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Mike's Trek to the Great White North 1994

Part 1: The Trip Up

I had been to Canada hundreds of times.  In fact, when I lived in Plattsburgh, I used to go up to Montreal all the time.  So, they told me I would be flying into Montreal, where we would get a rental car to drive up the rest of the way to Quebec.  We had our software on a hard disk that was secured in a hardened case, and we were set.

Heck, it was Canada, right?  It's not like when we went all the way to Europe, right?

So, we get on our plane at Syracuse, and 45 minutes later, we are in Montreal.  We picked up our luggage, and then we went to customs.

Now, at the customs area, they spoke to me in French.  It was French Canada, after all, so I politely told them that I didn't speak French.

"What brings zyou to Canada - work or pleasure?" the customs guy asked.

Being honest, I replied, "Work."

"Can I see zyour tax form?" he asked.

My boss and I had never been told we needed a tax form in all of our discussions with the Canadian officials we talked to about arranging our trip.  We tried explaining this to the customs guy, who was mad at us for holding up the line, so we were taken to some rooms off to the side of the customs area.  They split my boss and I up to interrogate us separately; I guess so that they could confirm our stories.  It was just like in the movies.  They confiscated my luggage (including our disk) and put it in one room, and then put me in a separate one with no windows and decorations - only white walls.

My interrogator comes in.  It's the same guy who was working the customs line that put us in here.  He immediately starts speaking French.

"I don't speak French," I reminded him.

He proceeds to ask me all the usual questions - who was I there to see?  Did I have orders?  Where was my tax form?

So, this goes on for about thirty minutes.  They won't let us in the country, despite the fact that we had worked out all the details.  Apparently, if you work in Canada, they get a part of your pay.  But, this doesn't seem right to me, so I tell him that we need to talk to our contacts in the Canadian military.  However, this guy won't let me make a phone call!  So, then this guy leaves.  My boss, on the other side of the wall, is complaining to his interrogator, and I hear him tell the Canadian guy that we would be taking our software and going home, since they won't let us in the country.

So, then my interrogator comes back into the room, and starts talking French to me.

"Damn it!" I exclaimed.  "How many times do I need to tell you I DON'T SPEAK FRENCH!?"

He tells me to watch my attitude, but I am really pissed off.  "I thought this was Canada, not East Berlin," I protested.

So, we talk some more.  He is under the impression that the Canadian government is paying my salary.  No, the American government is paying my salary.  The Canadian government is paying my travel costs, but this was done by having the Canadian government send us the money on which we were to travel.  So, as far as the Canadian government was concerned, I was there for free.  He doesn't believe me. 

I ask him what would have happened if I had told him I was there for vacation.

"Well, zen we would let zyou een!  But, zyou are here on zee business, so we need to see zyour tax form!" he replies.  So basically, if we lied, we would be on our way to Quebec.  But, because we were honest, we were being held and interrogated like criminals.

So, I suggest we get on the phone to the American embassy in Ottawa.  (I know my rights!)  After all, I wasn't just there as an American officer or engineer, I was an ambassador of my country on a mission of goodwill and cooperation.  Perhaps the embassy would be interested in relaying to the Canadian Defence Ministry that an international research cooperation treaty was broken by some pompous French-speaking border guard who didn't want to allow the Americans in the country because they didn't have some tax form that they didn't need.  He leaves again and goes and makes some calls to the Canadian government and the embassy.

Next thing we know, my boss and I are released and free to go.  I guess the embarrassment of having to explain this international incident to the guys in Ottawa was enough to persuade him to let us go.  The guy just comes in and tells us we can leave - no papers or anything else will be necessary.  Of course, we don't wait around - we head for the exit.

"Bonjour!  Bienvenue a Quebec!" he says.  Still speaking French to me.

Anyway, I decide to trade in about $100 for Canadian money before leaving the airport.  Good thing, too, because we have to pay a toll immediately upon leaving the airport.

We arrived in Montreal at around 10 AM, and we left the airport at around 1 PM.

We got to Quebec City at around 4 PM, just in time for it to be very dark.

I didn't realize how far north we were until I saw that the sun started setting at around 3:30 PM and the outside temperature was about -20 Celsius.  Welcome to the Great White North, eh?

Continue on to Part 2: The Chateau