When two ‘hippy’ reporters crossed the U.S. border

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – With the death on August 2 of my former Windsor Star colleague Bill Twaddle, aged 74, I’m reminded of a memorable escapade we had fifty-odd years ago.

Inspired by Woodstock, many venues in Canada and the U.S. in the early Seventies staged rock festivals including one at Goose Lake just outside Jackson, Michigan, and another at Motorsport Park, known as Mosport near Bowmanville, Ontario.  

There were reports from border crossing points across the province of young Canadians and Americans beng turned back into their own country by customs and immigration officers. 

Bill Twaddle and I – they labeled us ‘the Star’s staff hippies’ in a photo in the paper – were assigned to find out what kind of hassle kids could expect at Windsor crossing points. We wrote that it had been a tough weekend for pop festival enthusiasts on both sides of the border: ‘The world’s largest undefended border was as difficult to cross as the Berlin Wall if you were young and long-haired and said the magic words Goose Lake or Mosport,’ we wrote. 

Attempts to determine officially what was happening at the border proved fruitless. Armed with our driver’s licenses, my British passport and Bill’s Canadian birth certificate – our only identification – we headed out in my car with two sleeping bags and $42 between us. 

At the Windsor-Detroit tunnel, we announced that we were going to Goose Lake and saw the guard’s smile fade. He asked the usual questions and wanted to see our money while he took a long look inside the car. We did not have to get out and nor were we sent over for inspection. He warned us of freeway problems but waved us through saying, ‘Hope you get in!’. 

As soon as we emerged from the border property we doubled back and told the Canadian officer that we had been at Goose Lake but couldn’t get in due to the crowd. He asked if we’d had any problem crossing the border and we told him no. He asked if the Americans had serched our car for marijuana. 

When we said they wanted only to see our money, he said, ‘You’re lucky. They’ve been turning back a lot – hundreds, and so have we. The minute they mention Mosport, we have to turn them in. They’re sent back for any little excuse we can find – improper identification, insufficient funds, even a baseball bat or a knife – anything that can be considered an offensive weapon. If only they’d smarten up and say they were going to Windsor or Toronto, we wouldn’t bother them.’ 

We returned to the Star parking lot, switched to Bill’s car and headed for the Ambassador Bridge where we tried another crossing. A female inspector asked where we were going and since we were obliged to for the sake of our story, we said Goose Lake. We were sent for inspection. 

Two men approached and asked us to take out our sleeping bags and open the trunk and then stand in front of the car. One checked the sleeping bags while the other used a flashlight to explore inside Bill’s vehicle poking beneath the seats, into the linings, the glove compartment and between the cushions. 

A third man investigated the empty trunk and we were told to open the hood. Two of them checked the engine and opened the window-washer bottle. After another full check of the interior, we were allowed to leave. 

They didn’t mention drugs but a sign on the wall made clear their intention. ’A few minutes clearing customs saves others from narcotics.’

Sadly, Bill and I couldn’t go to Goose Lake. It was a great shame as the lineup was very impressive. We had a story to write.

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