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This space is the no-touching zone.
June 5, 2013 5:27 PM   Subscribe

The bizarre border between the United States and Canada (SLYT)
posted by desjardins (62 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm sure it's been mentioned here before, but the zaniest border I know of is between Belgium and the Netherlands, at Baarle-Nassau. There you can find sizeable chunks of Belgium entirely contained within NL, and bits of NL entirely contained within those. Quite a few buildings and houses have an international border running through them, and on a map you can see farm fields with a chunk of a foreign country right in the middle of them. It's not so much a border as a froth.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:44 PM on June 5, 2013 [20 favorites]


(A particularly interesting previously on that subject.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:47 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


We have also talked before about the deeply fragmented Cooch Behar.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:54 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I won't lie. That was way more interesting than I thought it was going to be, Thanks for sharing the link desjardins!

So that school where kids need to cross international borders four times a day to go to school. Do those kids get leeway from their teachers for showing up late to class? "Sorry miss, but the border inspection was just hell today! Both times!"
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:58 PM on June 5, 2013


Expected more Derby Line, pleasantly surprised to learn the West Coast version is just as messy.
posted by maryr at 6:11 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fascinating, even before tussling with the Oregon Boundary Dispute, not to mention the Alaska Boundary Dispute. "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!"
posted by ovvl at 6:14 PM on June 5, 2013


the zaniest border I know of is between Belgium and the Netherlands, at Baarle-Nassau.

what is this i don't even
posted by Sarcasm at 6:15 PM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's probably worth pointing out that the "negotiations" he mentions involved, you know, warfare.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:19 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


So that school where kids need to cross international borders four times a day to go to school . . .

The one in Point Roberts -- it seems to me as if that problem could be solved by a ferry across the sound to Washington. But as I was once told, whenever you ask a question beginning "Why don't they . . . ?" the answer is probably "money." There must be some kind of resource problem I'm not aware of.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:22 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember seeing the "no-touching zone" at the Alaska-Yukon border, and feeling so baffled as to why people would cut a demarcation line through an area with so few people.

Also, the province of Alberta is riddled with similar lines, called "seismic lines". They were formed as part of the search for oil and gas. Just bulldoze a line through the forest, lay down some dynamite, and BOOM! The sound waves are analyzed to find fossil fuel deposits. For some reason, I never quite felt that was the best way to go about it.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 6:25 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fascinating! I love crazy borders. More border fun.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:26 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh god, I started laughing out loud at the 3rd minute when they explained the Minnesota jut because of a map inlet. Holy shit that is quality.
posted by disillusioned at 6:28 PM on June 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


I wouldn't give one of those no-touching zones a second glance if I didn't know there was a border there, since they pretty much do the same thing wherever power trunk lines pass through the forest. It does make you wonder what sort of monitoring systems are in place and how well tuned they are to not get false positives from bunnies, elk and sasquatch.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:33 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


These days, a lot of the seismic surveys use helicopters to drop the crew in. Much safer than cutting a line.
posted by arcticseal at 6:43 PM on June 5, 2013


It's not actually that mysterious why they chose to defoliate the border. It's precisely because this is a barren remote region populated mainly by trappers and hunters who are far from roads; in those pre-GPS days how would you know that you had crossed that border and maybe didn't have the resource exploitation rights you thought you did? By clearing and signing it they left no doubt that you were crossing something important that people had gone to a lot of work to set up. If your mining claim turned out to be in the wrong country you would have no excuse.
posted by localroger at 6:44 PM on June 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Literary border fun dominates China MiƩville's The City and the City. The border between Beszel and Ul-Qoma is a bit more complicated than anything we've dreamed up in real life.
posted by smrtsch at 6:52 PM on June 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


This corridor sounds like it'd be kinda fun to travel on by snowmobile or ATV.
posted by not_on_display at 7:02 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


He doesn't mention the most serious dispute at all: the Alaska/Yukon dispute over the Beaufort. It's a problem because there very likely is gas and oil in the disputed zone, and worse, both countries have issued exploration leases to the territory. There are some movements afoot to resurvey the area and sort things out once and for all, but nothing is settled yet.
posted by bonehead at 7:03 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I couldn't watch the whole thing, that guy's voice drove me absolutely batty. Neat info, though!
posted by windykites at 7:04 PM on June 5, 2013


No touching!
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:05 PM on June 5, 2013


I'm going to Point Roberts this weekend to pick up a package! A town of 1000 americans and 100,000 post office boxes.

I also read somewhere that it's one of the American Witness Protection Program's primary places to put people because it's basically a gated community, except with armed guards at the entrance.
posted by monkeymike at 7:14 PM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Something interesting he didn't mention is the airports on the border. A series of them were constructed in the early WW2 era; it would violate neutrality for the US to fly aircraft into a fighting nation's airspace, so the Americans would land Lend-Lease planes on the border, push them across, then the RCAF crews would take over.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:20 PM on June 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


The entire state of Minnesota is a no-touching zone as well.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:29 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was just wondering why the what with the Northwest Angle recently -- maybe someone asked me at WisCon? Anyway, fascinating stuff. Thanks, George_Spiggott!
posted by jiawen at 7:39 PM on June 5, 2013


The border goes through the islands of the Salish Sea in a kind of crinkly meandering route that was partly informed by bad maps and a small shooting war involving a pig and some potatoes.

Spoiler alert: the only shooting was at the pig, and the pig, defenceless and with a belly full of ill gotten tubers, succumbed to his injuries.

Rest Of The World: We are very friendly neighbours, here in the north bit of North America. This is how we settle things.
posted by salishsea at 7:41 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ferries are expensive. Washington loses a ton of money on the ferries from Bainbridge and Bremerton to Seattle, and orders of magnitude more people make those trips than travel between Port Roberts and the rest of America.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:41 PM on June 5, 2013


It's kind of weird to say that the state loses money on the ferry system; the ferries are part of the public infrastructure, like highways and buses and landfills, and are [google google] about 30% funded by state funds.
posted by hattifattener at 8:01 PM on June 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Just got back to Texas from an Alaskan/Canadian cruise-trip-vacation-thing, so this is especially interesting. Thanks for sharing!
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 8:06 PM on June 5, 2013


George_Spiggott: " It does make you wonder what sort of monitoring systems are in place and how well tuned they are to not get false positives from bunnies, elk and sasquatch."

"Look out Ricky it's a Samsquanch crossing the no-touching zone. Get the Swayze train across the border! Hurry, boys!"
posted by symbioid at 8:11 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's no monitoring for the bulk of the border. It's the complete opposite of the US's southern border. Also the st Lawrence is way too big to swim across.
posted by GuyZero at 8:15 PM on June 5, 2013


This American Life radio episode: Canada-US border relations reached a low during Bush Administration
posted by Bwithh at 8:38 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


No border will ever be as crazy as the border between Delaware and Pennsylvania. If you thought straight lines were hard to calculate with early surveying techniques, imagine the madness that ensues when using a circle instead.
posted by deathpanels at 8:40 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Glad to see that the Pig War has already gotten some love. I take care to always utter an imprecation or two when I visit the English Camp on San Juan Island, which I do several times a year.
posted by wotsac at 9:05 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The website of the International Boundary Commission is somewhat interesting.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:12 PM on June 5, 2013


Get the Swayze train

I once went off the rails on a Swayze train.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:12 PM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I worded that really badly -- I was trying to find something like the term "farebox recovery," but for some reason I wouldn't let myself just say "farebox recovery."

FWIW, I went and did some actual looking-stuff-up instead of spouting crap, and Pierce County (south of Seattle) does run frequent ferries to Anderson Island, which has about as many people as Point Roberts, though admittedly it's much closer to major American population centers than Point Roberts is.

[I should have known this... I have a friend who grew up on Anderson and would tell me stories about taking the ferry to Steilacoom for school.]
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:20 PM on June 5, 2013


My friend owns a house in Point Roberts and lived there for several years. It's a... strange little place. Very busy and touristy in the summer; creeeeepy quiet in the winter. My understanding is that there are a fair number of Vancouver hockey players who hole up there for some period - working in Canada but not giving up US visas or green cards. Also, I guess the border was a lot more porous pre-9/11 as you may imagine but is now much more guarded. Or so she told me as we stood near it and watched a guy walk right across.
posted by marylynn at 9:23 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's no monitoring for the bulk of the border. It's the complete opposite of the US's southern border. Also the st Lawrence is way too big to swim across.

I think the more compelling reason is that there's little incentive for most Canadians to leave.
posted by desjardins at 10:10 PM on June 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


No touching zone: there's a US border I must cross.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 10:13 PM on June 5, 2013


I think the more compelling reason is that there's little incentive for most Canadians to leave.

Not permanently, but don't a fair amount cross to smuggle stuff like drugs and weed?
posted by FJT at 11:26 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I guess the border was a lot more porous pre-9/11 as you may imagine but is now much more guarded.

Not really. The secret password hasn't changed, it's still: "Gas and Groceries."

But seriously, it doesn't seem any different to me now compared to pre-9/11.
posted by WaylandSmith at 12:07 AM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


So that school where kids need to cross international borders four times a day to go to school.

The dog ate your homework?
No, the dog ate my passport.
posted by quazichimp at 12:15 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


hypothesis: Because we are reading about it on the Internet, the story about the witness protection program using point roberts on a regular basis is either no longer true or a red herring altogether.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:15 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where I live the border is in the middle of Lake Ontario. Just head North, in a boat, and at some point you're in Canada. You can cross back and forth all day and no one will notice. Try doing that at the Southern border.
posted by tommasz at 6:02 AM on June 6, 2013


GuyZero: "Also the st Lawrence is way too big to swim across."

As an open water swimmer, I want to defeat this challenge. Although, in some parts, like near Cornwall Canada, the US is only a few hundred yards away (if that!).
posted by Xoder at 6:36 AM on June 6, 2013


Nowhere else in the world can one sit in an opera house that is literally split in two by an international border, where most of the audience sits in the U.S. to watch a show on a stage in Canada.
posted by Kabanos at 6:40 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The thing that surprises me is that he doesn't mention that it's not possible to have a straight line border that follows the 49th parallel. Except for the equator, no parallel is a straight line (that is, a great circle), so over the course of it, even if they made it laser-perfectly aligned east-west, it would curve significantly.
posted by rodii at 7:09 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


So that school where kids need to cross international borders four times a day to go to school.

Is apparently a magnet for cross-border drug smuggling.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:23 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


As an open water swimmer, I want to defeat this challenge. Although, in some parts, like near Cornwall Canada, the US is only a few hundred yards away (if that!).

Yeah, I just meant in comparison to the Rio Grande which is pretty small relatively speaking. You can swim across Lake Ontario or Erie if you train for it. Heck, Vickie Keith crossed Lake Ontario swimming butterfly! And the St Clair River near Sarnia is also probably just a hundred meters or so (of super strong, fast water, but still).

But you're not going to get legions of people crossing illegally that way.

I do recall news reports from years ago that Mexicans would cross illegally into the US via the St Clair train tunnel. They'd fly to Toronto, get to Sarnia, walk illegally under the border to Michigan and then fly to wherever they were going in the US. This is Canada-US border security in a nutshell, especially since 9/11 - Americans aren't particularly worried about Canadians, more about other people using Canada as a entry point to the US.
posted by GuyZero at 9:48 AM on June 6, 2013


Also the st Lawrence is way too big to swim across.

The only part of the St Lawrence that serves as the Canada-US border is the Thousand Islands stretch between NY and Ontario. It's not particularly wide, and, well, there's like a thousand islands to stop on and take a breath.

Yeah, I just meant in comparison to the Rio Grande which is pretty small relatively speaking.

Not compared to the Saint Croix.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:17 AM on June 6, 2013


My favorite part about the Baarle-Nassau border is the corrupt bank that had its counters in the Netherlands and the vault in Belgium, so neither country could check the books.
posted by ckape at 10:26 AM on June 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


As far as I know, before 9/11, you could cross from Maine to Canada with no passport, just a driver's license or other ID, and many crossings were not staffed. Now you need a passport, and all crossings are staffed, though not 24 x 7. I always like the idea that we were so at peace that there were a few open border crossings up in the boondocks. My parents were both from northern New England and had stories about going to Canada for booze during Prohibition, etc.
posted by theora55 at 11:26 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I go from Michigan to Canada all the time, and I don't take a passport. I do have an enhanced driver's license, but that's still a lot less stringent than full passport control. On the other hand, even back in the good old days when all you needed was a plain old driver's license, you could still count on US Customs to be total pricks.
posted by rodii at 1:18 PM on June 6, 2013


Another interesting thing about Point Roberts: marijuana is legal in Washington State, but not in Canada (at least not in the bit that Point Roberts cosies up to, I don't know about the rest of the country). The residents would like to be able to buy pot, but haven't figured out a way to get it there. They can't bring it in by boat or fly it in, because that would involve going into US federal territory.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:43 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another issue with Point Roberts, WA - they may have a hard time getting legal pot.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:46 PM on June 6, 2013


I wonder about the pot thing. Even four years ago when we took the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, they handed us all a half-sheet notice with big red letters that said, "Marijuana is ILLEGAL in Canada" blah blah blah.

A) Do people really not know this, and B) Is that all it takes to deter traffickers?
posted by sneebler at 4:06 PM on June 6, 2013


Speaking of borders, The Lost Border is a great book of photography from the 1980s of the "inner German border", aka the East German/West German border.

It's long been my goal to do a similar series of photography for the US/Canadian border, though I am a bit scared of drawing the ire of border cops on either side.
posted by afiler at 5:44 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


> they handed us all a half-sheet notice with big red letters that said, "Marijuana is ILLEGAL in Canada"

I've taken Washington / Canada ferries a few times, and never been handed one of those. I wonder which of us is unusual.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:10 PM on June 6, 2013


A) Do people really not know this

I didn't know it was illegal in Canada until today.
posted by desjardins at 6:37 PM on June 6, 2013


The corpse in the library: "The residents would like to be able to buy pot, but haven't figured out a way to get it there."

Is it legal to possess but not to grow? Because this seems like a problem that readily solves itself.
posted by Mitheral at 7:28 PM on June 6, 2013


Yup, you need to be a licensed grower sticking to state guidelines. Check out their logo! Anyway, I imagine it wouldn't be worth setting up a farm (factory? plantation?) just to supply the people -- and Canadian tourists -- of Point Roberts.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:42 PM on June 6, 2013


CITL, perhaps you look like a respectable (albeit dead) member of society, and I only looked like a 52-yo father with a middle-class job, no tattoos and two young boys in tow. Maybe they were afraid of you and/or your books?

Anyway, they were handing them out to everyone on the ferry, which was all retirees and yuppie shoppers, ie. obvious drug users!! (We're retired yuppie shoppers.)
posted by sneebler at 12:34 PM on June 8, 2013


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