The town that should be Cana­dian ter­ri­tory

Sur­vey er­ror put Su­mas, Wash. north of bor­der

Edmonton Journal - - CANADA - tristin hopper

It was on Sept. 11, 2001, of all days, that a Wash­ing­ton State court­room con­vened to hear one of the state’s most out­landish at­tempts to evade a drug charge.

Five years be­fore, a trio of friends had been ar­rested in the bor­der town of Su­mas, Wash., af­ter they were caught with a stolen credit card and a small amount of drugs.

But in front of the Supreme Court of Wash­ing­ton, their lawyer solemnly ar­gued that Su­mas was a law­less Wild West that wasn’t ac­tu­ally part of Wash­ing­ton.

And in­deed, it shouldn’t have been. To this day, a large chunk of the 1,300-per­son town sits atop ground north of the 49th par­al­lel.

“It wouldn’t mat­ter to me if it went to Canada or the United States … I could go ei­ther side,” Su­mas Mayor Robert Brom­ley told the Na­tional Post by phone.

Like many in the town, Brom­ley is the prod­uct of a cross-bor­der ro­mance, and thus has dual cit­i­zen­ship.

He’s also the owner of Brom­ley’s Mar­ket IGA, a large gro­cery store lo­cated in the town’s “Canada strip.”

It in­cludes a gas sta­tion, a small com­mer­cial dis­trict, a hand­ful of farms and about 100 homes. The whole thing would eas­ily be worth be­tween $50 mil­lion and $100 mil­lion if it was part of Ab­bots­ford, B.C., the Cana­dian mu­nic­i­pal­ity just across the bor­der.

Since the sign­ing of the 1846 Ore­gon Treaty, the Pa­cific North­west has been di­vided at the 49th par­al­lel.

But prob­lems quickly arose when Bri­tish and Amer­i­can of­fi­cials started dis­patch­ing sur­vey­ors to fig­ure out where the par­al­lel ac­tu­ally was.

U.S. and Cana­dian teams kept turn­ing up dif­fer­ent re­sults. More of­ten than not, they sim­ply ended up splitting the dif­fer­ence.

The bizarre re­sult is that, more than 150 years later, Canada and the United States em­ploys a bound­ary com­mis­sion tasked with main­tain­ing an of­fi­cial bor­der that rarely fol­lows the true 49th par­al­lel.

A 1998 Post­media in­ves­ti­ga­tion of of­fi­cial maps found the bor­der veers wildly in some places.

When all the dis­crep­an­cies are av­er­aged out, Canada comes out ahead.

In 2001, the Wash­ing­ton court ul­ti­mately ruled that the am­bi­gu­ity was due to a cler­i­cal er­ror and that the state’s 1889 founders ob­vi­ously did not in­tend to in­au­gu­rate north­ern Su­mas as a law­less strip of or­phaned fed­eral ter­ri­tory.


A satel­lite im­age shows Su­mas, Wash., which is close to the Cana­dian bor­der near Ab­bots­ford, B.C. The area high­lighted in red should have been granted to Canada but wasn’t due to a sur­veyor’s er­ror.


The bor­der be­tween Canada and the United States rarely fol­lows the true 49th par­al­lel.


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