Sunday, June 24, 2007

Library at center of Quebec-Vermont border battle.

Today's Boston Globe reports on a plan to tighten security at the U.S.-Canada border that has upset residents of two close-knit communities that share that border, Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec:
Residents of [Derby Line, Vermont] and neighboring Stanstead, Quebec, are proud of the elegant granite hall that straddles the border between them. It is their rarest jewel: The Haskell Free Library and Opera House, built a century ago as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Canada and shared ever since by citizens of the two countries.

Canadians and Americans borrow books and watch plays side by side at the library, which was deliberately built half in one country and half in the other. No guards are stationed on the quiet, shady streets around the building, and Canadians who cross into Vermont to enter the library do not need to show their passports at a border station, as they do when crossing for any other purpose. Inside the library, where a strip of black tape on the floor marks the international boundary, patrons wander unchecked between the two countries on their way from the stacks to the birch-paneled reading room.

But smugglers of illegal immigrants have begun to notice the unique features of the neighborhood, say agents from both countries who enforce the border in the area, located less than a minute's drive from Interstate 91.

Smugglers are taking advantage of three unguarded side streets near the library to ferry human cargo in both directions, border officials say. The streets must be closed to traffic, officials insist, to help them stem a rising tide of illegal immigration.

The plan has provoked an emotional outcry in these two small border towns, where people pride themselves on their easy coexistence. Their countries may be preoccupied with terrorism and the need for tighter borders, but here, many residents say the change would break down their most valued traditions.

Read the rest here. Before I entered the Society, I used to enjoy stopping in Derby Line and/or Stanstead on yearly motor trips to Montreal from my home in Southeastern Massachusetts. I once visited the Haskell Free Library and Opera House and was charmed by its combination of ordinariness and novelty. In most respects, the Haskell Free Library isn't much different from any other small-town New England Library, with a small but knowledgeable and very friendly staff inhabiting a Victorian structure with creaking hardwood floors and narrow yet high-ceilinged rooms. Unlike most public libraries, the Haskell Free Library is a place where patrons can nonchalantly amble across an international border to find a particular book. Likewise, the Haskell Free Library is fairly unusual in featuring a well-appointed community theater that bears the somewhat grandiose (though not inaccurate) designation of an "opera house."

It's sad to hear that the genial status quo that has so long prevailed in Derby Line and Stanstead is being threatened by larger geopolitical realities. If freedom of movement between these two communities must be subjected to greater restriction, I hope that the spirit that has united them up to now is somehow able to survive. AMDG.


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