KINGSTON, Ontario, Canada — In the past, I have often written in this newspaper’s pages (and in the Kingston Whig-Standard on my side of the border) of the historic importance of the inspiring visit to our joint area by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938.
It was Aug. 18 of that year and he — along with my nation’s prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King — officially opened the Thousand Islands Bridge that unites us to this very day.
Before the bridge was dedicated, here in Kingston, FDR was honored at Queen’s University, offering inspiring words for all Canadians
But now, and in the uncertain future our respective jurisdictions face due to the COVID-19 disease, it is crucial we continue to recall and rededicate ourselves to the spirit of friendship, family and neighborly pride FDR’s visit here represented.
“This bridge stands as an open door,” the patrician-president from Hyde Park said to thousands of Canadians and Americans as the bridge was opened. “There will be no challenge at the border and no guard to ask a countersign. Where the boundary is crossed the only words must be, ‘Pass, friend.’”
President Roosevelt’s words rang in my head as Canada and the United States seamlessly closed the border to all but commercial traffic and essential workers until this crisis ends. In only 22 hours, our two federal governments crafted a deal that might have taken other countries months to conclude.
At the same time, again seamlessly, Americans in Canada will be able to return and thousands of Canadians will be making the same homecoming journey. By any standards of diplomacy and foreign affairs, our governments have — as they have throughout our history — set an example that other nations can only dream of emulating.
At the same time, I have been thinking locally. Since I attended university at Queen’s, I have taken for granted my frequent trips over the border to Watertown. Along the way, I have made friends in your city, enjoyed your restaurants, learned of your history and more.
Not once in almost 40 years have I felt, while in Watertown and Jefferson County, a “foreigner.”
To me, therefore, it seems natural that citizens of Kingston, Ontario, and Watertown, N.Y., strengthen our ties even further at this difficult time. Many of our links, for example, involve both “essential and non-essential” visits to our respective cities and regions.
Our tourism and restaurant industries face the biggest economic challenges we can imagine. To assist these vital sectors, why don’t we look past the coronavirus, together, and plan for a better tomorrow?
I called Vito’s Gourmet in Watertown. I laid out my credit card and bought a gift certificate.
I am already looking forward to the day, when all this is over, of driving over to visit Vito’s.
On that day, I am confident the deli will be filled with Kingstonians and I expect, at the same time, our friends in Watertown will be back on my side of the border filling Kingston’s restaurants.
Maybe Watertown and area residents (and Kingstonians) might do the same? You could call over to a Kingston and area business and buy a gift certificate in the days ahead.
It’s a small thing.
The sort of gesture a neighbor makes when a friend is in need.
While supporting local businesses (and the health care community) in our own communities is the top priority, extending the symbolic hand of friendship and assistance across the border should follow.
“A boundary,” Franklin Roosevelt said at Clayton on that day so long ago, “is a gateway, not a wall.”
Wise words from a great president. Let’s now truly demonstrate their meaning.
Arthur Milnes, a journalist and public historian, is a frequent contributor to the Watertown Daily Times. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, his books include studies, from a Canadian perspective, of the presidencies of George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Franklin Roosevelt.