Canada’s International Border(s)

On April 25, 2010 · 10 Comments

What is Canada’s Only International Border?

Single-time visitors to the Twelve Mile Circle seem acutely interested in Canada’s international borders. My web logs register variations of this Search Engine query probably daily. Sometimes it’s offered — I think — as a trick question on trivia quizzes or contests. Maybe it’s part of a school geography class homework assignment. It’s difficult to tell. Highly specific phrasings do tend to arrive in clusters though if that’s any indication.

The answer hinges upon how someone chooses to define an international border: does it apply exclusively to land borders or can water borders be considered too?

Canadian Land Borders

This is the easy one. Canada shares an international land border with only one other country, the United States. It is the longest border in the world at 8,891 kilometres / 5,525 miles (5,061 km. / 3,145 mi. is on land and is marked with boundary monuments; 3,830 km. 2,380 mi. is on water and is identified by unmarked turning points or a parallel of latitude).

It is broken into two segments with the "smaller" segment forming a border between Canada and the U.S. exclave of Alaska for 2,475 km (1,538 mi). Canada is the largest nation that shares a land border with only one other nation, hands down, no contest. An International Boundary Commission keeps it all neat and tidy.

Canadian Sea Borders

Canada shares sea borders with two nations other than the United States.


I’ve written about the French Territorial Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon (Collectivité territoriale de Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon) previously. To briefly review, these islands just off the coast of Newfoundland are the sole remnant of the vast North American colony of New France under French control today.

View Larger Map

They are situated as close as 10 km. / 6.2 mi. from dry Canadian land (Green Island). Its territorial waters most definitely abut Canadian waters.


Canada also shares a water boundary with Denmark along the Kennedy Channel between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. This answer may change in the future. Greenland is an autonomous constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark but it has been progressing steadily towards full independence.

Denmark and Canada agree on on all boundary distinctions except for one small residual issue, the ownership of Hans Island. It’s just a speck but its claimed by both nations. As with most of these types of disputes it has little to do with the land and much to do with the natural resources that may be hiding in surrounding waters.

View Larger Map

CBC News explains,

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.

For a geo-oddities aficionado such as myself, there can be only one solution: split the island between Canada and Denmark (which seems to be supported by a recent Canadian measurement), thus creating a true land border. This 1.5 km boundary would become an instant classic for geographic trivia contests everywhere. I could even imagine travel and tourism opportunities that would help bolster the economies of small Inuit communities in these remote lands.

On April 25, 2010 · 10 Comments

10 Responses to “Canada’s International Border(s)”

  1. Greg says:

    Is it safe to say that Saint Pierre et Miquelon is a part of France in the same way Hawai’i is part of the US, or is the relationship a bit more distant between the islands and the French homeland?

    • It’s not a département but it’s not a simple territory either. I’m not sure it’s directly analogous to anything in the United States. We have at least one regular reader who resides in France who can hopefully describe this arrangement better than I.

  2. Mike Lowe says:

    I was thinking of this topic a few days ago. Get out of my head! It’s _my_ brain. 🙂

    • You must be connected to the greater collective consciousness. Usually I come up with my own topics, but this one came from all the people who’ve been using Google seeking an answer lately. Maybe Google is tied into your brain <<shudder>>. 😉

  3. Thomas says:

    Do you know what purpose the buried bottle of rye or brandy serves (from the CBC quote)? Is it used to check whether someone from the claimant actually knows what’s buried?

    • Other than serving as a tangible reminder that they stopped by, I have no idea. I imagine a buried bottle may have a little more lasting power than a flag sitting atop a barren rock in a very hostile environment. Your guess is as good as mine, though.

  4. One would hope that once in a while somebody drops by with – say – a Jamaican flag and an ounce of ganja.

  5. Doug R. says:

    It’s interesting that the map mode of google maps doesn’t show the island, but just the Satellite mode. Maybe it’s due to that Canadian-Danish geopolitical hotbed of controversy!

  6. Lincoln Ho says:

    On maps from 1992 given to citizenship candidates, the Canadian border extended to the North Pole along lines of longtitude. If that is the case and other countries did the same, it may share a point with countries like Russia.

  7. carlo alberto says:

    I want to travel from greenland to canada what they ask at the moment to cross whitch way is more easier.

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