Author: Jeff Z. Klein
I’m a Buffalonian, and I miss Canada.
It’s gotten worse right around now, since it’s almost July 1, but I’ve missed Canada since the border closed back in April. I miss driving over the Peace Bridge for broasted chicken. I miss Jersey Milk chocolate bars at the corner variety shop. I miss “kilometres per hour,” lavish wineries set in lush fields and looking for the kosher aisle at the Sobey’s in Fort Erie and being told by the store manager “What do you think this is, Spadina Avenue?”
To a Buffalonian, not having Canada anymore is a little like having a wall thrown up in the middle of Berlin — your neighbors and friends and loved ones are suddenly cut off from you, even though we all share the same culture and speak the same language (well, almost).
Mind you, this particular “wall” is entirely reasonable — Canadians don’t want Americans’ higher Covid-19 infection and death rates. Even now, when we’re doing pretty well in Erie and Niagara counties here on the east side of the river, we’ve still got more than twice the Covid rates they’ve got on the west side in the Niagara Peninsula. To say nothing of any car with a Florida, Arizona or Texas license plate that might cross our bridges.
So yes, I get why the border is closed. But for a Buffalonian to be excluded from half our shared region — it sucks.
I don’t have a cottage in Thunder Bay or Windmill Beach or Point Abino (it must really suck for those Buffalonians), I just like being in Canada, or, when I’m not there, knowing I can stroll over as easily as I can get from Buffalo to Kenmore. Heck, I’ve walked over the Rainbow Bridge to get a better view of the Horseshoe Falls, and once my wife jogged from our house on College Street to Ming Teh just because she got tired of always jogging to Canalside.
But it’s not simply the proximity and convenience that I miss. Canada fills our souls with something more, something valuable and enriching, and we Buffalonians are privileged to have it as part of our DNA.
Canada shows us what it’s like to have a society built on official principles of welcome, inclusiveness and mutual respect, reverence for the environment and recognition of — and penance for — the past and present injustices some of us have been forced to endure.
Canada gives us something most Americans don’t have: perspective.
Canada gives us something most Americans don’t have: perspective. It’s no coincidence that some of the best comedy of Americans’ lifetime came from Torontonians (Lorne Michaels, Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey) who grew up watching Buffalo TV.
Most Buffalonians, of course, have no clue who Doug Ford is, or Murda Beatz, or even Matty Matheson.* Or what a riding is, or land acknowledgments, or butter tarts.** That’s because there’s no one on this side of the river who’ll tell us who these people are or what these things mean — the Buffalo News and the local TV stations only talk about “Western New York,” not the entire Niagara Frontier.
Yet despite this, Canada continues to seep into the fabric of our being. Buffalonians, unlike people in the rest of America, drink Labatt and Molson. We play hockey, lacrosse and curling. We see Canadian flags flying alongside the Stars and Stripes everywhere and don’t even give it a second thought.
Standing alongside Canada, I like to think, saves Buffalo from being a replica of some medium-size Rust Belt burg in Ohio, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.
Standing alongside Canada, I like to think, saves Buffalo from being a replica of some medium-size Rust Belt burg in Ohio, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. Being where we are makes Buffalonians a little more reserved, sure, but also a little more caring and embracing of difference than people in some random U.S. city out there where people refuse to wear masks during a pandemic.
Standing where we do on the world’s longest unguarded border, more than anything else, is what makes Buffalo unique.
But now that border is closed, for the first time in my life or anyone else’s, and that’s why I miss Canada. So on Wednesday, Canada Day, I’ll head over to Unity Island and find a spot right on the river, just north of the International Railroad Bridge, crank up Giant FM as Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman count down the 100 best Canadian songs of all time, and douse my takeout order of french fries in vinegar.
And I’ll gaze across at Fort Erie from my picnic spot in Buffalo and raise a bottle of Labatt, both sides of the river my home and native land.
Jeff Z. Klein is the writer and executive producer of the Heritage Moments series on WBFO.
* Doug Ford is the premier of Ontario; Murda Beatz the 26-year-old Fort Erie–born producer for Travis Scott, Gucci Mane, Drake and other top hiphop acts; Matty Matheson of Fort Erie is the TV star gonzo chef with two New York Times bestselling cookbooks and hundreds of thousands of YouTube and Instagram followers.
** A riding is an electoral district for the federal or provincial parliament; a land acknowledgment is a statement made before most public gatherings acknowledging the Indigenous territory on which the gathering is taking place; butter tarts are Ontario’s ubiquitous dessert pastry.