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The Canada – United States border, officially known as the International Boundary, is the longest border in the world. The terrestrial boundary (including small portions of maritime boundaries on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic coasts, as well as the Great Lakes) is 8,891 kilometres (5,525 mi) long, including 2,475 kilometres (1,538 mi) shared with Alaska. It is Canada's only land border, and Canada is by far the largest nation having a land border with only one country.



U.S. counties sharing a land or water border with Canada     Land border     Water border
Sign welcoming drivers into the United States

The present border originated with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which ended the war between Great Britain and the separating colonies which would form the United States. The Jay Treaty of 1794 created the International Boundary Commission, which was charged with surveying and mapping the boundary. Westward expansion of both British North America and the United States saw the boundary extended west along the 49th parallel from the Northwest Angle at Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains under the Convention of 1818. This convention extinguished British claims south of that latitude to the Red River Valley, which was part of Rupert's Land. The treaty also extinguished U.S. claims to land north of that line in the watershed of the Missouri River, which was part of the Louisiana Purchase; this amounted to only the most northwesterly tip of the Missouri called the Milk River, in southern Alberta.

Disputes over the interpretation of boundary demarcation led to the Aroostook War and the ensuing Webster–Ashburton Treaty in 1842, which better defined the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick and the Province of Canada, as well as the border along the Boundary Waters in present day Ontario and Minnesota between Lake Superior and the Northwest Angle.[1][2]

An 1844 boundary dispute during U.S. President James K. Polk's administration led to a call for the northern boundary of the U.S. west of the Rockies to be latitude 54° 40' north (related to the southern boundary of Russia's Alaska Territory), but the United Kingdom wanted a border that followed the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. The dispute was resolved in the Oregon Treaty of 1846, which established the 49th parallel as the boundary through the Rockies. The Northwest Boundary Survey (1857–61) laid out the land boundary, but the water boundary was not settled for some time. After the Pig War in 1859, arbitration in 1872 established the border between the Gulf islands and the San Juan Islands. In 1903 a joint United Kingdom – Canada – U.S. tribunal established the boundary with Alaska, much of which follows the 141st meridian west.

International Boundary Commission

The Oregon Country / Columbia District
Height of Land Portage (OntarioMinnesota). The Laurentian Divide is atop the neck of land crossing the picture; the faint vertical line in its center is the boundary vista on the border.

In 1925, the International Boundary Commission was made a permanent organization responsible for surveying and mapping the boundary, maintaining boundary monuments (and buoys where applicable), as well as keeping the boundary clear of brush and vegetation for 6 metres (20 ft). This "border vista" extends for 3 metres (10 ft) on each side of the line. The Commission's annual budget is about $1.4 million (USD).[3]

The commission is headed by two commissioners, one of whom is Canadian, the other American.[4] In July 2007, the Bush Administration told the U.S. Commissioner, Dennis Schornack, that he was fired, in connection with a dispute between the boundary commission and the U.S. government over private construction near the border.[5] Schornack rejected the dismissal, saying that the commission is an independent, international organization outside the U.S. government's jurisdiction, and that according to the 1908 treaty that created it, a vacancy can only be created by "the death, resignation or other disability" of a commissioner.[6] The Canadian government said that it was taking no position on the matter,[7] but Peter Sullivan, the Canadian commissioner, said on July 13 that he was ready to work with David Bernhardt, a Colorado-based solicitor of the Department of the Interior, who was designated as the acting U.S. commissioner by President Bush.[8]



Law enforcement approach

A sign at the International Boundary in Point Roberts, Washington, warning against illegal crossing of the border

The International Boundary is commonly referred to as the world's longest undefended border, but this is true only in the military sense, as civilian law enforcement is present. The relatively low level of security measures stands in contrast to that of the United States – Mexico border (one-third as long as the Canada–U.S. border), which is actively patrolled by U.S. customs and immigration personnel to prevent illegal migration and drug trafficking.

Parts of the International Boundary cross through mountainous terrain or heavily forested areas, but significant portions also cross remote prairie farmland and the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River, in addition to the maritime components of the boundary at the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans. The border also runs through the middle of the Akwesasne Nation and even divides some buildings found in communities in Vermont and Quebec whose construction pre-dated the border's delineation.

The actual number of U.S. and Canadian border security personnel is classified; there are in excess of 11,000 United States Border Patrol personnel on the Mexico–U.S. border alone.[citation needed]

Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, border security along the International Boundary was dramatically tightened by both nations in both populated and rural areas. Both nations are also actively involved in detailed and extensive tactical and strategic intelligence sharing. It is a common misconception that the nineteen terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks entered the United States via the Canadian border.[9]

Security measures

Residents of both nations who own property adjacent to the border are required to report construction of any physical border crossing on their land to their respective governments, and this is enforced by the International Boundary Commission. Where required, fences or vehicle blockades are used. All persons crossing the border are required to report to the respective customs and immigration agencies in each country. In remote areas where staffed border crossings are not available, there are hidden sensors on roads and also scattered in wooded areas near crossing points and on many trails and railways, but there are not enough border personnel on either side to verify and stop coordinated incursions.[citation needed]


In past years Canadian officials have complained of drug, cigarette and firearms smuggling from the United States while U.S. officials have complained of drug smuggling from Canada. Human smuggling into both countries has been an ongoing problem for border security and law enforcement personnel, although a minor one in comparison to the Mexico–U.S. border.[citation needed]

In July 2005, law enforcement personnel arrested three men who had built a 360-foot (110 m) tunnel under the border between British Columbia and Washington that they intended to use for smuggling marijuana, the first such tunnel known on this border.[10]

Cornwall, Ontario, is central to Canada's most notorious area of smuggling. Its location and transportation links, make it a crossroads for cross-border smuggling of illicit tobacco, illegal aliens, drugs, and firearms. The neighbouring Mohawk territory of Akwesasne (which straddles the Ontario-Quebec-New York borders) enjoys a certain "First Nations" sovereignty which prevents Ontario Provincial Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police from ready access to the source of smuggling operations on the territory. Customs and Excise members from the RCMP’s Northwest and Central regions have even gone to Cornwall to learn about the contraband phenomenon[11]. The smuggling industry is rampant, with collusion between local freelancers, and international organized criminals. Several lives have been lost by civilians as a result of police chasing smugglers; this on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars lost in uncollected government tax, and millions of dollars spent on law enforcement that has had a negligible effect on smuggling [12].

Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enforces rules regarding identification requirements for U.S. citizens and international travellers entering the country. This final rule and first phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative establishes four forms of identification—a valid passport, alien registration card, NEXUS air card, or U.S. military orders—required to enter the US by air.[13][14]

As of June 2009, most persons arriving through land and sea ports-of-entry (including ferries) will be required to present a valid passport; however, an enhanced driver's license, passport card, or a DHS-approved trusted traveler program will suffice for U.S. and Canadian citizens.

Border lengths

US-Canada-Border-States.svg US-Canada-Border-Provinces.svg
Rank State Length of Border with Canada Rank Province/Territory Length of Border with the U.S.
1 Alaska 2,475 km (1,538 mi) 1 Ontario 2,760 km (1,715 mi)
2 Michigan 1,160 km (721 mi) 2 British Columbia 2,168 km (1,347 mi)
3 Maine 983 km (611 mi) 3 Yukon 1,210 km (752 mi)
4 Minnesota 880 km (547 mi) 4 Quebec 813 km (505 mi)
5 Montana 877 km (545 mi) 5 Saskatchewan 632 km (393 mi)
6 New York 716 km (445 mi) 6 New Brunswick 513 km (318 mi)
7 Washington 687 km (427 mi) 7 Manitoba 497 km (309 mi)
8 North Dakota 499 km (310 mi) 8 Alberta 298 km (185 mi)
9 Ohio 235 km (146 mi)      
10 Vermont 145 km (90 mi)      
11 New Hampshire 93 km (58 mi)      
12 Idaho 72 km (45 mi)      
13 Pennsylvania 68 km (42 mi)      

Notable bridge/tunnel crossings

The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, is the busiest commercial crossing between the two countries.
Niagara Falls: The American Falls are on the left in New York; the Horseshoe Falls on the right are mostly in Ontario


Other border crossings (airports, seaports, rail stations)

Border sign at the Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls

The U.S. maintains immigration offices, called "pre-clearance facilities", in Canadian airports with international air service to the United States (Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg). This expedites travel by allowing flights originating in Canada to land at a U.S. airport without being processed as an international arrival. Similar arrangements exist at major Canadian seaports which handle sealed direct import shipments into the United States. Canada does not maintain equivalent personnel at U.S. airports due to the sheer number of destinations served by Canadian airlines and the limited number of flights compared to the number of US-bound flights that depart major Canadian airports. Additionally, at Vancouver's Pacific Central Station, passengers are required to pass through U.S. pre-clearance facilities and pass their baggage through an x-ray before being allowed to board the Seattle-bound Amtrak Cascades train, which makes no further stops before crossing the border. Pre-clearance facilities are not available for the popular New York City to Montreal (Adirondack) or Toronto (Maple Leaf) lines, as these lines have stops between Montreal or Toronto and the border. Instead, passengers must clear customs at a stop located at the actual border.

Several ocean-based ferry services operate between the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to the state of Maine, as well as between the province of British Columbia and the states of Washington and Alaska. There are also several ferry services in the Great Lakes operating between the province of Ontario and the states of Michigan, New York, and Ohio.

Cross-border airports

One curiosity on the Canada–US border is the presence of four airports that actually straddle the borderline—Piney Pinecreek Border Airport in Manitoba and Minnesota, Coronach/Scobey Border Station Airport in Saskatchewan and Montana, Coutts/Ross International Airport in Alberta and Montana and Avey Field State Airport in Washington and British Columbia. Each of these airports is adjacent to a border crossing. The runways at Piney Pinecreek and Avey Field run roughly north/south and cross the border; and Coutts/Ross and Coronach/Scobey's runways run east/west, directly along the border itself.

Cross-border buildings

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House straddles the Canada-US border in Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec. Private homes are divided by the International Boundary line between Estcourt Station, Maine and Pohénégamook, Québec. The Halfway House, a tavern also known as Taillon's International Hotel, straddles the border between Dundee, Quebec and Fort Covington, New York.[1] It was built in 1820, before the border was surveyed. [2]

Remaining boundary disputes

See also


  1. ^ "Webster-Ashburton Treaty". Yale Law School. 1842. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  2. ^ Lass, William E. (1980). Minnesota's Boundary with Canada. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society. pp. 2. ISBN 0-8735-1153-0. 
  3. ^ Schiff, Stacy (July 22, 2007). "Politics Starts at the Border". New York Times. 
  4. ^ Organization Chart, International Boundary Commission, accessed July 27, 2007
  5. ^ "Blaine couple, U.S. agency settle border wall case". Seattle Times. January 15, 2009. 
  6. ^ Bowermaster, David (July 12, 2007). "Firing by Bush rejected by boundary official". Seattle Times. 
  7. ^ Fong, Petti (July 26, 2007). "Politics delineates boundary dispute". Toronto Star. 
  8. ^ "Fired border official's job filled quickly: White House refuses comment on former bureaucrat involved in lawsuit over couple's fence". Globe and Mail. July 13, 2007. 
  9. ^ Wendell Sanford, Consul of Canada, Remarks for an Address, Canadian Studies Program, University of California at Berkeley, October 9, 2002
  10. ^ Frieden, Terry (July 22, 2006). "Drug tunnel found under Canada border: Five arrests made after agents monitored construction". (CNN). 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Cockburn, Neco (November 21, 2008). "Smuggling's price". Ottawa Citizen. 
  13. ^ DHS Announces Final Western Hemisphere Air Travel Rule, 5 December 2006,, retrieved 2007-12-02 
  14. ^ Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative: The Basics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security,, retrieved 2007-12-02 

External links


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