Canada is a massive country. At 9.985 million km² (3.855 million mi²) it is second in size only to Russia. It has the largest coastline of any nation in the world at 243,042 km (151,019 mi), and touches three oceans: the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Arctic. To travel from one side of the country to the other would take an astounding 61 hours of straight driving.
And yet for all its size, Canada is only bordered by one other nation: the United States of America. At least, that’s most people would tell you. Upon further investigation, you’ll actually find that Canada shares a border with two other countries: The Kingdom of Denmark, and France.
Located just 25 kilometers (16 mi) off the coast of the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the island of St. Pierre and Miquelon is the last remaining piece of a once large French colonial presence in North America. It covers an area of just 242 square kilometres (93 sq mi), and has a population of just over 6,000 people. The island also operates in its’ own time zone, (UTC-3) 30 minutes ahead of its’ Canadian counterpart. (UTC-3).
Despite its’ close proximity to Canada, this overseas territory retains complete French sovereignty. Residents have French citizenship, cars have European license plates, and all business is conducted in the Euro. To get to St. Pierre and Miquelon, there is a ferry that runs regularly to and from Fortune, Newfoundland, with the crossing taking about 90 minutes.
According to Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism, St. Pierre and Miquelon has managed to surprisingly stay culturally unique from its’ North American neighbors, and retains a striking similarity and dedication to the French Mainland. As Newfoundland Tourism says, St. Pierre isn’t like France, it is France.
It may seem obvious, but you’ll need a passport to visit the island, and will need to clear customs just like any other international border. Although throughout history there have been a number of maritime border disputes between France and Canada over this overseas territory, mainly due to fishing rights, in 1992 an international arbitration committee finally settled on the official maritime boundary which is seen today.
Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark share the longest maritime border in the world at 2,646 kilometres, (1,644 mi) thanks to the Danish territory of Greenland. As with St. Pierre and Miquelon, there has been a history of countering border disputes between the exact location of each nation’s boundary. In 1972, these disputes were finally settled in a bilateral agreement; that is however, except for one small island located in the Nares Strait, just south of the Arctic Ocean. This place is known as Hans Island.
Hans Island is essentially a large rock in the middle of nowhere. It measures just 1.3 square kilometres (0.5 sq mi), and sits exactly in the middle of the 35 km stretch between Canada and Greenland, with the maritime border running right down the middle of the island. It is absurdly far from the nearest populated areas, with the closest being Alert, Canada (198 km, pop. 62) and Siorapaluk, Greenland (349 km, pop. 68).
The Indigenous Inuit populations of Canada and Greenland have been using Hans Island as part of their traditional hunting grounds for centuries, long before Europeans even made their first presence known in North America, but other than that, the island doesn’t really provide any significant economic, strategic, or historical value to either Canada or Denmark, at least that I can think of.
And yet both nations have made significant efforts to claim sovereignty over Hans Island. Don’t get ahead of yourself though, this conflict is quite possibly the most peaceful international dispute of all time. In the 1980s the Canadian military visited the island, raising a Canadian flag, and leaving behind a bottle of Canadian Whisky with a note that said, “Welcome to Canada”. The Danish responded by visiting the island themselves, raising their own national flag and leaving behind a bottle of Danish Schnapps with a note that said, “Welcome to the Danish Island”.
Since then, both countries have traded bottles of liquor on occasional visits to the disputed territory, thus earning the conflict the fitting nickname of the Whisky Wars. Recently, there have been efforts to resolve the border dispute once and for all, although nothing has been formally agreed on as of writing this post. One such suggestion is to make Hans Island a condominium, or a shared piece of land between the two nations. One island, flying under two different flags. I think that’s a pretty good idea if you ask me.
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