A crew from the North American Boundary Commission building a mound marking the border between Canada and the USA in August or September 1873. (CP Photo/National Archives of Canada C-073304)
INDEPTH: IT'S A FINE LINE
CBC News Online | Oct. 11, 2005
As far as border disputes go, this one’s pretty lame.
No green line separating antagonists, no Demilitarized Zones
and no patriots dashing past guard posts to plant flags in
a desperate attempt to reclaim land seized by invading armies.
Yet, every once in a while, someone will stop by a frozen hunk
of rock about 1,100 kilometres south of the North Pole between
Greenland and Ellesmere Island and leave either a Canadian
or Danish flag and bury either a bottle of rye or a bottle
of brandy – and claim the 1.3-square-kilometre Hans Island
for either Canada or Denmark.
In mid-July 2005, Defence Minister Bill Graham stopped by Hans
Island to keep the ritual going.
"Our view is that it's part of Canada and we continue to be there, to go
there, the Danes go there as well and we are making sure that the Danes know
that this is part of the Canadian territory," Graham said after he had safely
returned from his excursion. He had taken a few hours out of his visit to a Canadian
military base on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island to bring Hans Island back
into the Canadian fold.
“It’s a part of Canada. I’m really glad I went there,” Graham
told CBC News.
The Danes were not amused and let Canada’s officials
in Copenhagen know about it. But there will be no Viking invasion.
Peter Taksoe-Jensen, speaking for Denmark's Ministry of Foreign
Affairs in Copenhagen, says for years Canada and Denmark have
agreed to disagree over the island and he sees it as a friendly
"Basically we have reacted because we want to keep the status quo ... if
we didn't react to a situation we would risk to have a worse negotiating position."
The dispute dates back to 1973. Canada and Denmark agreed to
create a border through Nares Strait, halfway between Greenland,
a semi-autonomous Danish territory, and Canada's Ellesmere
Island. But they couldn’t agree which country would control
the real estate on Hans Island and various other Arctic islands
in the area. They decided to deal with that issue later.
Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister, Pierre Pettigrew, and his Danish counterpart, Per Stig Moller met in New York on Sept. 19, 2005 and agreed on a process to resolve the dispute. After the meeting, Pettigrew reiterated that Canada has sovereignty over Hans Island.
Considering the length of Canada’s international borders,
there are very few disputes keeping diplomats busy these days.
Canadian Forces troops raise the Maple Leaf on Hans Island on July 13, 2005. (CP Photo/DND/Cpl David McCord)
There are only four other disagreements over where to draw
the line – and they’re all with the United States,
which shares almost 8,900 kilometres of border with Canada.
Machias Seal Island.
Yet another hunk of treeless rock that sits between the Bay
of Fundy and the Gulf of Maine near Grand Manan Island, New
Brunswick and Cutler, Maine. When the federal government replaced
most lighthouse keepers on the east coast with automated devices,
it left the lighthouse on Machias Seal Island under the watchful
eye of a living, breathing lighthouse keeper. Fishery workers
on both sides of the border are interested in the area because
lobsters seem to like it.
The Beaufort Sea
This dispute is a little more serious. Canada and the U.S.
disagree over who has sovereignty over a chunk of this northern
sea between Yukon and Alaska. It’s what’s under
the water that has piqued the interest of both sides: oil and
gas. The U.S. has expressed it desire to increase oil and gas
exploration along Alaska’s northeast coast.
The Dixon Entrance is a strait between B.C. and Alaska that’s
about 80 kilometres long and wide. It lies between the Clarence
Strait in Alaska to the north, and the Hecate Strait into the
Queen Charlotte Islands in B.C. to the south.
The Dixon Entrance is the principal approach to the port of
Prince Rupert, B.C.
Strait of Juan de Fuca
This body of water connects Puget Sound to the Pacific Ocean
between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula, Wash. Frequent
ferry service between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria
crosses the strait.
One of the most contentious disputes between Canada and the
U.S. in recent years has been over the Northwest Passage. The
passage connects the Atlantic and the Pacific through the Canadian
Canada claimed sovereignty over the water around its northern
islands. In 1985, the United States sent an icebreaker through
the passage without asking Canadian permission. Washington
argued it didn’t have to because the route was through
The route can save cargo ships 4,000 kilometres in a trip between
Europe and Asia – if the conditions are good. Global
warming may make the passage an attractive route – some
There may have been more boundary disputes within Canada than
between Canada and its international neighbours.
Quebec and Newfoundland have argued over the Gulf of St. Lawrence – and
its potentially rich oil and gas reserves.
Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have done verbal battle over where
to draw the line in the water between Cape Breton and Newfoundland.
Again, oil and gas rights are at the centre of this dispute.
Prince Edward Island and Quebec have squabbled over fishing
grounds between PEI and the Magdalene Islands. At issue is
a lot of lobster.
And in the Northwest Territories, two native groups are arguing
over land. The Akaitcho claim the Dogrib are claiming more
of their sacred land.
Yet with all the disputes, one part of the country has learned
to live with boundary lines as a fact of daily life. The border
between Canada and the U.S. passes right though the heart of
Rock Island, Quebec.
The boundary passes right through several buildings, splitting
bedrooms, apartments, a library, a factory and even an opera
house between Quebec and Vermont.