Strange Maps: Border between Canada and USA
July 6, 2007
I’ve always been fascinated by maps. Don’t know if it’s a geek thing or not. I love finding “weird” things through maps, and now with Google Maps and Yahoo Maps, the world awaits me – sort of.
A treaty sets the western half of the border between Canada and the United States at the 49th Parallel. The border follows the 49th Parallel – actually a latitude coordinate – in a straight line from roughly north of Minneapolis, MN to all the way out just past Washington State into the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Once in the Strait, the boundary loops south and then west, so that Vancouver Island stays within Canada’s boundaries. Other than that, everything north of the 49th Parallel is Canada’s, and everything south of that is the United States’.
Simple? Not really.
In several places, the ruler-straight border creates strange mapping results. At least three practical enclaves /exclaves were created — little “islands” of property belonging to the United States but almost entirely surrounded by Canada and/or accessed only through Canada. (Well, Alaska lies north of the 49th Parallel, but, well, that’s different because, well, um, it didn’t become a state till much later, um, or it wasn’t part of the United States till after …)
The first and perhaps most well-known out of these exclaves is Point Roberts. Where the USA-Canada border reaches the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of Washington State, it actually crosses one more land peninsula jutting off the mainland north of Seattle before the border actually reaches the middle of the Strait.
Point Roberts, WA is a small community of just over 1,000 people a mere 22 miles south of Vancouver, BC. Over land, the only way to reach Point Roberts is through a single road from Canada. Of course, one can take a boat from Point Roberts to the rest of Washington State. There’s only one school for kindergarten through second grade students; older students must take the bus up into Canada, around the bay, and then back into Washington State. I think after 9/11 they had to take a ferry or boat to school, but then they were able to use the bus once again once border crossings were less chaotic.
Two other exclaves are caused by the razor-straight 49th Parallel, this time at the eastern end. The 49th Parallel border runs through (and actually begins its eastern end in) the Lake of the Woods, shared by the USA (Minnesota) and Canada (Manitoba and Ontario). But the 49th Parallel border actually skims two peninsulas jutting from Canada into the Lake of the Woods. As a result, a few square miles of unpopulated, forested land is owned by the USA, even though on the map it looks like it’s part of Canada. The larger one is named Elm Point; the other is unnamed.
Interestingly enough, when viewed via Google Map’s “Map” view, it looks like the 49th Parallel international border doesn’t cut through any peninsulas in the Lake of the Woods:
But switching to the “Hybrid” view shows a different story:
Ah-ha, the two enclaves (or exclaves, whatever) clearly show up in the hybrid view.
I can’t wrap this up unless I point out one more enclave / exclave: the Northwest Angle. Many years ago, the Canadian / USA border was set at the very northwestern tip of the Lake of the Woods, and then it would run due south to the 49th Parallel then directly west. Due to ignorance of geography by the early mappers and developers of the then-young United States, it was not realized till later that the border running south from the northwestern border of the lake would set apart a good-sized chunk of land from Canada. About 140 people live there, according to the 2000 Census. For a good idea of what life’s like there, read the book, In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien.
Enough for now! More later.