Oct 072015

Traffic will be much heavier at the U.S. / Canadian border during Canada’s Thanksgiving holiday long weekend which occurs every year on  the second Monday in October.  This is earlier than the American Thanksgiving, but that Monday is also the American Columbus Day holiday.  Government workers are the main beneficiaries of Columbus Day but there are a lot of those so you will have heavier than usual traffic in both directions.

Because Canadian Thanksgiving is always on a Monday,  this 3 day weekend is a  favorite time for large numbers of  Canadians to come to the U.S. to visit friends or shop.   At some ports, this is the 3rd highest traffic weekend behind the 4th of July and Labor Day.  In general, traffic will be around 30% higher than normal.  You should expect delays as long as 2 hours at major border crossings.

Projected Peak Wait Times for the Canadian Thanksgiving Holiday

Every port will have it’s own traffic patterns, and weather and road conditions also affect peak periods.  Here are some general rules:

  • A large percentage of all drivers will be leaving on Friday and returning on Monday.
  •  The longest delays entering Canada will be towards the end of the holiday weekend when Canadians return home.  Both Sunday and Monday will be heavier than usual.
  • The Canadian Border Services Agency takes a stab at projecting the peak traffic periods entering Canada for a about a quarter of the border crossings. We have a link to those projections on our page titled Forecasted Canadian Border Wait Times.  You will need to select a port and then look through the list of holidays to find the Thanksgiving Day projections.
  • In Washington State, border traffic typically doubles on this weekend.  The Peace Arch and Pacific Highway crossings are always the busiest, while Lynden / Aldergrove and Sumas / Abbotsford tend to be less congested.

Your Game Plan to Avoid the Heaviest Canadian Thanksgiving Traffic

  • Time your travel so you are outside the daily peak hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Simply put, leave early or late.
  • You should always check our page for the specific port you are going to use to see if there are any traffic alerts or updates on wait times.
  • If you can hit the road on Thursday you will avoid the first part of the weekend traffic.
  • If you can return on Tuesday rather than Monday you will miss the worst of the traffic so long as you also avoid normal rush-hour commuters.
  • If possible, use a smaller alternative port rather than the major ports.  For example, more than 3,200 travelers returned to Canada through the border crossing at Coutts on the Monday holiday, while just 1,600 travelers came back through at Carway, Alberta.  Of course, smaller ports may have fewer lanes and officers so you will have to weigh your choices.
  • Be aware that traffic is especially heavy when it mixes with normal commuter traffic on Friday evening and morning and evening on Monday.
  • Some ports will open additional lanes at earlier times than usual. You should be prepared to move into lanes that might not normally be open.
  • Use NEXUS if everybody in the vehicle is a cardholder

Prepare for your Border Crossing

One big tip – before you hit a long line at the border make sure you have a reasonably full tank of gas and that everyone in the car has used a restroom recently.

To reduce delays when you reach the border, make sure you are prepared by reviewing pages on the border crossing experienceprohibited items, and required documentation.  Have your crossing documents available for presentation and be prepared to declare all relevant items.

If there can be any silver lining to being stuck in line for hours at the border it might be that Canadian officers are sometimes told to waive through travelers who owe duties on goods purchased in the U.S.  This is done to keep the line moving when it gets long.  Obviously there is no guarantee this will happen and you are still required to declare all of your purchases.

Increased Police Arrests During the Canadian Thanksgiving

You should also be aware that there will be heightened police activity throughout Canada during the entire holiday weekend.  “Operation Impact” is a coordinated effort between police agencies across Canada which targets the following offenses:

  • Drinking and Driving
  • Failure to wear seat belts – adults and children.
  • Aggressive Driving
  • Failure to use hands-free cellphones and texting while driving

Commercial vehicles will be subject to more stops than usual and there will be many more unmarked patrol cars and random roadside drunk driving stops.