Kids became the designated smugglers

From our March 2013 issue

By Mickey (Larson) Lightfoot – Mississauga, Ont.

My early years were spent in a tiny village called Northgate, south of Oxbow, Sask., and on the border of North Dakota. A bigger town also called Northgate was half-a-mile south of the border.

When WWII was declared, the United States immediately closed their borders and Canadian citizens were no longer allowed to cross back and forth as before without a valid passport – which nobody had at that time.

This of course meant that cross-border shopping was also prohibited which was a huge problem for us as we were dependent on many necessities which couldn’t be obtained at our tiny local store.

My parents immediately applied for passports but this took months as living in a remote area, mail delivery was only once a week.

My sister, brother, and I were born in the States and were therefore American citizens so we became the designated smugglers. We were issued with special immigration cards which were stamped each time we crossed back and forth.

CNR speeder used by section-men on the railroad tracks. Knut Larson with Mickey, Anne, and Richard at Northgate, Sask. circa 1939.

My only playmates lived across the line and I visited them so often after school and on weekends that the immigration officers finally told me to stamp my card myself.

I had never used a stamp before and the first time I banged that stamp so hard but forgot to move my thumb out of the way and it was black and blue for days.

Tired of Mary Janes

When something was needed such as sealer rubber rings, shoes, etc., we were sent to Mr. Leslie’s general store to buy it. He ordered shoes for us in just the right sizes but always the same style, and oh, how tired I was of wearing those black patent Mary Janes year in and year out.

A culvert under the gravel road halfway between Northgate, N.D. and the customs office was a favourite hiding place for stashing our purchases before innocently checking back through customs empty-handed.

After dark we’d sneak back across the bald prairie, often chased by barking dogs and without a tree for cover, circle around to the culvert and retrieve our contraband.

Father one night slipped over and returned with a pressure cooker, the accomplice who hid it in a designated place was probably none other than Mr. Leslie himself.

Like many villagers, we had chickens and two cows (nowadays called a hobby farm, but that’s not what my mother would have called it).

Once, when the pasture gate was left open, our cows grazed their way across the border.

The customs officer had to follow the rules and fined my father $5 ransom – a whole day’s pay as section foreman – before he could retrieve them.

My father had ulcers and goat’s milk was believed to be more nutritious so my parents got rid of the cows and replaced them with goats. One was a billy goat who lay in wait for me as I came home from school and would chase me around and around the house with me screaming for my mother to open the door so I could slip through during one of my passes.

Painted cow’s face

Our brown cow, Dorothy, was sold to a farmer who lived just across the line. He knew she’d be recognized by the customs officials as his pasture abutted their office so he painted her face white and pretended it was his cow that had strayed.

When the Americans joined the war, I remember a long troop train coming through and being held up for hours at our railroad station waiting for immigration clearance.

All the kids in town and especially my teenaged sisters visited with the soldiers. They weren’t allowed off the train and armed guards patrolled up and down the platform the length of the train to make sure there were no deserters.

Some of the soldiers sent us to our little grocery store to purchase candy bars for them. They’d been on the train for days with no idea where they were headed. When they saw the Canadian flag they realized they were being sent to Alaska to help build the Alaskan highway.

They were so pleased not to be sent overseas, but many were from the southern states and didn’t realize what a cold and snowy winter they were in for.