Northern inhospitality and embarrassment in Gore Bay

To the Expositor:

Times are tough, the dollar is up, the price of gas is up and tourism is down. The number of US visitors is way down—good thing our Canada Customs officers are protecting our commerce and industries!

I was sitting on my boat, tied up in Gore Bay for a two-day stop earlier this August and noticed three customs officers hovering. There were two boats from Michigan tied up beside us, but the occupants were not around; they were in town spending a few bucks. When they came back, our fearless officers were waiting, eager to do their jobs.

I don’t think the boats were travelling together, they just happened to be positioned side by side in a section reserved for transient boaters. But our officers in dark blue, with bullet proof vests and side arms on their hips, obviously had nothing better to do that afternoon. They spent a half hour on one boat, going through every nook and cranny, and giving the man and wife couple a welcome to the friendly north they will never forget. But the second boat got it even worse.

I think the ordeal took over an hour, possibly an hour and a half. Three older gentlemen—a retired dentist, a retired judge, and a friend who knew how to handle the boat—were on a two week junket into the North Channel. They checked properly into Canada the previous week. Unfortunately, they dinged a prop two days before, and rather than trying to have one shipped over, they scooted back over to where one of the fellows lived (I believe Strawberry Island) and picked up a replacement. They went back to Gore Bay to resume their adventure, and that’s when our fine officers decided to protect our sovereign rights and economy.

After going through the boat thoroughly, the officers huddled on shore. All of us Canadians on the dock were embarrassed by the spectacle, three older gentlemen (late 60s, early 70s) being rattled and shaken by three officers with apparently little else to do.

I went into town to get my haircut, and chatted with the proprietor. I asked how business was, and she said that tourist traffic was way down. She said that parking used to be sparse on the street every summer morning, but it wasn’t this year. She also mentioned that the marina always appeared to be more empty than full and that she saw few Americans, far fewer than previous years. The dollar, the price of gas, and the state of the US economy were what she reasoned was the cause.

I got back to the dock and noticed that the three gentlemen were still standing on the dock, looking uneasy. It turns out that our finest weren’t through with them yet and still held on to their passports. A moment later, one officer came to the dock and instructed the boat owner to follow him and to “bring your wallet.”

Fifteen minutes later, and $1,000 lighter, a shaken old gentleman came back to his boat, wondering why he ever bothered to come visit Canada.

My wife and I, and a couple other Canadian boaters spent the evening with these folks, and the people on the other US boat, and tried to show them the best side of Canadians. Although I am sure they will not forget our attempts at redemptive hospitality, they will never forget being treated as if they were criminals. Near tears, the retired dentist said “I told them the truth, and for that I got a $1,000 fine.” All of them vowed it would be their last visit to Canada, and all of them vowed that they would share their story at the marinas that they boat from.

The irony is that earlier in the trip, we had asked other boaters where we should tie up for provisions. “Gore Bay” is the answer we heard most often, so Gore Bay it was. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, easily the most effective and powerful form of advertising. Unfortunately, at two major Michigan marinas, the word of mouth about Gore Bay, and boating to the Manitoulin in general, won’t be positive. And you can thank three of your federal tax-paid civil servants for it.

Somebody, perhaps the chamber of commerce, needs to remind these civil servants that the purpose of their job (as customs officers) is to protect the country’s economy, not to hurt it. And perhaps someone should apologize to these gentlemen, and invite them back to receive our finest hospitality. An idea I thought about later would be for local businesses to offer them $1,000 in gift certificates to come back and visit and experience “true Manitoulin hospitality.” Even if they never came back to take up the offer, they would at least talk about it and tell their boating friends.

The best advertising is word of mouth, and this situation can easily be turned from a negative to a positive, just with an offer of this kind. A gift certificate from a restaurant or two, a hardware store, a hair salon, a marina, perhaps from a few of the towns on the North Channel. Just an idea, but for sure somebody should be making a trip to the local federal building and lodging a significant complaint. Overzealous “enforcement” (if you can call it that) is completely counter-productive, and its effects can take years to undo. A warning would have been far more appropriate, especially to people such as these folks, who have never had any history of trouble in this country, or any other.

If this is something that local business wants to pursue to remedy, I will forward any contact information or messages to the gentleman in question. You can reach me at the email address below.

Paul Hogie