The boundary that establishes the U.S. from Canada doesn’t deter the need for cross-border business.

In our third and final part of Business Along the Border, we went to a small-town border port in northern North Dakota to see how the pandemic changed who’s crossing the border and why.

On the U.S. side, in North Dakota, many Canadians will often pass through border ports to visit historical destinations, like Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

And on the Canadian side, Americans will sometimes cross to visit the capital of Manitoba, Winnipeg, for the city’s nightlife experience.

But there are many other reasons why we land in each other’s countries.

Westhope is a farming city in Bottineau County that was founded in 1903 along the Great Northern Railway branch line, with a population of fewer than 400 residents.

Melita, Manitoba, is a town located in the south-western corner of the Canadian province that occupies a bend of the Souris River.

The Westhope-Coulter border crossing port connects the two.

Although this may not be the busiest port of the 18 border crossings in North Dakota, it holds significance on both sides of the line.

“At the port of Westhope, it’s mostly local traffic in the rural communities here. Most of the commercial traffic is farm-related, like grains or canola, something of that nature, something in a hopper,” said Chris Misson, the area port director for North Dakota and Minnesota Customs and Border Protection.

Chris Mission says the biggest difference during the pandemic was less passenger traffic.

He says before COVID, it was common for Canadians to cross through for weekend trips to Lake Metigoshe, go to a popular local restaurant or travel to a local Walmart or hardware store for less expensive products.

“We haven’t seen that type of traffic, very much of it, post or after 2020. That traffic kind of dried up for a while,” said Mission.

But because some commercial truckers were deemed essential workers through the pandemic, the volume of commercial trucking stayed consistent these past two years.

“We were still here we were still staffed. It did allow us to utilize, and move some of our resources to help out more on commercial because we had the extra staff to do so,” said Misson.

With each passing day of the pandemic, many wondered what the impact of lockdowns and business closures would have on the economy.

And for cities that rely on Canadians to spend money at local businesses, like Westhope, they continue to struggle amid border crossing restrictions and requirements.

“A lot less traffic from Canadian customers, hardly anybody from Canada ever comes through. Fuel sales have been down in town, and the local grocery store probably a little less,” said Benjiman Cartwright, a Westhope resident.

Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens are allowed to enter Canada without a COVID test.

But unvaccinated Americans cannot freely go to Canada aside from some exemptions like essential medical services or traveling on a work visa.

The same goes for unvaccinated Canadians who want to visit the U.S.: they still can’t come for recreational purposes, which is said to still be causing economic hardships to businesses near the border.

“Its small-town businesses, so its hardware, convenience stores, those places, you know, have had to adjust. Bars restaurants because there just isn’t that Canadian traffic coming through town. And they are impacted,” said Kristi Lakefield, Customs and Border Protection chief in Portal.

In April, more COVID-19 restrictions at U.S.-Canadian borders were lifted.

But Lakefield says even though Canada and the U.S. have been working together to increase tourism, there hasn’t been a drastic change in travelers like they have been hoping for.

“The pre-COVID numbers don’t really resemble anything during COVID and even since COVID is kind of subsiding a little, the number hasn’t picked up to where they were,” said Lakefield.

Even with the lack of Canadian travelers, a Westhope business owner says that her one-stop-shop, Shawna’s Place, has been alright since the pandemic.

And she gives all the credit to her tight-knit town.

“Through the pandemic, I think I was probably OK. Simply because we’ve got a great little town, and we all kind of rally together and help each other out,” Shawna Gibbins, the owner of Shawna’s Place.

Shawna’s Place includes a full restaurant and bakery, a bar with E-tab machines and a commercial-grade golf simulator.

A stage and dance floor for live music is even being built, as well.

Gibbins says despite not seeing many of her Canadian friends, some still do pass through for work purposes.

She says she is hopeful the number of travelers will rise this summer.

“For me personally, I’m still pretty busy because of farmers and you know oil fields, different things like that. We’ve seen a few already coming back, but I feel like we will see a lot more coming back across,” said Gibbins.

From the War in 1812 to becoming allies with a deep-seated partnership, America and Canada are quite literally attached to each other.

“There’s a sense of service for all of the officers. Everybody has a focus on the mission,” said Misson.

The two are committed to increasing border security to protect our homelands. All while partnering on global peace and security and sharing the North Dakota-Canadian nice attitude.

CBP agents say the peak Canadian traveling months are from Memorial Day weekend to September.

As the holiday weekend approaches, the agents are curious about the number of travelers they will see this year.