Faces, Places and Traces by Mark Rushton
Like most people my age, one section of the daily newspaper that’s almost required reading is the obituaries – you never know when someone you know/knew gets their picture in the paper one last time.
So it was this week that I recognized a face from the past, a guy I haven’t seen for close to 40 years. His picture, however, was from about the time when we used to shoot pool together in Sumas, Wash. Good thing too, because while I knew his first name and what he looked like, I never did learn his last name.
When we met, he’d recently returned from his second tour of duty in Vietnam, a sergeant who carried a SAW (for the uninitiated, Squad Automatic Weapon, or machine gun). The weapon was a heavy one, but Dale Deem was a pretty big guy.
However, by then the war was over and he was looking for work. Over the years he was variously a Sumas, Wash. police officer, cashier at Bromley’s Market and at lumber companies on both sides of the border.
What surprised me in the obituary details was that Dale, like many kids who grew up in Sumas in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, was born “in Abbotsford.”
Those quotes are important because back then, and I believe until the mid-1990s, anyone born in MSA Hospital actually had “Matsqui, British Columbia” on their birth certificate.
In fact, it’s only in the last 20 years that anyone has actually been born “in Abbotsford.”
Until 1972, Abbotsford was a mere village of 160 acres surrounded by the municipalities of Matsqui and Sumas. The dividing line between the two districts was McCallum Road with MSA Hospital on the Matsqui side.
However, despite its location and what was interpreted as one’s birthplace, it was often the hospital of choice and nearby convenience for Sumas, Wash. moms giving birth.
For example, one of my neighbours was not only born on this side of the border in the 1950s, she and her sisters also went to high school in Abbotsford. I mention sisters because she is one of a set of triplet girls, one of the few, if not the only, set of triplets born in MSA Hospital.
Perhaps another advantage for the children of Americans born here is that they could benefit from the eligibility of dual citizenship, which would have made, especially in those days, crossing the border essentially hassle-free.
In fact, regardless of your citizenship and before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, stopping at the border crossing was little more than a formality.
When I used to meet Dale or other friends in Sumas for a beer and a game of pool, we were rarely asked more than
“Where are you going?” followed by “Have a nice evening.”
Today, I doubt there are many, if any, Americans choosing to give birth in Abbotsford – or anywhere else in Canada for that matter. And I’m pretty certain none are now casually walking across the border to attend local public schools.
What brings those certainties to mind is that also last week I read of an American push to not only further tighten border security but, in an attempt to foil terrorist incursions, build a fence along the entire 8,900 kilometres of the dividing line between Canada and the U.S. of A. That proposed fence would not only be built along our southern boundary, but on the Alaska boundary abutting B.C. and the Yukon as well.
A ridiculous proposal and one that, if it ever comes to fruition, would be outrageously expensive and difficult to construct.
Interestingly, accompanying the dividing fence story was a photo of two U.S. border patrol members riding a rugged and snow-covered section of the boundary on two tracked ATVs.
What made me smile was that the vehicles they were using are Canadian-made machines! I guess we can’t be all that bad.