The U.S.-Canada Border Runs Directly Through This Library
As he welcomed Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau to the White House this morning, President Obama praised the close relationship between the United States and Canada. So close, in fact, that they share a building. The Haskell Free Library and Opera House is stationed between Quebec and northern Vermont, “where the borderline literally runs right across the floor,” Obama pointed out.
The location has been a tourist attraction in Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont, since its completion in 1904. Martha Stewart Haskell and her son, Colonel Horace Stewart Haskell, both Canadians, built the building as a tribute to Mrs. Haskell’s late husband, Carlos. The family hoped that citizens from both countries would use it as a “center for learning and cultural enrichment,” according to the official Haskell Free Library website.
The Haskell is divided between the two countries. As CTV News reports, the library’s official entrance is on the U.S. side of the building, while most of the books are on the Canadian side. The opera house is similarly split, with most of its seats in the U.S. and its stage in Canada. Atlas Obscura notes that it is often said that the Haskell is the only library in the U.S. with no books, and the only opera house in the country with no stage.
Passports and other forms of identification aren’t required to cross from country to country in the library, though the Haskell’s website notes that the border inside the "building is real and it is enforced.” Visitors are expected to return to their side of the border after a visit; if they don’t, they risk possible detention and fines. By and large, the library has created few problems, aside from one notable incident in 2012, when a woman allegedly attempted to smuggle several guns into Canada through the Haskell.
Despite the building's unique position, Library Director Nancy Rumery told CTV News that Haskell staffers—Canadian and American alike—consider the library to be like any other town's.
"We're just trying to be the best library we can, and our community is made up of people from two different countries," she said. "We don't think of it in that big symbolic way that I think a lot of people do. These are all our neighbors and we do our very best to help them on their life-long learning journey."