Point Roberts - when rulers use rulers

One hundred miles north of Seattle in Washington State lies Point Roberts , the 5 square mile tip of a peninsula. It's in the Georgia Strait, to the east of Vancouver Island, 20 miles south of Vancouver itself. What makes it a noteworthy place is its national affiliation. Despite being isolated from the USA completely and having a land border with Canada, it still counts as a fully paid-up part of the USA.

     ##################################################
     ##################################################
     ########################     #####################
     ###################         ######################
     ############             #  ######################
      ########     Boundary    ########################
       ######         Bay      ########################
        #####                   #######################
        ######                            #############
     --------------------------------------------------
         ******                            ************
         *******                        *     *********
                                       ****    ********
                                      *****************
                                      *****************
                                       Birch **********
                                         Bay  *********
                                           ************
                                         **************
                                          *************

In the horrible ASCII map above, each group of 7 characters is about 3 miles or about 5 kilometers long. The #s are Canada, the *s are the USA and the white space is the Georgia Strait. Point Roberts itself is a hardlink.

The US-Canadian border (shown as a row of -s) runs along the 49th parallel from Minnesota to Point Roberts, then swings south to make Vancouver Island Canadian. The only border crossing into Point Roberts is on 56th Street, which runs south through the Canadian town of Tsawwassen to become Tyee Drive on the US side after crossing Roosevelt Way.

Life in Point Roberts

Point Roberts has a permanent population of 1,600; not quite enough to make certain amenities practical. There is no school above the third grade, no shoe shop, no doctor, dentist or pharmacy. For shopping, these US citizens cross their manned border into Canada. For health and education services, they drive the 25 mile (each way) trip around Boundary Bay to the US mainland, going through border crossings twice. Canadians visit as tourists, or to take advantage of US gasoline prices. Point Roberts owes its handful of bars and nightclubs to Canadian visitors- in British Columbia booze sales were illegal on Sunday until recently.

The isolated outpost boasts beaches, a country club, a moderate climate all year round, fir and cedar forests, and a view that encompasses Vancouver Island, mountains and seas rich with orca whale pods. There is a large marina and a small grassy private runway.

History

Point Roberts was first sighted by western eyes in 1792 from a Spanish ship. It was first named Zepeda, and assumed to be an island. Captain George Vancouver later renamed it after his friend Captain Henry Roberts. The 49th Parallel was selected as the main border between the USA and Canada in 1818 by a committee of American and British diplomats. This solution replaced the previous border, based on the watersheds of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and Hudson Bay. However the new definition did not extend west of the Rockies; in that region, known as Oregon County, the British and Americans lived together in a joint occupation.

This arrangement did not endure, and US President James K. Polk (elected on the border-revising "54-40 or fight!" ticket) and the British agreed to extend the 49th Parallel border to the Georgia Strait, thereby cutting off Point Roberts. The new Oregon Treaty of 1846 was the result.

Its American masters first used Point Roberts as a stopover for gold prospectors, and then as a "military reserve", that forbade permanent settlement. That situation persisted until a group of Icelandic families migrated from Victoria to settle the area. They cleared the forests, created farmland, fished, and generally behaved as hardy pioneers in the best US tradition. A few years later, the military reservation was rescinded, and the settlers gained homestead rights.

In the following century, weekend visitors from nearby Vancouver began to build holiday cottages. Today, these have been replaced by permanent homes for more permanent residents, although the population still swells in the summer months. The permanent population has grown from just 650 in 1970 to 1,600 today; and there is a typical summer population of 5,000.



Sources:

  • National Geographic, http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0408/feature7/index.html
  • Google Maps Pedometer, http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/
  • Google Maps, http://maps.google.com/
  • Point Roberts Realty, http://www.pointroberts.com/
  • 49th Parallel, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/49th_parallel

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