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The Canadamarker – United Statesmarker border, officially known as the International Boundary, is the longest non-militarized border in the world. The terrestrial boundary (including small portions of maritime boundaries on the Atlanticmarker, Pacificmarker, and Arcticmarker coasts, as well as the Great Lakesmarker) is 8,891 kilometres (5,525 mi) long, including 2,475 kilometres (1,538 mi) shared with Alaskamarker. It is Canada's only land border, and Canada is by far the largest nation having a land border with only one country.


Sign welcoming drivers into the United States

The present border originated with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which ended the war between Great Britainmarker 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 Anglemarker at Lake of the Woodsmarker 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 Rivermarker, 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 Mainemarker and New Brunswickmarker and the Province of Canada, as well as the border along the Boundary Waters in present day Ontariomarker and Minnesotamarker between Lake Superiormarker and the Northwest Angle.

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 Russiamarker's Alaska Territory), but the United Kingdommarker 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 Warmarker in 1859, arbitration in 1872 established the border between the Gulf islands and the San Juan Islandsmarker. 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

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 "boundary vista" extends for 3 metres (10 ft) on each side of the line. The Commission's annual budget is about $1.4 million (USD).

The commission is headed by two commissioners, one of whom is Canadian, the other American. 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. 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. The Canadian government said that it was taking no position on the matter, 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.


Law enforcement approach

The International Boundary is commonly referred to as the world's longest undefended border, but this is true only in the military sense - 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 Lakesmarker and Saint Lawrence Rivermarker, in addition to the maritime components of the boundary at the Atlanticmarker, Pacificmarker, and Arcticmarker oceans. The border also runs through the middle of the Akwesasne Nationmarker 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.

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.

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.


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.

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

Cornwall, Ontariomarker, 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 Akwesasnemarker (which straddles the Ontario-Quebec-New York borders) enjoys a certain "First Nations" sovereignty which prevents Ontario Provincial Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Policemarker 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. 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 .

Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)

The United States Department of Homeland Securitymarker (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.

As of June 2009, all persons arriving through land and sea ports-of-entry (including ferries) will be required to present a valid passport, enhanced driver's license or a DHS-approved form of identification.

Border lengths

Rank State Length of Border with Canada Rank Province/Territory Length of Border with the U.S.
1 Alaskamarker 2,475 km (1,538 mi) 1 Ontariomarker 2,760 km (1,715 mi)
2 Michiganmarker 1,160 km (721 mi) 2 British Columbiamarker 2,168 km (1,347 mi)
3 Mainemarker 983 km (611 mi) 3 Yukonmarker 1,210 km (752 mi)
4 Minnesotamarker 880 km (547 mi) 4 Quebecmarker 813 km (505 mi)
5 Montanamarker 877 km (545 mi) 5 Saskatchewanmarker 632 km (393 mi)
6 New Yorkmarker 716 km (445 mi) 6 New Brunswickmarker 513 km (318 mi)
7 Washingtonmarker 687 km (427 mi) 7 Manitobamarker 497 km (309 mi)
8 North Dakotamarker 499 km (310 mi) 8 Albertamarker 298 km (185 mi)
9 Ohiomarker 235 km (146 mi)      
10 Vermontmarker 145 km (90 mi)      
11 New Hampshiremarker 93 km (58 mi)      
12 Idahomarker 72 km (45 mi)      
13 Pennsylvaniamarker 68 km (42 mi)      

Notable bridge/tunnel crossings

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 (Calgarymarker, Edmontonmarker, Halifaxmarker, Montrealmarker, Ottawamarker, Torontomarker, Vancouvermarker, and Winnipegmarker). 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 Vancouvermarker's Pacific Central Stationmarker, 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 Seattlemarker-bound Amtrak Cascades train, which makes no further stops before crossing the border. Pre-clearance facilities are not available for the popular New York Citymarker to Montrealmarker (Adirondack) or Torontomarker (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 Brunswickmarker and Nova Scotiamarker to the state of Mainemarker, as well as between the province of British Columbiamarker and the states of Washingtonmarker and Alaskamarker. There are also several ferry services in the Great Lakesmarker operating between the province of Ontariomarker and the states of Michiganmarker, New Yorkmarker, and Ohiomarker.

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 Manitobamarker and Minnesotamarker, Coronach/Scobey Border Station Airportmarker in Saskatchewanmarker and Montanamarker, Coutts/Ross International Airportmarker in Albertamarker and Montana and Avey Field State Airportmarker 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 Housemarker straddles the Canada-US border in Derby Line, Vermontmarker and Stanstead, Quebecmarker.Private homes are divided by the International Boundary line between Estcourt Station, Mainemarker and Pohéméganook, Québec.The Halfway House, a tavern also known as Taillon's International Hotel, straddles the border between Dundee, Quebecmarker and Fort Covington, New Yorkmarker.[66645] It was built in 1820, before the border was surveyed.[66646]

Remaining boundary disputes

See also


  1. Organization Chart, International Boundary Commission, accessed July 27, 2007
  2. Wendell Sanford, Consul of Canada, Remarks for an Address, Canadian Studies Program, University of California at Berkeley, October 9, 2002

External links

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