suspicious to them?


The whole exciting (to me) reason for coming to Thunder Bay, Ontario, was because finally I got someone to say, yes, he could use my help in logging in the copper material and coming in person would be the only way I could see what he has, because he doesn't have the help he needs to input the copper artifacts and email it to me.


Basically what I offer when I go to museums is to photograph what they have, find the locations associated, come up with a type, enter the material into my database, and then return to them a larger database of materials around where their materials were found so that they would have what they have in context with the bigger picture.


I've done this around the US without problem or issue, and now have over 66,000 (now over 85,000) copper artifacts logged in. It's taken over a decade because I don't do this exclusively. Nor do I get paid to help them out. It's all in return for logging in the material.


Seems like a no-brainer, that any museum should want this kind of help. But because I had a job, it took me a while to make the commitment to Thunder Bay, Ontario.


This was a 9.5 hour drive from where I live, but I made my reservations, checked my passport—four months from expiring, which made me nervous. But nervous or not, I was finally going to get this done.


I didn't expect to be refused entrance into Canada.


I love Lake Superior. The whole route up Minnesota from Duluth toward border crossing is heavenly—60 mph all the way, kind of like visiting Door County. I wished I could have stopped any number of places along the way, but no. Stay on target. Stuff to do in the room that night to get ready for tomorrow. I didn't have any Canadian money nor did I know even if my laptop would work on the plugs in the motel room there. Or if my phone would work. But I'd work it out.


 What was important was getting into Canada, getting that material logged in and making a video somewhere to talk about Ontario data for the documentary.


The gas prices edged up to $3, but you don't mind because you're happy to find a gas station. Two Harbors is a good place for that. And there's a lovely rest area just before there that I didn't get to stop at. I found a small beach to wander on but it appears the beach rock here isn't as nice as the south shore of Lake Superior in upper Michigan. Took a few photos of the wonderful scenery. Almost impossible to do with a cellphone I had.


And then I got to the border. Not expecting trouble crossing. It appears most people have to pull over so that their "stories" can be looked at a little closer. The people I saw ahead of me were all approved to go.  But I was sent to talk to an immigration officer who took me into a little room with a glass partition between us. Did he think I was going to hit him?


"I don't get your story? What do you mean you're going to help the museum with their collection?"


"I'm going to log in their artifacts into my database. I have a master database and they said they didn't have anyone who could compile their data so they could email it to me. So I offered to do it for them."


"So they're paying you?"


"No, I'm doing it for free."




"Well, it's how I get data from museums. I've visited over 300 so far and have 66,000 in the database. But this is my first time in Canada and I'm very excited."


"So you're cataloging their collection for them?"


"Well, I'll be giving them the data I compile. I always give back better than what I get."


"And what are you going to do with this?"


"Well, eventually, I'll put together some resource manuals."


"So you've come here to do work for this museum. I need to see the email you got from them."


So I run out to my car and got it. I waited quietly while he read it.


"Yeah, the way this reads, he would have used summer help to do this. So basically you're coming to Canada to do something that could have been done by a Canadian."


I began to tense even more than I was just sitting in this little cubicle. "No one can do what I do."


"You said you're cataloging. A summer intern can do that."


It all went downhill from there. He couldn't let me in Canada to take a job away from a summer intern. Never mind that I tried to point out it was already mid-August, nor did he care about my logic that they admitted they couldn't find any intern.


He told me my option—get the guy to rewrite the email so it doesn't sound like I'm working for him.


I would lose a night's hotel because it was too late to cancel – of course my phone didn't work at that point anyway.


I finally said, I don't know what more I can tell you. He wouldn't listen to more detail about the CAMD, didn't care. That seemed not to matter.


I left the room in tears, and went back out to wait for him to finish processing the paperwork, or so he said, so that I could be ejected from Canada.


I waited and waited, tried to stop crying, went to the bathroom. Finally asked how much longer. He waved at me and disappeared. I finally figured he wanted me back in that ugly little room.


"So what you're doing, are you working on their computer system?"


"Heavens no. I don't have that kind of time. I'm entering his data into my database, my spreadsheet, and then I give him a copy with his materials entered and all of Ontario, to put his material into context."


"So it'll still have to be entered into his system?"


"I suppose so."


"Well, why didn't you say so?" Finally he says, "I understand now. You can go."


"What? Into Canada? Don't you stamp my passport or give me a paper or something?"


"No, just go. You're free to go."


No apologies for the 45-minute delay or working me into such a frenzy.  Just go. So I left. Watching my back for miles, thinking I might have misunderstood.


Because no one said Welcome to Canada.

Be the first to comment