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Surrounded on 3 sides by Canada, U.S. residents of Northwest Angle learn to live with odd ‘geographic reality’

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Jeanette McAtee recoils in mock horror when she remembers her husband’s suggestion they move to the Northwest Angle — the northernmost point in Minnesota, and one of the most isolated slivers of the American dream.

McAtee wanted nothing to do with an existence where you have to cross an international border twice just to visit the doctor’s office.

Twenty years later, she rises from her chair in the wood-panelled shop she and her husband built, in this community she never wanted to live in. She has long since become convinced.

“I’m glad we moved,” she says with a smile. “I wouldn’t have said that when we moved. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh,'” chuckling at the memory.

McAtee’s store has become a lifesaver in this geographical oddity, some 300 square kilometres of land that appears on a map like the United States is jabbing its thumb into Canada’s gut.

It looks, as well, like it doesn’t belong in the contiguous U.S. — and the fact is it wouldn’t exist if not for a surveyor’s mistake.

The Northwest Angle is a point of land isolated from the rest of the U.S., linked by land to Manitoba’s eastern border. (CBC News Graphics)

The Northwest Angle’s only land link is its western border with Manitoba. To the north and east is the border with Ontario. It’s technically part of Minnesota — but with Lake of the Woods to the south, it shares no land connection with the rest of the state.

Mapping confusion

McAtee runs a convenience store brimming with assorted trinkets like wooden bowls and rugs, and basics, like cartons of milk. It needs to be all things to all people, because the nearest competition is at least 100 kilometres in any direction.

In the Angle, as it’s affectionately known by locals, you don’t go back for the carton of eggs you neglected to pick up while out of town — you forget about it.

This makes her shop essential to the hardy 120 people who live in the community year-round and frequent the few haunts: the convenience store, the restaurant, the church and their small shack of a post office.

“People help each other out all the time,” McAtee says, as a customer jokingly bickers in the background.

“Talk about characters, we have several,” she adds. “Let’s say we’re all unique up here in a way.”

Paul and Karen Colson have made their life in Angle Inlet, Minn., a community in the Northwest Angle, where they are the third generation to run a fishing lodge. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Paul and Karen Colson are amused by a recent petition that suggested this splinter of Minnesota that they call home should be handed over to Canada.

It was pitched on a U.S. government website late last month by someone who identified themselves only as “C.C.”

The appeal brought another round of attention to this orphaned frontier of the U.S., whose residents seem just fine with where they are in the world.

On a map, the Northwest Angle doesn’t make sense — but that’s because it owes its existence as part of the U.S. to surveying errors and awkward attempts to form a border in the early days of the United States of America.

The Northwest Angle covers about 300 square kilometres. It’s accessible in winter by a single gravel road or on an ice road. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

It came about due to reliance on a map that misidentified the source of the Mississippi River, and the shape of Lake of the Woods, when drawing up borders in the late 1700s.

It was determined the border between the U.S. and British holdings would run from the northwest corner of Lake of the Woods west to the Mississippi River — which was in fact south, not west.

In the early 19th century, an attempt was made to correct the mistake, with a decision the border would run due south from the northwest corner of Lake of the Woods. That, however, cut off the piece of land now known as the Northwest Angle.

Hence, the Angle became the only place in the United States outside Alaska that is north of the 49th parallel.

‘Chimney of Minnesota’

The Colsons don’t mind the attention that brings. As year-round fishing lodge owners, the exposure generates tourism and, hopefully, business.  

But visiting this so-called “chimney of Minnesota” is onerous. By land, visitors coming over the gravel road from southeastern Manitoba don’t meet any menacing border walls, or even a single border agent. 

Rather, they find a heated shack with a podium staffed by an iPad, which doesn’t turn on in frigid weather. That’s where visitors are supposed to register that they’re crossing into the U.S. The alternative is to call border officials or use a mobile app on your phone, neither of which are of use to visitors with spotty cellphone service.

Visitors attempting to enter the United States at the Northwest Angle can use an iPad to submit their personal details and have their arrival reviewed by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Thankfully, there are locations in town where the iPads do work to permit legal border crossing, including Jake’s Northwest Angle resort, which is owned by the Colsons.

Crossing the border routinely is a hassle that residents of the community of Angle Inlet, Minn. — located in the Northwest Angle — get used to, but it’s obvious the authorities don’t care too much, Paul said.

“If you’re really worried about people going into the Angle, then put a customs [office] up down the road and let’s just go ahead and check people through. Otherwise,” he said, “it’s not really a problem.”

Their family’s abode is a shrine to a life spent outdoors. Pictures hang on the wall of game their three sons hunted, deer antlers are mounted and taxidermy lynx and elk hang over their loft.

To live in the Angle, they say, is to sacrifice.

A simple unmanned shack acts as the border crossing into Northwest Angle. An iPad is inside the heated shed for people applying to enter into the United States. A phone outside the building is used by people trying to cross into Canada. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

“We are so far away from the rest of the U.S. that you don’t have any of the things that people just normally take for granted,” Paul said.

“Can you imagine having to tell people to have a passport to come over for supper at your house?”

When they were in school, the Colsons’ kids, now young adults, left for classes in Warroad, Minn. — a 100-kilometre drive to the south — at six in the morning. They went by bus, and there was no way they could stick around for organized sports. 

“It didn’t matter if they wanted to or not,” Karen Colson said.

To get there by land involves crossing the Canada-U.S. border twice — once heading into Manitoba to the west, and then again heading into Minnesota to the south.

“This is our geographic reality,” her husband added. “You have to accept this is how life is.”

Errands few and far between

Unless they must get parts immediately, they leave town only when they have a list of things to purchase. Paul hasn’t bothered with a paid haircut in 20 years — that’s done at home.

There are intricacies to life you wouldn’t think of. They are legally barred from bringing home produce they bought in Warroad — since it technically has to enter Canada, then go back into the U.S. to get to the Angle.

The restrictions have also changed over time, depending on the trade dispute of the day — a past control on bringing eggs from Canada into the U.S., for example.

“People were bringing cases of eggs by boat to supply the restaurants up here,” Karen said.

It can become so complicated the township flirted with joining Canada in the late 1990s.

Karen Colson, who grew up originally in Dauphin, Man., found the isolated Northwest Angle to be a great, safe place to raise her family. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

They threatened to secede from the U.S. when Ontario told anglers fishing in Canadian waters they could only keep their catch if they stayed in Canadian lodgings overnight. The restrictions eventually handicapped fishing resorts like the Colsons’.

To garner attention for their isolated community, they concocted an outlandish stunt that had their Minnesota congressman, Collin Peterson, proposing a constitutional amendment to empower his constituents to become Canadians.

“He went to the floor, read it, and then everything broke loose,” said Paul, who recalled carrying a book called How to Start Your Own Country to his first meeting with Peterson.

Flirting with seceding 

He said they never intended to secede, but the whirlwind of press got their country to fight for them.

There were silver linings to the dispute, though: Paul says he never would have met his wife, Karen — originally of Dauphin, Man. — if he didn’t have to clear customs at the lake. She was working a summer job on the Canadian side of Lake of the Woods.

Once they became an item, they considered living elsewhere. They tried Alaska, but kept feeling drawn to the Angle. They stuck around after Paul’s father died unexpectedly and the fishing lodge was entrusted to them, the third generation of the family to run it.

“I’ve always had five-, 10-, 20-year plans,” Paul said, when asked if living in the Angle has been worth it. “Raising a family was always my goal, and I’ve got great kids.”

Life in the Angle is harder by yourself, reasons long-term resident Michelle Friend. You have to be OK with the solitude.

“There’s so many women who come up here and they can’t find anything to do,” she said. “If you don’t like to be outdoors, there isn’t a lot other than — I don’t know — fishing, hiking, boating.

Jake’s Northwest Angle resort is a happening place in the winter as ice fishing keeps tourists coming during the coldest months of the year. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

“But I really liked the area.… In the 21 years I’ve lived here, I’ve learned how to snowmobile, how to drive a boat, how to repair all kinds of equipment.”

Bundled up in a yellow parka and trapper’s hat, she works as a housekeeper at Jake’s resort year-round and runs a lawn-cutting operation in the summer. A second job can be critical to make ends meet.

She said her grocery shopping is supplemented by neighbours offering their hunted game and fish, free of charge. People look out for each other here, she said.

Locally grown food

“Every day I go down the road and I wave at every car I meet, and I bet maybe once a week it’s someone I don’t know,” she recalls. “They’d feel bad if I didn’t wave and I’d feel bad if they didn’t wave — it’s that sort of community.”

One of her occasional greeters would be George Risser, the 78-year-old former postmaster (he was replaced in the job by his wife).

On the front steps of his home, he munches a cookie while scanning the snow-swept marshland and its pockets of forest and open spaces.

The community’s nine-hole golf course is his backyard.

While happy, Risser longs a bit for the past, before the 1970s, when there wasn’t a gravel road leading into their community. The former employee of a Nebraska hydro company yearns, ironically, for the days when there was no electricity here either.

George Risser acknowledges the private enclave of the U.S. he enjoys so much is not for everyone, but he yearns for the time when it was even farther off the beaten path. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

“I think people like it the way things are now, but I don’t as much. I can remember what it was like back when there was less people around and I knew everybody. Now I don’t know hardly anybody.”

Around the bend, Bill Magoon, who’s lived in the Northwest Angle for just under a decade, knows about life here more recently, after the road from the west provided an established link.

He doesn’t want this place to get any more populated, though.

“The only thing that’d mess up this place is if they pave the road and too many city people come here,” he laughed, lounging on his couch as the setting sun cast a shadow in his living room.

He and his wife, Nancy, have lived together in the Northwest Angle since spurning the bustle of upstate New York almost 10 years ago for the comparative solitude of a homestead, where you set up a trough in your front lawn for the deer. 

Nancy and Bill Magoon found their retirement home in the Northwest Angle to be better than expected, once their daughters decided to settle in the community as well. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

“We just figured we would be here and the kids will be wherever — you know, doing their own thing,” Nancy said.

But then their daughters followed suit. Their youngest met a guy from the Angle and got married. Their oldest daughter stuck around, too, when the rest of her family settled here.

The best part of this slice of the rural United States, Bill explains, is that pretty much everyone who lives in the Angle wants to be here.

He approaches the kitchen where his wife is making a batch of chicken divan. They’re hosting some friends later that night. Dinner parties, hosted by the Magoons or their neighbours, happen two or three times a week, Bill says.

“That wouldn’t happen in New York.”

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Canadian Tech Calling: Moon and Mars and Mobile Phones

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Canadian technological know-how is helping develop reliable mobile communications for next-generation space missions, including manned missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

With many eyes here on Earth now focused on Mars, following the successful journey of ‘Percy’, the roving space exploration vehicle more formally known as Perseverance that is now cruising the Martian landscape, the continued role of Canadian researchers and technologists in space exploration has also drawn more attention.

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University is working to make LTE/4G and Wi-Fi communications systems on the Moon a reality, along with others in the U.S. and Canada, under the umbrella of the Artemis Program at NASA.

That project will see the return of human beings to the Moon by 2024, and then to the surface of Mars after that.

As part of those efforts, NASA selected Nokia Bell Labs to build a test network and communications infrastructure to build interoperability standards among future cellular and Wi-Fi networks, so that all types of devices can be connected and support Artemis.

The network must provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications, including command and control functions; real-time navigation and remote control of surface rovers; as well as the streaming of high definition video, applications that are all vital to long-term human presence on a lunar or planetary surface.

“It sounds like far-out stuff, building networks on the Moon, Mars and even further out in our solar system,” says Stephen Braham, the director of the PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking at SFU. “But we’re actually testing Nokia’s technology right now.”

SFU’s PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking is doing some of that work at its Exploration Wireless Communications testbed at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

“(This is) what will allow us to build the ladder of technology standards needed to get cellular networks off Earth and into the solar system,” Braham said in a statement.

NASA and the CSA handed that critical testing to Braham and the scientists at PolyLAB, the Canadian component of what’s called the Exploration Wireless Communications (ExWC).

“Before space agencies can adopt these technologies, we need to prove we can operate between multiple vendors and different agencies, which is why NASA and CSA supports the ExWC testbed,” he continued.

The ExWC testbed launched back in 2018, testing high-speed wireless communications systems for space use, including 5G-forward LTE solutions and advanced Wi-Fi.

The SFU radio transmission systems, in the lab and on masts in the mountains in B.C. and the Yukon, are tested with various vendors and leading telecom providers, such including Vancouver-based Star Solutions and Sierra Wireless, another local company, as well as international telecommunications firms like Nokia.

Braham and associate professor Peter Anderson, who directs the SFU Telematics Research Laboratory that includes PolyLAB, both have extensive track records working on communication systems for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

It includes extensive research on very early cellular and Wi-Fi networks in the Canadian High Arctic, where advanced field communications systems were set up to support the SETI Institute and Mars Institute-lead NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) up on Devon Island. 

That’s where Braham and his team tested the technology (developed in Canada) that became a big part of modern Wi-Fi, LTE, and now 5G technology, in order to meet up-front needs on human lunar missions if not all manned space flights.

From those early beginnings, the SFU team has now worked with other collaborators for the ongoing design and development of Canada’s prototype lunar/Mars surface communication networking systems, specifically the ExoMars rover, including Canadian space technology company MDA and the Canadian Communications Research Centre.

Braham is also an Associate Member on the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), supporting CSA during discussions and development of international standards for computing, networking, and communications in space. He also worked for many years as a member of the CSA’s nine-member Space Exploration Advisory Committee (SEAC), providing community leadership and representation in aspects of human space exploration in Canada.

But, when space agency officials announced recently that a Canadian will be aboard when NASA returns to the Moon in 2023, well, Braham was not named as that astronaut.

Nevertheless, with his and his team’s help, that astronaut will make Canada the second country in history to have someone travel into deep space and fly around the Moon.

And maybe use a mobile phone to call us and tell us all about it.

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Canadian Consumer Coalition Calls for Affordable Internet on National Day of Action

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 16, a national day of action will be staged by Canadian consumer advocates, social justice groups, telecom policy experts, digital activists, and independent ISPs, or Internet Service Providers.

In a series of scheduled virtual events, there will be calls for the federal government and telecom regulators to take action and ensure affordable Internet and wireless services are available to all Canadians.

The free online event is open to the public, and planners and scheduled participants in the Day of Action for Affordable Internet hope consumers themselves will them in urging a range of actions be taken by the federal government, the CRTC and the country’s Competition Bureau.

Advocating for a more affordable Internet will be: ACORN Canada; Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship; activist and author Cory Doctorow; Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law Michael Geist; The Internet Society Canada Chapter; OpenMedia; Public Interest Advocacy Centre; Ryerson Leadership Lab; Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic; and TekSavvy Solutions.

And while a lack of competition has long been cited as a reason for high prices in Canada, the fact that a majority of subscribers stick with the ‘Big Three’ is also a stumbling block to leveling the playing field, at  least price-wise.

Canada’s Competitive Network Operators, a trade organization made up of Internet and telecommunications service providers that own/operate telecommunications networks across the country, is also fighting for a fair Internet pricing and accessibility structure.

Pandemic Pressures

Affordable Internet activists point out that, throughout the current COVID-19 crisis, reliable and affordable connectivity became even more essential. So did many things, in fact: many we had never deemed as so important, relevant or even as noteworthy as high speed Internet.

“The affordability and accessibility of the [I]nternet has never been more critical,” says Franca Palazzo, one of the event participants and the executive director of the Internet Society, Canada Chapter. “More than ever, we are being asked to work, learn and connect online.”

While it is true that many of our fellow Canadians are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic, and they struggle, the coalition says, to pay some of the highest telecom bills in the world (while others can’t even get high-quality reliable connections), it is also true that many of us are using our high-speed connections more than ever with no increase in cost or decrease in service as a result of our pandemic-related stay-at-home, work-at-home or school-at-home activities.

The big three providers in Canada – Bell, Rogers and Telus – are among those companies that lifted data caps on cable and fibre-based residential Internet services; it’s a corporate goodwill gesture made as a result of pandemic and public pressures. The caps have been lifted until the end of June, where and when possible. (The Liberal government has directed the country’s largest telecom providers to cut specific cellphone prices in general.)

Not everyone is eligible for the pandemic discounts, however: some folks still using cellular (where, for example, high speed networking is not available) for their Internet connections are unable to get discounts because, the telecoms say, bandwidth and capacity would be threatened if caps were removed from cellular service.

“The digital divide in Canada is sometimes portrayed as exclusively a rural-urban divide,” says Sam Andrey, the director of policy and research at Ryerson Leadership Lab, where research and analysis into Internet usage is conducted. “But even in Canada’s largest cities, there are persistent gaps in access to digital services, devices and affordable [I]nternet at sufficient speeds that map onto other socioeconomic inequities, including income, age, race and ability,” he adds.

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Brim Financial Raises $25M Series B to transform the way people bank and shop

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TORONTO, March 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ – Brim Financial (Brim), a Canadian next-generation Fintech company and certified credit card issuer, today announced the close of a $25M Series B, co-led by Desjardins Group and US-based EPIC Ventures with strong participation from Canadian and US based investors including goeasy Ltd., White Owl and Impression Ventures.

Brim’s state-of-the-art technology stack and credit cards infrastructure leverages the company’s ability to directly access the payment rails as an issuer, enabling Brim to deliver a fundamentally transformative ecosystem of financial products for consumers and businesses.

The Series B financing will bolster Brim’s Platform as a Service (PaaS). Brim’s B2B2C strategy enables any bank, credit union, fintech or large commercial partner to seamlessly roll out Brim’s financial products platform, credit cards and integrated buy-now pay-later solutions, mobile and digital banking, and behavior-driven customer engagement, all embedded with a best-in-class globally open loyalty and rewards ecosystem available in real-time at all merchants worldwide. With Brim’s Platform as a Service, partners have the ability to customize every element of the platform and leverage Brim’s end-to-end services, on a modular and turnkey basis.

Our technology stack powers banking, loyalty and integrated e-commerce on a single platform, with the customer experience at the center of it all” said Rasha Katabi, CEO and Founder of Brim Financial. “Today’s digital environment has brought a new sense of urgency for institutions to assess how they will interact with their customers. We are well positioned to be at the forefront of this transformation that’s shaping the way we live, connect and engage for decades to come, and we’re excited to be working with investors who share the same vision.”

Brim has expanded beyond the direct-to-consumer space enabling large partners to leverage their digital first platform, suite of credit cards and financial products, and a globally open rewards and e-commerce ecosystem. Brim seamlessly integrates buy-now pay-later capabilities in all of its revolving consumer and business credit card products, providing ultimate flexibility for customers with a uniquely and strongly differentiated ecosystem.

“We’re thrilled to be part of Brim’s next chapter. There is tremendous potential in the industry, both in Canada and in the US, and Brim is uniquely positioned to deliver a significant and much needed transformation.” said Ryan Hemingway, Managing Director at EPIC Ventures. “Brim is combining banking and commerce like we haven’t seen in North America.”

Merged with its scalable technology platform, Brim has the largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem as Brim’s technology stack directly leverages the global payment network. Brim’s Loyalty and Rewards are live at all points of sale globally, both in physical stores and online.  Any merchant can be live and part of the ecosystem in less than 3 minutes.

“Brim’s platform delivers industry-leading payments technology to their customers at an astonishing pace,” Martin Brunelle, Vice-President, Growth, Acquisitions and Development at Desjardins Group.  “Desjardins has earmarked $100 M to invest in technology companies and investment funds who can support our different business units in their digital transformation needs.  We’re very excited to be partnering with Brim.”

With its platform built entirely from the ground up and directly on the global payment network, Brim is positioned to transform the future of the credit card industry and digital banking products with the world’s largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem. Brim has notably on-boarded hundreds of merchants to its rewards ecosystem since its launch, and rapid expansion will continue to be a key focus for the company going forward.

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