Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Alaska Boundary line with Canada

Ever wonder how the South Eastern boundary line was developed between Alaska and Canada? The major one in the north, which follows the 141st meridian was established as mining was beginning in earnest. That line seems pretty straight forward.

The boundary in SE Alaska is what got me curious. How was it developed, as it certainly does not follow a straight line. What was behind it?

Well, it all started in 1493-94, only a couple years after Columbus discovered American.

" in 1493 the papal bull Inter caetera and rights contained in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas; these two formal acts gave Spain the exclusive rights to colonize all of the Western Hemisphere (excluding Brazil), including the exclusive rights to colonize all of the west coast of North America."

Later in 1513 "Balboa claimed the Pacific Ocean for the Spanish Crown, as well as the lands touching it, including all of the west coast of North America. This action of Balboa further solidified the Spanish claim of exclusive control over the entire west coast of North America."

In 1774 Juan Perez was commissioned to head north to re-establish Spanish ownership, as Spain hadn't really done much to secure their lands for the 250 years between the Balboa and Perez journeys.

They sent Perez north to re-establish ownership as the Brits and the Russians were basically taking over the land. Due to bad weather, Perez could not get past current day Queen Charlotte Island, which is part of Canada today....54 degrees 40' north.
This documented position became the south boundary of Russian ownership and held when Russia sold Alaska to the USA.

Now, how did the interior line moving up from 54 degrees 40' to 141st meridan get settled?

Bottom line, it was settled to be the line made from the highest peak to the next highest peak along the north/south coast range of moutains, but the boundary line along the mountain summits was never to be farther inland than ten marine leagues (about 50 kilometers) from the ocean, until such place the line hit 56 degrees north, then the 141st meridian took over.

That was all well and good, but the Americans claimed the 50 kilometers should start at the head (furthest inland) and the Brits/Canada felt it should be from the mouth (at the ocean).
If the Brits would have won the decision, Skagway and Haines would be Canadian towns and Canada would also have had a seaport north of Vancouver. Those damn seawater "canals"!

Blue: USA claimed line
Red: British claimed line
Yellow: Current boundary

This map of Wrangell/St. Elias Park gives an idea how that worked. If you go to VIEW MAP on the website and zoom just a bit then look at the southern portion of the park, you can see the boundary line as it goes from peak to peak between Alaska and Canada. Cool!

Boundary link.

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