ST. PAMPHILE, Quebec — Eleven Allagash and Fort Kent area woodsmen blockaded a woods road Monday along the U.S.-Canada border, leaving about 30 Canadian lumbermen stranded from their jobs in the northern Maine woods.
Five American trucks, loaded with logs bound for some of the four Canadian lumber mills within sight of the border crossing, were left on the private road on the American side of the border, unable to unload their cargo.
A Maine State Police spokesman said some of the Canadian workers went to their jobs by going through another port of entry, in Daaquam, about 45 miles to the south. Local INS officials at Daaquam wouldn’t confirm that Monday afternoon.
The blockade is expected to continue this morning, though some of the American woodsmen will meet with U.S. Rep. John Baldacci and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in Presque Isle to discuss the situation.
No violence was reported and no arrests were made at the scene of the blockade, which was an act of disobedience by the American woodsmen, protesting the loss of jobs to Canadians. Eight pickup trucks were parked across the road in two lines of four trucks each just a few feet within the gate that opens to the north Maine woods.
The blockaders opened the way when police and other officials, as well as two hunters from Pennsylvania, wanted to go through the blockade.
“We want Canadians out of the northern Maine woods,” said Hilton Hafford, when asked what his goal was Monday morning.
“We want an injunction to stop the bonded labor at the boundary,” he told Maine Rep. Duane Belanger, R-Wallagrass.
“This is not right,” said a Canadian logger at the border at 5 a.m. Monday. He would not identify himself, and he and his friends moved away when they were asked by a reporter to discuss the situation.
“A decision will be made later Monday night if we will also blockade Daaquam and Estcourt Station Tuesday morning,” Hafford said at the scene late Monday afternoon.
“What we want is work in the Maine woods for American workers for nine months a year,” he said.
St. Pamphile is a Quebec border town of about 3,000 people. The affluent community is a beehive of activity for the lumber industry. Most of the lumber for the mills here comes from the Maine woods.
When the gates to the north Maine woods were opened Monday morning, 21 Canadian pickups were lined up to enter the woods. Seeing the Americans blockading their entry, the Canadians milled around for a time and then started leaving.
Many of them returned shortly before 7 a.m., but left after seeing that the blockade was still up.
Not all Americans were supportive of the blockade.
“We tried this in 1974 and got very little. You’re wasting your time,” said American trucker Nelson Dubay, waving his arms for effect while talking to the other Americans at the blockade.
Several truckers carrying logs to the Quebec mills were unhappy at being kept from making a living by the blockade. With scowls on their faces, they formed small groups to talk with one another.
Belanger spent the morning and part of the afternoon on the telephone with delegation representatives and Department of Labor officials in Washington, D.C., looking to have the secretary of labor issue a work stoppage order to the commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The move could take 72 hours. The last time such an injunction was issued was in 1974 during a blockade of ports of entry in Maine by American loggers.
Before leaving the site Monday afternoon, Belanger told the American woodsmen that the federal officials were concerned that 668 bonded Canadians were working in the northern Maine woods.
“They found the number very high,” he said.
“We are here to keep the peace,” said Sgt. John York of the state police. York was in charge of a four-man force of state troopers at the scene.
Before leaving Monday afternoon, York met with woodsmen to verify their intent of nonviolence. Two troopers he left at the scene of the blockade were expected to return this morning. Assisting at the scene Monday were three border patrol officers and two INS officers.
Late Monday afternoon, Hafford said American lumbermen would be at the St. Pamphile gate until it closed at 8 p.m., and they would be back before the gate opened at 5 this morning.
“We are prepared to see this through,” Hafford said. “We want the injunction, and then we can sit with government officials and negotiate what is needed in the Maine woods.”
“The police won’t reopen the road unless and until they get pressure from up above,” American lumberman Stacey Kelly told his woodsmen friends at about 9 a.m. Monday. “If and when they do come to open the road and some of us get in the way or resist, we will be arrested.”
Kelly and Belanger spent nearly an hour Monday morning in a police cruiser with York discussing the situation.
“We’ve proven we can close the border. I have been told it was unrealistic of us to think the bonds [Canadians] would be sent home by the government,” Kelly said after leaving the cruiser.
“In a perfect world, I should not have to protest or worry to have a job,” Kelly said later, shivering in the stiff wind. “I want to come out of this with a job.”