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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Government of Alberta

Government of Canada


U.S. Canada Border: Part Two

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By 1870, it was becoming obvious to the American government that the Canadians intended to claim the northwest as their own territory. The Americans were establishing a post at Pembina, in Minnesota, and as historian Merrily Aubrey explains, President Ulysses S. Grant was concerned about the placement of an international border near the Pembina post.

According to his annual speech to congress that year, he stated: "The commonly perceived boundary line between the U.S. and British possessions at that place is about 4700 feet south of the true position of the 49th parallel, and would like the Fort of the Hudson's Bay Company at Pembina in the territory of the US." Heaven forbid.

After the boundary was marked the Hudson Bay Company moved Fort Pembina north into Canadian territory.

There were 1400 kilometers of border that needed surveying. And most of this work was done between 1872 and 1874, working from east to west.

It was a tough job made even more difficult by one of the surveyors commissioners.

The British Commissioner was Donald Roderick Cameron, and he was not at all well liked, and possessed a somewhat difficult temperament. Part of this dislike came from the fact that his presence was considered by many to be political, not a meritorious appointment. He was, after all, the son of Sir Charles Tupper, a close personal friend of the Prime Minister's. Tupper was also a member of Sir John A's cabinet.

Cameron argued over the surveying method to be used. The method he wanted gave the border a more a zigzag shape.

He tried to use his influence in cabinet... that's the Canadian cabinet. And this forced the British astronomer, who was also part of the team, to work behind the scenes in Britain to overrule Cameron.

This tactic obviously had an effect, because the American boundary commissioner, Archibald Campbell, he was surprised one day by the appearance of Cameron in Camp. So on August 13, 1874... Campbell wrote in his diary...

"Toward the evening on this day, Captain Cameron made his appearance among us, having just returned from the summit of the Rocky Mountains, where the survey was rapidly progressing to a conclusion. Captain Cameron stated that he was now prepared to agree to the northern-most point of Lake of the Woods as determined by the chief astronomers of the United States and British commissions. He also agreed to adopt an astronomical parallel as the true boundary instead of the mean parallel, which he had hitherto strongly urged.

The Alberta portion of the border between the United States and Canada was surveyed in 1874, and it resulted in debates over place names shared by Alberta and Montana.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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