“What is the purpose of your journey to Canada and how long do you plan to stay?”

That is the question anyone traveling across the Canadian border has to answer to the border guards, no matter where he crosses.  For myself, it was at the Pigeon River (which divides Minnesota and Ontario near the beautiful Grand Portage/Mt. Josephine area) on my way to Thunder Bay, the last leg of my summer vacation.

If predictions from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace come true, such border crossings would no longer exist.  The U.S-Canadian border, which 200 million people (according to estimates) cross every year and through which one billion dollars in trade flows every 12 months, will simply cease to be—“disappear before any politician finds the political courage to negotiate its removal,” according to Demetrios Papademetriou, one of the authors of a recent study conducted by Carnegie.

I spotted a story on the study on the bottom half of the front page of the National Post while having drinks in the Valhalla Hotel’s bar and lounge, in an attempt to unwind after a three-hour drive from Duluth and a morning rendezvous with a wonderful hotel clerk.  Canadian newspapers and magazines carry many stories on globalization and nationalism, far more than you would find in a U.S. newspaper and written in a more studious and serious tone.  If Canadians read this story seriously, they would have cause for alarm.  If there were no border between the United States and Canada, then there would be no Canada: It would be absorbed into the United States.

How different are Canadians and Americans?  Travel down the main drag of Thunder Bay, and you will find strip malls, supermarkets, travel lodges, housing projects, and Third World immigrants—not much different from what you would find in Duluth, just with a Canadian face.  Instead of Burger King and McDonald’s, you will see Robin’s Donuts and Tim Horton’s restaurants.  Safeway replaces Wal-Mart.  Inter-City Mall dominates the shopping district the way American malls do.  Thunder Bay’s Main Street is as Disneyfied as any you might find in a midsized Midwestern city.

There is one subtle difference, however.  Years ago, Duluth turned a strip of land that juts out into the Lake Superior bay into a theme park of hotels, restaurants, shops, and office buildings.  Warehouses and shipping companies now hold bookstores, brewpubs, apartment lofts, and gift shops.  Along the lakefront, there is a convention center, an IMAX theater, and a new aquarium.  The train depot is still a train depot, but the train just conducts scenic journeys around the Lake Superior shoreline, and the depot itself is a museum.  All of the ore docks, the grain bins, and the coal and cement storage fields are tucked away and hidden in the back of the Duluth-Superior harbor, as if they were embarrassing reminders of what Duluth once was (and still, for the most part, is): an industrial town with a commercial port that does a lot of business.

Yet somebody forgot to tell the tourists.  You could find hardy souls sitting out in the rain at 9:30 P.M. or in the cold, gray dawn of 6:00 A.M., waiting for freighters to come in.  What is one of the more popular tourist activities in the canal district?  A tour through an old U.S. Steel ore freighter, the S.S. William S. Irvin.

Thunder Bay doesn’t have that kind of playground—yet.  You can’t see the Lake Superior harbor until you get to the other end of town, and that’s only a small marina and park.  In between are the railroad yards, grain bins, and ore docks of the city’s industrial heart.  Of course, if the border disappears, American planners and developers may want to prepare the wrecking ball and earthmover.

I quickly picked up an appreciation for Canadian publications, some of which dare to tackle the topic of globalization.  One story in the National Post, written by Niall Ferguson, questioned whether democracy actually creates prosperity.  Another profiled leftist antiglobalist Noam Chomsky (ignored at home but taken seriously up north), while a third was an investigative report of a Tamil refugee organization in Toronto that funnels guns and money to its rebel brothers in Sri Lanka.  (Police believe that there are at least 8,000 Tamil Tiger guerrillas in Toronto itself, about half the size of the current Canadian army.)  Contrast this with what you would find in the Duluth paper, the News and Tribune, which published an Associated Press story about how Somali immigrants are having a wonderful time in their little houses on the prairie near Fargo, North Dakota.  Why Fargo, of all places?  Well, it’s quieter than Mogadishu, and the Somalis believe the residents of Fargo have some of that wonderfully trite conservative notion of “family values.”  (Don’t doubt for a minute that they are telling all their friends and family back in the refugee camps about the family values they just discovered in the Upper Midwest.)  No ordinary citizen of Fargo was interviewed about what he thought of the empire’s flotsam and jetsam washing up on our shores.

Another AP gem right next to the fish-out-of-water story was an announcement from a recent globalist conference held at the Universal Academy of Cultures, headed by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.  The resolve of this gathering was to “better hear the cries of the world,” as Wiesel put it.  Aristide R. Zolberg of the International Center of Migration, Ethnicity and Citizenship at the New School for Social Research was more blunt: “It’s no longer a world where there are some ‘us’ and the rest ‘others.’  We can no longer turn our backs and say ‘these are not my people.’”  To whom was he referring?  The article, like much of the AP’s drivel, does not provide details.

All of this goes to show that Canadians often ponder the question of nationhood and identity, while Americans give it a wink and a grin.  North of the border, at least, citizens ask questions: Who am I?  How do I define myself?  What is my place in the world?  Profound, to be sure, but necessary inquiries in a world in which your borders are being threatened by think tanks.  A Canadian TV commercial depicts a youth who, over stirring, patriotic music (à la George Patton), reads a list of what Canadians are and are not to those snotty Americas who think Canadians are nothing but Americans who would rather be dull than hip.

Despite the invasion of American culture from radio and TV stations in Seattle, Duluth, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Rochester, Anglo-Canadians cling to what makes them Canadian: loyalty to Great Britain.  Queen Elizabeth is still on their dollar bills, and Canada is still a commonwealth.  Newspapers ran in-depth stories on Prince William’s coming of age.  The sports sections feature stories on England’s play in the Euro soccer championship, the NHL draft, and the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix.  American sporting news—coverage of Major League Baseball, in which Canadian teams in Toronto and Montreal play—was buried in the back pages.  Back at the Valhalla, something called the Society of St. George held a dinner and pageant the evening I was there, and Thunder Bay is dotted with Royal Canadian Legion posts.  Leading candidates for the 2001 general election never seriously talked about getting rid of the country’s troubled government-financed health-care system, because it is viewed as a unique Canadian institution.

How would such institutions survive without a border to define them?  They wouldn’t.  The destruction of the border would mean the collapse of the Canadian dollar, as merchants would attempt to get their hands on real dollars, just as the waiter at a restaurant where I dined was eager for a tip from a tourist that would be worth more than one from a local.  Canadian hockey teams, perpetually strapped for cash, would find it easier to move south to, say, Biloxi, Mississippi.  Anything remotely Anglican would die along with the old folks.  The health-care system would fall down when patients tired of waiting for surgery headed south to American clinics in even greater numbers.  American society would not tolerate Quebec’s language police or its French dictums, so it would either become independent or be taken out by smart bombs.

The traffic wouldn’t be one way, either.  Canada has done much, thanks to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, to pioneer the multicultural society, and a few ideas would filter south.  Every government sign you see is in both French and English.  There are separate English, French, and Spanish television stations on my hotel’s cable package, and it seems every ethnic group has its own Sunday morning show.  Black Entertainment Television and Unavision wouldn’t survive competition in the States from something like Tagalog TV, or HmongVision, or the SBC (Somali Broadcast Company, based out of Fargo, North Dakota.)

If there are no international boundaries, why are there provincial boundaries?  Why do we need state boundaries?  Is anarchy really good for the soul?  Globalists never ask these questions because they assume that all people are the same, and, therefore, all systems are the same.  Canadians may not be all that different from Americans in what they eat, drink, wear, watch, or worship, but they do have different ways of doing things, different ways of governing, different ways of looking at themselves.  That’s why Canadian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs George Haynal dismissed the Carnegie study with the back of his hand, stating in the National Post article: “The border is necessary for the preservation of identity and security.”  That is something Americans should ponder.