Canada and Denmark Are Fighting Over a Mile-Wide Island
What would you say are the two countries on Earth least likely to be involved in a tense border dispute? Might you guess Canada and Denmark? If so, then—by a staggering coincidence—you are exactly wrong, and should read on. At a time when many of our planet’s border standoffs are heating up, let’s take a look at the coldest turf war of them all.
Hans Island was named for the most famous Inuk explorer of his time.
In the 1850s, British and American explorers ventured past the northernmost reaches of Baffin Bay into the Nares Strait that divides Canada from Greenland. Some were searching for John Franklin, an Arctic explorer whose expedition went missing off Canada in 1847. Others were seeking the North Pole, or a long-dreamt-of “Northwest Passage” between the Atlantic and the Pacific. A native Greenlander named Suersaq, aka Hans Hendrik, accompanied many of these expeditions, and in 1871 a small, unknown island in the Kennedy Channel was named “Hans Island” in his honor.
Even computers couldn’t decide who the island belongs to.
When Canada and Denmark (which administers foreign affairs for its overseas territory of Greenland) met in 1973 to negotiate their maritime boundary in the Nares Strait, the task was so complex that, for the first time in history, computers were used to draw an international border. But the two sides were unable to come to an agreement on Hans Island, which lies right in the middle of the continental shelf boundary and was claimed by both sides. In the end, the treaty punted on the question of Hans Island, ignoring that part of the border altogether.
The zero residents of Hans Island are eager to get this resolved.
Hans Island is a barren round knoll less than a mile across. No one lives there, there’s no plant life, and it’s covered with ice nine months out of the year. It’s not a desirable prize, but neither side is ready to cede control to the other. What if there turns out to be oil nearby? A Danish minister planted his country’s flag on the island in 1984, to Canadian disapproval; his Canadian counterpart stopped by in 2005, which annoyed the Danes.
Canada may get new neighbors soon.
As border skirmishes go, this one is as friendly as you’d imagine a Canadian-Scandinavian conflict to be. When Danish warships land on the island, they leave a bottle of schnapps behind, while the Canucks leave Canadian Club whisky and a sign reading “Welcome to Canada.” Since 2011, the two countries have been close to an agreement that would formally divide or share Hans Island. If they do decide to draw a land border down the middle, then the United States would no longer be Canada’s only adjacent country. Our neighbor to the north would, improbably, share a second land border—with Denmark! View our complete gold list of the best places to stay in the world. (by Ken Jennings – Condé Nast Traveler)
© Photo by Toubletap via Wikimedia Commons