Alaska boundary dispute

Alaska boundary dispute

The Alaska Boundary Dispute was a territorial dispute between the United States and Canada (then a British Dominion with its foreign affairs controlled from London), and at a subnational level between Alaska on the U.S. side and British Columbia and the Yukon on the Canadian side. It was resolved by arbitration in 1903. The dispute was inherited by the United States as a consequence of the Alaska purchase and had been ongoing between the Russian and British Empires since 1821. [ [ "Report relative to the Alaska boundary question", p.14 "The Ukase of 1821"Alexander Begg, Victoria, British Columbia, publ. R. Wolfenden, 1902] , report to David McEwen Eberts, Attorney-General of British Columbia]


In 1825 Russia and Britain signed a treaty to define the borders of their respective colonial possessions. Part of the wording of the treaty was that

:"...the said line shall ascend to the north along the channel called Portland Channel as far as the point of the continent where it strikes the 56th degree of north latitude; from this last-mentioned point, the line of demarcation shall follow the summit of the mountains situated parallel to the coast as far as the point of intersection of the 141st degree of west longitude."

The rather vague phrase "the mountains parallel to the coast" was further qualified thus:

:"Whenever the summit of the mountains shall be at a distance of more than ten marine leagues from the ocean, the limit shall be formed by a line parallel to the winding of the coast, and which shall never exceed the distance of ten marine leagues therefrom."

This part of the treaty language was really an agreement on general principles for establishing a boundary in the area in the future, rather than any exact demarcated line.

After the United States bought Alaska in 1867 and British Columbia united with Canada in 1871, Canada requested a survey, but it was refused by the United States as too costly: the border area was very remote and sparsely-settled, and without economic or strategic interest at the time. In 1898 the national governments agreed on a compromise, but the government of British Columbia rejected it. U.S. President McKinley proposed a permanent lease of a port near Haines, but Canada rejected that compromise.

Around that time, the Klondike Gold Rush enormously increased the population of the general area, which reached 30,000, composed largely of Americans.

This increased the importance of the region and the desirability of fixing an exact boundary. There are claims that Canadian citizens were harassed by the U.S. as a deterrent to making any land claims. [ [ "Statement of facts regarding the Alaska boundary question", p.3487 Alexander Begg, Victoria, British Columbia, publ. R. Wolfenden, 1902] , report to David McEwen Eberts, Attorney-General of British Columbia.] Finally, in 1903, the Hay-Herbert Treaty entrusted the decision to an arbitration by a mixed tribunal of six members: three Americans, two Canadians, and one British.

The main legal points at issue were which definition of the coastal range should be chosen as the basis of the boundary and whether the "ten marine leagues", convert|30|nmi|mi km, should be measured from the heads of the fjords or from a baseline which would cut across the mouths of the fjords.

After several tie votes and with the Christmas season approaching, the British arbitration board member Lord Alverstone sided with the United States position on these basic issues, although the final agreed demarcation line fell significantly short of the maximal U.S. claim (it was a compromise falling roughly between the maximal U.S. and maximal British/Canadian claim) and "the Panhandle" (the Tatshenshini-Alsek region) was not quite exclaved from the rest of British Columbia.

Canadian controversy

Because the Canadian delegates had been out-manoeuvred by Lord Alverstone, in protest the Canadian judges refused to sign the award, issued 20 October 1903, and violent anti-British feeling erupted in Canada. The result was a surge in Canadian nationalism separate from an Imperial identity. (Munro 1965)

Irritated at the decision, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier asserted that Canada's lack of treaty-making power made it difficult to maintain its rights internationally, but he took no immediate action and the situation remained essentially unchanged until Canada became a separate signatory at the Treaty of Versailles and still later when the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King took independent charge of foreign policy beginning in 1921. In the period immediately after the dispute, Canadian anger gradually subsided, although suspicions of the U.S. provoked by the award may have contributed to Canada's rejection of free trade in the 1911 "reciprocity election". Nevertheless, the Alaska settlement promoted better understanding between the U.S. and Britain that worked to Canada's advantage in World War I.Fact|date=July 2008

Since the British did not want to anger the US, because of their dealing with the US in discussing the border of Venezuela, they ended up siding with the Americans, thus making the Klondike gold rush non-profitable for the Canadian government.Fact|date=July 2008


* Carroll, F. M. "Robert Lansing and the Alaska Boundary Settlement." "International History Review" 1987 9(2): 271-290. Issn: 0707-5332
* Kohn, Edward P. "This Kindred People: Canadian-American Relations and the Anglo-Saxon Idea, 1895-1903" (2005)
* Munro, John A. "English-Canadianism and the Demand for Canadian Autonomy: Ontario's Response to the Alaska Boundary Decision, 1903." "Ontario History" 1965 57(4): 189-203. Issn: 0030-2953
*Cranny, Michael "Horizons Canada Moves West"pg 256 1999 Prentice Hall Ginn Canada
* Penlington, Norman. "The Alaska Boundary Dispute: A Critical Reappraisal." McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1972. 120 pp.
* [ The Canadian Encyclopedia: Alaska Boundary Dispute]


* [ "Report relative to the Alaska Boundary Question, submitted to the Hon. J.H. Turner, Minister of Finance etc. etc. (sic), 15 August, 1896.", Alexander Begg, Victoria, British Columbia: R. Wolfenden, 1896]
* [ "Review of the Alaskan boundary question", Alexander Begg, Victoria, British Columbia, publ. Unknown, 1900]
* [ "Statement of facts regarding the Alaska boundary question", Alexander Begg, Victoria, British Columbia, publ. R. Wolfenden, 1902] , report to David McEwen Eberts, Attorney-General of British Columbia.
* [ "Survey of boundary line between Alaska and British Columbia : letter from the Acting Secretary of the Treasury, transmitting a communication from the Secretary of State, submitting an estimate of appropriation for survey of the boundary line between Alaska and British Columbia"] , R.Wike, US Dept. of State, publ. s.l.: s.n., 1895.

ee also

*List of areas disputed by the United States and Canada
*Foreign relations of Canada
*Canada–United States border
*Canada–United States relations
*Canada–United Kingdom relations
*United Kingdom–United States relations
*Pig War

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