Border loophole for love: Canada-U.S. couples won’t let country lines get in way of weddings

Photographer Clint Bargen captured a photo of Leah Bosello and Nick Smith as they celebrated their wedding on June 6 at Peace Arch Park, a no mans land for Canadians and Americans to reunite during COVID-19.

Not even a border could keep Canadian Leah Bosello away from the love of her life American Nick Smith —even in the midst of a pandemic.

The couple frequently visited each other, as Bosello lived in Burnaby, B.C. and Smith lived across the border in Blaine, Washington. But when Canada and the United States decided to close the border to non-essential travel, Smith would be committed to staying in the U.S. because of his job in cybersecurity, meaning they both would in effect be barred from crossing the border. At the time, the couple realized it would likely be some time until they could physically be with each other. 

However, love has a funny way, and a couple of weeks later, one of Leah’s closest friends informed her of couples meeting at 0 Avenue, which falls on the Lynden–Aldergrove Border Crossing. The couple had found their outlet. 

“There’d be all these cars going through, it was kind of comical to try to talk to each other than a big construction vehicle coming in front of us,” she said.

Construction vehicles weren’t the only obstacles in the couple’s path, as border patrol kept a close eye on the two to ensure there was no physical contact. There really couldn’t be anyways, as there was a clear ditch signifying the border.

“There was border patrol everywhere, it was good to see each other, but obviously not ideal that we can’t cross this ditch and you have to just look at each and talk. It was a really odd experience,” she said.

Leah and Nick snapped a photo of one of their first meetings at 0 Avenue.

It wasn’t until an eavesdropping border patrol agent learned of the duo’s circumstances and advised them that Peace Arch Park would be reopening soon. Anyone who knows the area is aware that park visitors can park their vehicles nearby, and are allowed to cross over to the opposite country’s end as long as they stay within the park. So, when they learned this, the couple eventually met on the American side of the park and, two and a half months later after the start of the pandemic, they finally embraced.

“Ever since it’s been open, we’ve been there at least once or twice a week, we’ve had picnics, some of my friends would come. I got a puppy and so I brought our dog,” she said.

Initially, the duo was discussing getting married at the ditch at 0 avenue, but logistically didn’t know if it could be done so the discovery of the park came at an opportune time. On June 6th, in front of a handful of friends and dozens more watching on Zoom, Bosello and Smith tied the knot at Peace Arch Park.

“It’s a very weird juxtaposition, it’s like craziness and mayhem is happening all across the world, and then you’re celebrating your love and it’s one of the happiest days of your life,” she said. 

Photographer Clint Bargen captured a intimate and candid moment from the Smith-Bosello wedding.

The couple met in South Korea five years earlier. They’d spent all of three weeks together, but had fallen in love before the flight home, so it came as no surprise to their families they both opted for a simple wedding.

“No one made anything difficult, it was just the easiest thing ever, it was perfect for us in the way that people who cared about us were there, it went smoothly and it was beautiful and sunny,” said Bosello.

It took all but two weeks to put everything together, and with the help of friends who handled everything from food, decorations and setup, all Bosello had to do was order the silicone wedding bands from, yes, you guessed it, Amazon. Even her wedding dress, which women can spend hours looking for what will be the perfect one, it just didn’t matter to Bosello.

“I had brought a dress for my friend’s wedding that had unfortunately gotten canceled, so I just thought fancy enough,” she said. “The original plan was actually tracksuits.”

While she wore her famous white sneakers, Bosello did try to look like a bride by wearing a veil, but after the photos were taken, the couple and their friends ditched the formal clothes and threw on tracksuits.

“I wasn’t about to wear heels or nice shoes, plus I really like athleisure and to be comfortable. I bought a $10 veil off Amazon so I could look more bridal,” said Bosello.

Bosello and Smith wear their wedding tracksuits as they prepare to cut their cake.

Their wedding photographer, Clint Bargen who has been in the wedding industry for a long time, said he had never been a part of anything like this before.

"It was a bit surreal to celebrate in the no-man's land that is Peace Arch Park. We'd be taking wedding photos and fully uniformed border guards would casually walk by,” he said.

Bosello does admit not having Smith’s parents and friends, who were back home in Maryland, did take away from the lustre of the moment, but they plan on having a larger reception for everyone when things are normal.

“It was not going to be as special because his family was not there, so we made it more casual and will have a bigger party for everyone down the road,” she said.

‘It was the best day of our lives’

While the Smith family couldn’t be there to partake in their wedding, Liz Peters’ family drove nearly six hours from Canby, Oregon to see her on her wedding day. 

A registered nurse, Liz originally was born in Oregon but had been living and working in British Columbia where she had fallen in love with her now-husband, Matt Peters. 

The couple were living in Abbotsford, B.C., when the pandemic hit. They had their wedding scheduled for May 9th, but their venue had canceled the event due to B.C.’s limit on gatherings. 

While it was a gut-punch at the time, the couple knew they wanted to be together, and rather than waiting, they married in Arnold, British Columbia on their original wedding day.

“We didn’t want to wait to get married, we scaled it back, it was going to be the best day, it’s all about the attitude behind it,” said Liz Peters.

Matt and Liz Peters married one another on the original day they had planned, but scaled back the festivities due to the ongoing pandemic.

The decision to do the shotgun-style wedding felt right to the couple, as Liz noted all the extras of the wedding (the big party, glamour, an elaborate venue) all fell to the wayside, but allowed the couples commitment for one another to take centre stage.

“It strips away the extra parts of a wedding, and makes you remember why you’re actually trying to get married in the first place,” she said.

After having their nuptials done in Arnold while her parents zoomed into her wedding ceremony as they drove down the I-5 to the American side of Avenue 0 — they finally laid eyes on their daughter in a wedding gown.

“Never in a million years had I thought that I wouldn’t be able to hug my parents on my wedding day, that my dad wouldn’t be able to walk me down the aisle, but seeing them in that moment — it was perfect,” she said.

Liz and Matt Peters stand on the Canadian side of 0 Avenue while Liz's family are on the American side to celebrate their wedding.

Rather than being upset about the moments lost, Liz’s parents encouraged her to focus on the moment of togetherness that not even a border and travel restrictions could stop. 

“My parents kept saying it’s not about the grief or sadness about what was lost in the day, but celebrating. They were so happy for us,” said Peters.

Border guards hawkishly watched over the families, allowing them to spend time talking to each other, but warned them not to physically touch one another. Both sets of parents made homemade signs for the moment, and eventually, a photo of the two families becoming one was captured on the borderline of neighbouring countries separated by a ditch.

“It wasn’t the picture perfect moment I had hoped for growing up, but it turns out it was perfect for the moment we’re in, it’s a perfect picture in my eyes,” she said.

The family of Liz and Matt Peters celebrate their wedding with homemade signs on the border of Canada and the U.S.

The day was doubly special for Liz who had at that time spent two months working on the frontlines of the ongoing pandemic. In hindsight, the wedding she noted served as a break from her current reality, one where the couple and their loved ones could take a day to just celebrate, as originally planned.

“It felt surreal, all that stress mounting up from work, working in medical services during a pandemic it’s crazy stressful...getting to the endpoint felt so exciting, so relieving,” said Liz Peters. “It was the best day of our lives, it was perfect in every way.”

Moments of escape

For 33-year-old Erik Buddingh of B.C., it had been months since he had seen his girlfriend, 26-year-old Morgan Bergren, who lives in Indiana. The couple had been apart since before the pandemic started, and when they learned about Peace Arch Park, they knew they had to take advantage of it.

“When we found out the park existed, we were almost in disbelief, it sounded almost too good to be true, it’s a no man's land where people can gather, so we were thrilled when we found out it was a real thing,” he said.

The next thing they knew, Bergren had booked a flight from Indiana to Seattle, where she would drive north to the city of Bellingham and stay with friends. Bellingham is just 30 minutes away from the park, where the couple met for nine consecutive days. Buddingh admits the timing couldn’t have been more perfect as the pandemic had really taken a toll on their relationship.

“It added to the normal difficulty of a long-distance relationship...but now, to have that time, it was a game changer, really helpful to us,” he said.

Erik Buddingh and Morgan Bergren spent nine days meeting at Peace Arch Park after being apart for months.

As the couple spent hours there with one another, sometimes holding little picnics and other times just observing what was happening, they started to observe the park had become the place for cross-border love of all kinds to exist.

“You see literally any kind of person and lots of them and everyone is being united for different reasons, sometimes with family, sometimes large picnics or couples, maybe just friends smoking a cigar together,” he said.

When he thinks of Peace Arch Park during the time of COVID-19 where borders closed off effectively keeping loved ones barred from seeing one another, Buddingh admits having those moments of escapism from the pandemic will be treasured forever.

“It’s really nice to see people from all different walks of life for all different reasons just having a positive time,” said Buddingh. “It ends up being a unifying place, a real bright spot.”