Borderlands

Last spring I was invited to begin working on a project for the Foreman Art Gallery, located at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Québec. The resulting exhibition Stanstead Project, or How to Cross the Border is concerned with geographical and geopolitical borders (as presented by artists Ursula Biemann , Christian Philipp Müller and myself). My work for this exhibition, which opened last week and runs until July 30, 2011, focuses specifically on the wilderness border zone surrounding the towns of Stanstead, Québec and Derby Line, Vermont. This border community has been radically altered since September 11th, 2001 by the implementation of CCTV, and increased border security among other policies. In juxtaposition to the carefully monitored townsite, there are hundreds of kilometers of wilderness where a six-metre-wide cutline separates Canada from the United States. Between September 2010 and February 2011 I explored this cutline through the landscape surrounding Stanstead, making photographs, video, and capturing GPS tracks along the way. Presented here is the documentation of my journeys, and the completed project with a curatorial statement by Geneviève Chevalier can be seen on my website here. If you are going to be passing through the Eastern Townships, take the opportunity to see the show and send me your opinion. If you have never visited Sherbrooke and Lennoxville before, they are quite charming places with plenty of sightseeing opportunities and culture.

First walk to the cutline, September 5th, 2010
Scouting video locations along the cutline, September 25th, 2010
Google Earth view of the GPS track that became the Borderlands book (January 7th, 2011)
Walking the cutline on January 20th, 2011 to make some winter photographs
A no trespassing sign near a labyrinth of trails leading to the cutline
My first view of the cutline on September 5th, 2010
This barrier put in place on Rue Lee separates the town of Stanstead from Derby Line
Lines are painted demarcating the boundary on all streets spanning the border
Cutline view on September 25th, 2010
Fall sets in along the cutline
Making large format photographs along the boundary (right) and Golf du Lac Lyster (left)
Monument #539 along the cutline, looking West
On Church Street, next to the Haskell Free Library and Opera House
Living on the edge..
Boundary marker in town next to one of the newly constructed barriers
In the no man's land between Canada and the US (Caswell and Main)
Photographing the cutline in winter
Large format camera perched near monument #540A
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13 thoughts on “Borderlands

  1. I was in Stanstead in late August and I find it quite fascinating that there is that no mans land between the 2 border posts with houses and what looks like boarded up former commercial buildings. I went in the library and took the standard photo straddling the electrical tape on the floor. Do you know how many houses have the border going through them.

    As well..CanUsa avenue. Did you travel along it? I think the whole road is actually in Quebec and the border is a few metres into the front lawns of the homes on the south side.

    1. Luke, I’m unsure as to the actual number of buildings that the line runs through in Stanstead, however I know that the number of occupied residences has diminished greatly since 2001 due to logistical issues with heightened border security between the two nations.

      I have travelled along rue Canusa, even tried to make an art video there for my project, which didn’t work out for technical reasons. The road is complicated, since according to current legislation, there is not supposed to be any construction within 3 metres of the centre of the surveyed line. Certainly the roadway and parts of many homes along Canusa are in violation of this IBC regulation.

      The National Film Board of Canada has a great documentary from 1955 that looks at the town of Stanstead and rue Canusa. I’m not sure whether you are emailing from Canada or the U.S. but if you are in Canada, you will be able to access the entire film on their website here: https://www.nfb.ca/film/two_countries_one_street

      1. Hello…thanks for the link with the NFB movie. I’m in Canada so I could view it. That movie has some cringeworthy acting but it is an excellent look at some of the old ‘line houses’ that straddled the border. I imagine that many of them are gone now. I’ve been in the past to Dundee QC/Fort Covington NY where an old tavern sits on the border and I’ve also been to the south end of chemin Nichols in Hemmingford where an old abandoned house is straddled by the border.

        See my photos here:

        http://imgur.com/a/rN4nA#0

        and

        http://www.panoramio.com/user/3311774

      2. ‘Stop, in the name of the Queen!’ I love it!

        I know these two sites well, Taillon’s International Hotel in Dundee, and the ghost house at the end of chemin Nichols. I photographed both of them this year for an upcoming project, but I think only the hotel will make the final cut.

        Thanks for sharing your pics!

  2. I’d be interested in viewing that photography project when it is ready. Have you been to St Regis, QC..interesting border location. As well…the seasonal cottage community on the QC side at the Hinchinbrooke crossing may be a good place for you to take photos along the border itself.

    1. Hopefully I launch the project soon! When you say Hinchinbrooke, do you mean near highway 202? I was down in that community in spring, but my photos didn’t turn out well. Sometimes technical issues get the better of me; I’m shooting the project on 4×5″ colour sheet film, so there is a lot of room for error.

  3. The place I’m referring to is here:

    http://goo.gl/maps/TpWnY

    I was here about a month ago. The area on the QC side is an unusual community that I can’t decide is seasonal or year round homes. The roads are all on a grid and for canadian standards are quite narrow. I parked where chemin Strawberry meets the road on the east side of the community (when you go to Google Maps it doesn’t show that north side road on the east side..but it exists) and then just walked through the woods for about 20 or 30 m to the border vista. Very quiet place that looks like the border vista has been used by a lot of ATV’s. I imagine in the winter it is full of snowmobile tracks. No visible signs of cameras or sensors. It would be a good place to do a photo project for yourself.

    1. I was at that exact place in spring, walked out to the cutline and made a few photos. I also found it a strange mix of seasonal and year-round architecture. At one point there was a topless man on a lawn chair sunning himself, who really looked like a Florida snowbird that had just returned home.

  4. I got a strange vibe from the place as well. Not a single store around there (at least on the Canadian side), although I’m sure it is tempting to head to the bustling metropolis of Chateaugay, NY for day to day essentials.

    Was the topless man sunning himself in his yard or on the cutline? I was surprised that there was no evidence of sensors along the cutline or warnings about crossing etc.

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