27 June 2011

Exclaves vs. enclaves in the Northwest Angle

Geography enthusiasts are familiar with the anomaly known as the Northwest Angle, the most northerly point in Minnesota.
The Northwest Angle owes its existence to Benjamin Franklin, US Minister Plenipotentiary at the negotiations for the Treaty of Paris (1783). Franklin’s efforts won British acceptance for the US-British border to extend “from the most northwesternmost point” (sic) of the Lake of the Woods to the Boundary Waters (i.e. towards the east), and from that point due west to the Mississippi.

As the negotiators in Paris used the faulty Mitchell Map (which showed the Mississippi mistakenly extending too far north beyond its actual source at Lake Ithasca), such a line could not be drawn. Therefore, after the 49th parallel had been agreed as the line dividing American and British possessions west of Lake of the Woods, in 1818 a line was drawn due south from that northwesternmost point towards the 49th parallel. Hence the 90-degree upward bend in that border, creating, as the handful of locals call it, ‘The Angle’. 
The interesting article in the Strange Maps blog at Big Think points out that there is a second anomalous area - Elm Point.
Point Roberts and the Northwest Angle are not the only border anomalies on the 49th parallel. A much smaller American exclave exists only a few feet from the aforementioned 90-degree bend... The 49th-parallel line skirts Buffalo Point’s southern shore... the peninsula to the south of the line is US soil, cut off from its main territory by American water and Canadian land. Unlike Point Roberts, this much smaller peninsula is uninhabited. The actual border, visible on Google Maps as a line cut clear through the pine forest, is a mere 3,400 feet long... This box-shaped border anomaly is known as Elm Point. It is part of Roseau County in Minnesota, unlike Northwest Angle, which is part of Lake of the Woods County...
 The article goes on to describe even smaller discrepancies, but I'd like to shift the focus from the geography to the definition of the terms "exclave" and "enclave." 
Exclaves are territories legally part of a country but not physically attached to them. Enclaves are territories entirely contained within another country. While both categories often overlap, they are not the same. Lesotho is an enclave within South Africa, but not an exclave of another country. The territories mentioned here are exclaves of the US, but not enclaved within Canada (as they have access to the US over water).
You learn something every day.

Map credit: Ruland Kolen


  1. I'm sure people live in the Northwest Angle - do people live in Elm Point? Maybe not, the maps don't show any roads there. Are there ferries from NWA to "mainland" Minnesota, or do they have to cross into Canada to get to, say, Williams? Totally fascinating.

  2. Funder;

    Since I live in Central, not Northern Minnesota, I cannot be sure, but I believe I have seen reports that the Sheriffs Department has to travel through Canada to get into the Northwest Angle. As far as I know, there are no ferries available, but there may be private boats for hire.

  3. Thanks DaBris! Very cool.

    I guess the mail gets trucked through Canada too.

  4. Google maps (for me) shows a distinct resolution change just north of the border on Elm Point. It also shows a road or path on the Canadian side of the border. Is this used by the Canadian Border Patrol?

  5. My father grew up wintering on the Northwest Angle. My grandfather had a timber homestead there. My father was the oldest of 4 boys, and his job was to get up before dawn and light the stove. He also remembered the outhouse, which was normally cold, and then super cold when the moose came and ate the leather hinges.

  6. As a taxpayer, it ticks me off that Franklin did't have the wisdom to add "and to make minor adjustments where mutually agreed". Then the US and Canada could have ironed out these little quirks so make the border more logical and to use natural barriers where it make common sense.

    We have to pay for customs and immigration to staff a post just to service a handfull of privileged people at Point Roberts. Are there similar little enclaves of Canada in the US that would could have traded?


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