The town that should be Canadian territory
Survey error put Sumas, Wash. north of border
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.
IT WOULDN’T MATTER TO ME ... I COULD GO EITHER SIDE.
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.