ALDERGROVE — Almost hidden in the homes and street grid of Surrey, British Columbia is a stretch of border road known as 0 Avenue. It runs parallel to the Canada-United States border and features microwave towers and a small park.
It’s a place where families meet, hug and even share a meal across the international border. And, even though Covid-19 has closed many land crossings, this one remains open for now.
The United States Border Patrol is constructing a fence on the international border near Aldergrove. The fence will run from Boundary Road on the US side to Zero Avenue in Canada. The border is already fenced for about 1.5 miles along the Pacific Highway and another mile along the Lynden-Aldergrove border crossing. The fence will then run parallel to 0 Avenue for several more miles. It’s not clear whether the fence has anything to do with COVID-19 or other health concerns, but it could be used as a deterrent for drug smuggling and asylum seekers trying to cross illegally.
A small ditch along 0 Avenue has become a meeting place for American and Canadian families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Families gather to visit, take pictures, and feel connected across the border. Some couples even get married here. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are stationed at the park and ask that families keep their distance from each other.
These ominous structures were once part of AT&T’s Long Lines microwave radio-relay network, which carried telephone calls and television signals coast to coast before fiber optic networks came into play. They were also hardened sites in case of a nuclear attack.
Microwave transmission does not use wires, but relies on direct line of sight between transmitter and receiver. This means that the towers are usually about 30 miles apart, though they were often farther when built in the ’50s and ’60s. You can find the towers, which are still intact with antennas pointing in different directions (to avoid signal overlap), by hunting through old maps or a Google Earth map created by a microwave-relay aficionado.
Microwave towers are still used today in remote areas for high speed trading or as backup systems to fiber when it is impractical to run a continuous wire through adverse terrain. You might even see a microwave relay tower in your neighborhood if you live in an area that has a large amount of business-to-business traffic that requires higher speeds than what fiber can provide.
Peace Arch Park
While there are a lot of great spots along the US-Canada border for road trips, few come close to the Peace Arch Park. This beautiful landmark was built to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Ghent and the Rush-Bagot Agreement, which established a peaceful unguarded border between the United States and Canada. The 67-foot arch, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a reminder of what can happen when people of different countries work together.
The Canadian side of the park closed in June because of COVID-19 restrictions, but the American side remained open until Oct. 1. The American park is a Washington state park, while the Canadian park is owned by the Semiahmoo First Nation and accessed via Beach Road.
While the park is small, it packs a big punch in terms of international relations. At a time when borders are hardening politically but remaining physically porous, the Peace Arch Park is a symbol of cross-border connections.
A cable fence has begun to go up along a section of the international border between Canada and the United States. The American Border Patrol’s Blaine sector is overseeing the project, which appears to have nothing to do with COVID, but instead focuses on what acting chief patrol agent Tony Holladay calls bi-national safety concerns for this particular vulnerable area of the border.
The section of the border in question runs from Boundary Road north of Lynden to Zero Avenue south of Langley City. It’s a stretch of the border that has long been popular for families with loved ones in each country who can’t cross over due to the travel bans.
Usually, structures aren’t allowed within 10 feet of the border on either side. But this is a special situation, and a fence is a lot easier to see than the thorny brambles that have grown in some places to block the border. The Peace Arch Park sits right on the border, and there’s a paved pedestrian entrance into it from the Canadian side.