Thousands of Canadians are crossing the U.S. border, carrying their letters and packages and searching for an open post office.
Canada’s postal workers are on strike. The only way to ensure packages and Christmas cards will reach relatives overseas is to ship them via the U.S. Postal Service.
There are no jokes about “snail mail” to Karen Corbeil, the postmaster in tiny Porthill, Idaho, less than a mile from the Canadian border. She’s had about 100 Canadian customers a day.
“If they want it to get out of Canada at all they are coming here,” said Corbeil. “The post office is cashing in. We’ve had people coming to us for the last two weeks.”
Our neighbors to the north feared a strike and knew packages would get stuck, Corbeil said.
They were right.
The strike by 45,000 postal workers began Wednesday after dozens of wildcat walkouts had already crippled Canada Post, the federal mail service.
Any letters and packages locked inside Canada’s post offices will stay there until the strike ends.
Some Canadians are driving nearly three hours to drop off Christmas cards at the Oroville, Wash., post office. It’s about six miles from the border.
Many Canadians have friends and relatives in England and Germany. They are desperately trying to get packages there, said Gay Kenfield, a postal worker in Oroville.
“First it was the UPS strike, now the Canadian strike. We are dependable. We take the load for everyone,” Kenfield said.
Some Canadians have so much faith in the U.S. system, they are border hopping and mailing packages back into Canada.
“That won’t work,” Kenfield said. “The mail will get out of our office but it will still get stopped in Canada.”
Some U.S. post offices have been ordered not to take mail bound for Canada until the strike is over. That way there won’t be a backlog in the states, too.
Canadians have long been disgusted with their mail system, Corbeil said. Workers often threaten to strike this time of year, but this is the first time in years they’ve actually done it.
Corbeil has 700 post office boxes in Porthill. Of those, 660 are rented by Canadians who say service in the states is cheaper, more reliable and faster.
The service at Corbeil’s counter hasn’t been that fast of late, she admitted. Canadians sending letters or packages overseas must have them weighed and fill out a form for customs.
“They don’t seem to care about the wait. That it gets out is more important,” she said. “It’s kind of hairy some days.”