NORTH PORTAL — The upgraded port of entry at North Portal officially opened Tuesday morning.
The multi-year border infrastructure project is completed and will contribute to the Saskatchewan and Canadian economy, while also helping to keep Canadians safe.
Construction work for this project began in May 2018, while planning, designing and contracting work started long before that. The upgraded facility now looks very different and is more functional than it used to be.
"The infrastructure upgrades in North Portal were very significant. If the last time you were in North Portal was in May of 2018 or earlier, you would hardly recognize the facilities that we are in today. Since construction began in May of 2018, the improvements here have been remarkable. As a person who spends a great deal of time here at North Portal, I'm grateful for those upgrades. I'm very glad that my workplace is no longer a construction zone," said Scott Kienlen, corporate chief for the CBSA in the southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan district, who was operationally in charge of the project.
Lisa Laurencelle-Peace, executive director for Prairie Region CBSA, who was at North Portal for the official opening ceremony, listed the major changes that have been done over the past five years.
A third processing lane has been added for vehicles entering Canada. Primary inspection line booths with two levels have been constructed. These booths enable CBSA officers to speak with drivers of cars or transport trucks in any line. A larger, higher canopy was built, and it now provides protection from the elements for transport trucks and other oversized vehicles. The warehouse building, where the opening ceremony took place, is larger and has been renovated.
Other improvements include increased parking, better security and lighting, and solar panels that provide sustainable energy to meet part of the facility's energy needs.
"I remember my first day in this job [in the fall of 2019]. There were fences, and pylons, and tape, holes in the highway, temporary primary inspection booths out on the highway that were like garden sheds. And then around back here, there was another small garden shed-type facility up on a raised platform, and that was the commercial warehouse. This is where we examined the over 100,000 loads of commercial goods coming into the country," recalled Benjamin Tame, who's responsible for CBSA operations in southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan.
"And I was astounded. All of the things I had heard about North Portal, all of the guns they intercept, all of the hundreds of thousands of commercial loads that are processed here, that actually happened here. So I'm very excited, very proud that the passion that resides in the employees at the port of North Portal is now matched with the infrastructure to deliver on our mandate."
"We've improved the lighting, we've improved the signage. Coming from the U.S. there is more of a straight-on approach now. Before you have to curve over, we did a realignment of the highway," Kienlen noted.
All the upgrades were done while the port remained open and operational.
"We worked all through construction, the border was fully operational during that time. So there were some challenges when we were doing that. We had temporary booths and lanes and different things like that. But I have to say the staff were fantastic, … as well as the travelling public, a lot of positive comments as they were coming through," Kienlen said.
The addition of the third lane and other improvements allowed for reduced wait times at the border and eliminated traffic jams that occurred before, Kienlen said.
The upgrades at the facility were done under the Canada-U.S. Beyond the Border Action Plan.
"The upgrades will contribute to long-term economic prosperity in this region. All these improvements allow those who serve at North Portal to do their jobs more safely and more efficiently," Laurencelle-Peace said. "These improvements were also designed with travellers' needs in mind, and everyone crossing into Canada at North Portal benefits from the upgrades that were done here."
The price tag for these improvements was $26 million.
"This capital investment is well-spent on Canada's 10th busiest port for commercial traffic [and the busiest border crossing in Sask.] – a port located on a major trade corridor that links Saskatchewan to the American Midwest and the Port of Charleston, South Carolina," Laurencelle-Peace said.
"Because of these improvements, travellers will have more time to spend at their destinations, whether they are at home with family, visiting with friends, shopping or taking in the beautiful sights in southeastern Saskatchewan," she added.
The upgrades will also allow Canadian and American businesses that use this port of entry to conduct their business more efficiently, saving them time and saving their customers money.
The infrastructure upgrades also mean that CBSA officers and staff who work at the North Portal port of entry will be able to perform their duties more safely, efficiently and effectively.
Michael Lonechild, a Cree artist from White Bear First Nation, and his helper Matthew Redstar opened the day with a pipe ceremony and prayers. The CBSA purchased Lonechild's artwork to be displayed permanently at the port of entry. At the opening ceremony, Lonechild spoke about his art, "a colour wheel" – his own system of mixing colours, and his passion for painting.
"When I started to paint, it was like therapy. It would always let me make a journey into my paintings. I would always find adventure in whatever I did. It was a fire that burned inside of me to paint. And today it burns just as wild as it used to when I was young," Lonechild shared. "Thank you very much for [being willing to] display my paintings in your beautiful buildings. On behalf of me and my friend, I would like to say thank you for inviting us."
As a show of appreciation, on behalf of the CBSA, Tame presented Lonechild and Redstar with blankets created by Indigenous artists.
Laurencelle-Peace also recognized the achievements of CBSA colleagues at Public Services and Procurement Canada, as well as Graham Construction, who led the construction project.
"Thanks to your hard work, travellers who use this port of entry will enter or return to Canada quicker and more efficiently," Laurencelle-Peace said.
"And I would like to take a moment to recognize all the CBSA staff who work at North Portal. The work you do here at this border crossing is vital to Canada and particularly to this region of Saskatchewan.
"The CBSA's motto is Protection, Service, Integrity. You ensure the security and prosperity of Canada by managing the access of people and goods to and from Canada. I could not be more proud to serve alongside you."
The North Portal port of entry is operational 24 hours a day throughout the year.