Once upon a time, in the northern American state of Vermont, there lived this rich land owning family – the Haskells. Now, there were many rich white guys in America then but this one family kinda stood out and let me explain why….
The Haskells were really really rich. They owned farm land on both sides of the border with Canada that had been theirs since long before the border even existed. The scion, Col. Horace Stewart Haskell had a bright idea for a legacy to leave behind when he passed, one that has never been repeated hence. It would be meant to stand out as a symbol of brotherhood and amity between Canada and America.
Thus, in 1901 Horace Haskell began building a library on his land and chose an interesting spot to build it on – the border. Yes, the Haskells built the library and an opera house deliberately on the border so folks from both nations could stroll in and use it with equal access.
The library has two different addresses, one American (93 Caswell Avenue, Derby Line, Vermont, USA 05830) and the other Canadian (1 rue Church (Church Street), Stanstead, Quebec, Canada J0B 3E2). It even has two different telephone codes (+1-802-873-3022 and +1-819-876-2471).
The library collection and the opera stage are located in Stanstead, but the main entrance and the opera seats are located in Derby Line. Due to this, the Haskell Library is known as the only library in America that has no books and the opera is called the only opera house in Canada that has no seats. Painted on the floor, through the middle of everything, is a thick black line that designates the border.
The Canada-US international border – the thick black line – in the middle of reading room of the Haskell Library and Opera
There’s no entrance on the Canadian side, just an emergency exit. All patrons must use the main entrance on the American side, in order to access the building. The American customs hut is situated further along Main Street, beyond the turning at Caswell Street and therefore folks from Canada can enter through the US door without needing to report to US Customs. Immediately upon crossing the border, they have to hang a left on Caswell Avenue and drive the short distance to the library entrance. And they have to return to Canada immediately upon leaving the building, without turning left on Main Street.
The customs guys on both sides are the sweetest I have ever known. I didn’t take the turning at Caswell Ave because I was listening to Garth Brooks on the car stereo and you know Garth can have your undivided attention. I carried on a short distance, up Main Street and began feeling this strange tingle up my spine that happens when you fuck up big time.
Already on the edge because I was crossing the border, I was driving at crawl speed, when this Ford150 with flashing lights overtook me and signalled me to pull over. It had U.S. Border Patrol emblazoned on it. The color of my skin is brown and I have a funny name. Both attributes conjured up the image of a dank dark cell in a joint with a funny Spanish name somewhere in eastern Cuba and me dying of old age in it.
But like I said, those border agents were courteous and sweet. “We have this happen almost every day”, they said to me,” Canadians take a wrong turn and blunder in, no big deal.”
They went through my passport (which I had had the foresight to bring along). Working for a large US Defense Contractor helped. In their minds, if I was building engines for the F35 Lightning, surely I was up and up. They let me turn around and go back without even stamping my passport, like it never happened. Double Wow!
Since I had overshot the turning, I had to go through Canadian customs. Two agents checked the car with a fine-toothed comb. One of them said, “We have to do this because of the sudden increase in the refugee influx, gun running and opioid smuggling. We have a crisis on our hands.”
Gun running through the Haskell border came into the glare of the spotlight in 2010. Over a couple of years, this Canadian – guy named Vlachos – smuggled in thousands of handguns using a novel means. His American partners in crime would legally purchase the guns on their side and leave them in back packs, inside the toilet in the Haskell Library. Vlachos would walk in from the Canadian side, pick up the backpack and walk back into Canada.
It was when video surveillance of the foot traffic across the border began that agents started noticing this Canadian guy visiting the library a bit too frequently, walking in empty-handed and walking out with a backpack on his shoulders. They nabbed him on his next sortie. Dumb bastard.
In the aftermath, both the American as well as the Canadian border services, attempted to shut down free access to the library, the only thing that had put the two towns on the tourist maps. But the Derby Line and Stanstead townsfolk would have none of it. The warmth and friendliness in there is incredible. Thus, so far the Haskell Library has remained freely accessible to Canadians.
The Haskell Library is not all that is novel about this joint. Two kilometers to the west there’s a 500-meter stretch of Canusa Street that is actually on the border, ie: the median road divider is the international border. Oh yeah, if you are driving west, you’re in Canada and if you’re driving back east, you are in the US. The thing to remember if you are Canadian is that when you are on the US side of the road driving east, you must drive on and not get out of the car under any circumstances.
Canusa Street, Stanstead
Wait, I’m not done yet. I forgot my passport at the Canadian customs hut and blissfully drove away. It was around twennie minutes later – I was on the 55, already 30kms from Stanstead making my way back to Montreal, when I noticed a car with lights flashing signalling me to pull over. Behind him was a larger truck, also with flashing lights. Both vehicles were unmarked.
“You forgot your passport at customs, Sir. Follow me,” the cop said. She was gorgeous, a cross between Amy Adams and Emma Watson. I followed her back to the Stanstead police station where they took a look at my ID and handed me back my passport, no questions asked.
I apologized profusely and thanked ‘Amy Watson’ for the trouble she took, though inwardly I wished she had slammed me in a cell instead and beaten me blue with a birch branch.
Must all my posts end with sex?