Sunday, June 08, 2008

Boundary Commission Tales - Part I


Treaties and Preludes

The boundary between Canada and the United States, where it sweeps westward along the 49th parallel of north latitude, was once marked by a single oak post, carved on one side "G.B." and on the other "U.S." But some humorist among the settlers living in the vicinity of Red River or perhaps a passing cynic, uprooted and turned the post around, so that the "U.S." faced north. So little did the mark matter, however, that it was allowed to stand thus until it rotted away.

As late even as 1875 the westernmost settlement in the Red River Valley was the Metis village of St. Joseph, about thirty-five miles from Pembina. Beyond that point in the northern border country not a single permanent habitation existed as far as the Rocky Mountains, if a few Indian tepees at Turtle Mountains and some log cabins where half-breeds wintered at Woody Mountain be disregarded. Much of it arid and treeless, with great extremes of temperature, the land was peopled by roving bands of Sioux, Assiniboine, Blackfeet, or Metis hunters who lived off the receding buffalo herds. Through this remote and austere wilderness, a part of the west still unwon, the boundary surveyors of the early 1870's were to make their arduous way.

From the Lake of the Woods to the Pacific Coast the border along the parallel is, between nations, the longest in the world formed by a continuous curve. For many years this 1300-mile line existed only as an imaginary concept, its beginnings going back to the early eighteenth century, when the 49th parallel of north latitude was first suggested to the commissioners under the Treaty of Utrecht as a southern limit for the Hudson's Bay Company in western North America. Although it appeared on several mid-century maps, mo such limit was actually fixed by these commissioners, or by subsequent treaty, when Great Britian took over French Canada in 1763 and France ceded Lousiana to Spain...

From West on the 49th Parallel: Red River to the Rockies 1872-1876, by John E. Parsons