DERBY LINE, Vt. — The lines are clearly drawn in this small, quiet town, starting with the border between the United States and Canada that runs through the town’s library and even through the home of Derek and Jaime Wells. In the Wells house, the kitchen and bathroom are in Quebec and the living room and bedrooms are in Vermont.
The dividing lines don’t end there, however.
Derek is a wicked Bruins fan. Jaime and her stepson are diehard Canadiens fans. On this day, Derek is wearing a green Bruins t-shirt with a shamrock on it; Jaime is wearing a red “Canadiens Hockey’’ T-shirt. Therein is the biggest divide, especially during Bruins-Canadiens playoff games.
“Yeah, I scream,’’ says Jaime. “Oh yeah, we wear our shirts and we scream.’’
Here at the tippy-top of the Northeast Kingdom, it’s definitely not all Bruins fans. Montreal is a just a 90-minute drive away, while Boston is 3½ hours south.
“My guess is that there’s more Canadiens fans here, regardless of which side of the border you’re on,” says Nancy Rumery, library director of the Haskell Free Library and Op-era House, which straddles the border.
In the library, a strip of black tape runs through the middle of the International Reading Room, and visitors can sit in Vermont, Quebec, or both.
The library’s only entrance is in Vermont, but Canadians can walk across the border from Stanstead and use it without showing a passport to the US Border Patrol, which monitors the front of the building.
According to Rumery, who has lived on the Vermont side since the 1970s, generations of people grew up in this area with limited access to TV channels.
“They all grew up watching ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ and Montreal hockey,” she says. “The kids who grew up in this area for years crossed the border to play hockey with Canadian kids. The American high school kids would have to play their home games up until a few years ago in Canada.”
On the bookshelves, which are all on the Quebec side, is an autographed copy of “Orr on Ice,” a 1970 book about the Bruin legend’s hockey feats. It has not been checked out since Aug. 4, 2007. The new Bobby Orr autobiography is unavailable. Funds are limited.
Outside the library, US Border Patrol agent John Barney is parked in an SUV. He sees a lot of Quebec cars entering Vermont to buy gas and milk at substantially cheaper prices, then return to Canada.
He thinks the US side has more Bruins fans than Canadiens fans.
“But it’s not cut and dried,” he says. “There are a lot of ties to Stanstead still here. You see a lot of Bruins decals on cars but not Canadiens.”
In Stanstead, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer manning the gate won’t give his name but says he is a Bruins fan.
“I take a lot of crap because of it,” he says, shaking his head.
The Bruins ‘are very dirty’
Frank Richardi, owner and chef at Lago Trattoria in nearby Newport, Vt., says that Canadiens fans outnumber Bruins fans here, 60 percent to 40 percent.
Richardi played hockey growing up in Braintree, Mass., and his mother’s maiden name was Orr. He proudly hangs a Bruins jersey in his restaurant. (“It’s here to drive you crazy,” he tells Hab fans.)
“When people give me a hard time — and they do — I say, ‘Do you know you come down here and this is the hometown of the guy who started the Bruins and had the Adams Division named after him?”
Few know that local grocery magnate Charles F. Adams paid $15,000 to the NHL on Nov. 1, 1924, for the rights to the first US NHL franchise.
Douglas Henderson, 80, of Derby Line, is a dual citizen, but he never liked the Bruins. As a youngster, he listened to Canadiens games on a transistor radio. To him, the Bruins are big and bad.
“I just don’t like the way they play hockey,” he says with a disgusted tone. “They are very dirty. [Zdeno] Chara is just one of them. [Brad] Marchand, every time he’s on the ice, he’s got to hit somebody from the back. Every single time.
“I hope the Bruins don’t win. I always hated the Bruins. Except I loved Bobby Orr. But I think Montreal will win because [Carey] Price is a better goalie.”
Eric Cotnoir, a young carpenter from Newport, is rooting for the Bruins.
“But I’m in a little bit of a minority here,” he says. “The rivalry is similar to the Yankees-Red Sox deal, but it’s not like there’s going to be fisticuffs over it.”
Back in the library, 6-month-old Rebel Sargent lies on the Quebec side of the International Reading Room. Her oversized children’s book stretches into Vermont.
Her mother, Faith, who grew up in Derby Line, is a Canadiens fan. Faith, who works for the state of Vermont, calls the library “an oasis” and yearns for the pre-9/11 atmosphere when the two towns were more like one.
“They used to wave you through because they knew you,” she says. “It’s too bad. We miss the community feel, but I understand.
“I just loved the Canadien teams growing up. I’m not a traitor. It just feels like home.”
Marie Josee Dumesnil of Quebec is all for the Habs.
“I know we’re going to win — my heart says so,” she says. “A lot of my friends are disgusted with the Canadiens because they haven’t won [in decades].
“All I care about is no riots in Montreal. Please don’t go and destroy everybody’s home, business, and cars. It’s terrible what idiots do. We live in a world of idiots.”
She also voiced her disgust with the Boston team.
“The Bruins are dirty,” she says.
She then asks if this will be in the newspaper.
“I don’t want anyone to come and break my legs,” she says.
In the afternoon, Derek Wells leaves his house, goes past the nine flower pots that the Canadians have used to block the unguarded Church Street crossing, and strolls into the International Reading Room.
With his Bruins shirt on, he immediately gets some grief from a Habs fan — Dwayne Loewen, who sits on the Quebec side.
“I especially liked all the fanned shots and open-net misses,” says Loewen, teasing Wells about Boston’s Game 1 double-overtime loss.
Wells, a laborer at a local beef jerky company, never leaves the Green Mountain State. He teases the Canadian about blown leads, then laughs and leaves.
Wells’s wife emerges from their home, which has an American flag on the porch. Asked why an American would root for the Canadiens, she laughs.
“Well, I have a lot of French-Canadian ancestry,” says Jaime. “But I went through Wikipedia, and the Boston Bruins team only has five American players on it and the rest are Canadian, so he’s really an impostor,” she says of her husband.
“We just poke fun at each other. I told him, ‘Well, I hope your team wins at least one game, so that’s it. They can’t win any more.’ ”
And the yelling that pierces the sleepy border town?
“She gets more worked up than I do,” says Derek, giving his wife a hug. “I only yell when they score.”
Last March, the couple took a road trip to Boston. The Habs stopped the Bruins’ 12 game-winning streak with a 2-1 win.
“You can’t go to a game with loved ones if you’re rooting for opposite teams,’’ says Jaime. “I kind of rubbed it in their faces.”
Derek believes the Bruins will win “if they get their stuff together.”
Then he gets into his car — which sports a “Go Bruins” decal that depicts a Bruins fan urinating on the Canadiens name — and heads away from the border and off to work.
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.