Monument MA-SA-ND
Flags and monument stand out on prairie landscape to mark both the International Boundary and the meeting point of the boundaries between the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and the state of North Dakota.






If you look along the International Boundary between Canada and the United States in any forested area, it will appear simply as a 6 metre or 20 foot cleared swath a long open vista stretching from horizon to horizon, dotted in a regular pattern with white markers. Over mountains, down cliffs, along waterways and through prairie grasses, the line snakes 8,891 kilometres or 5,525 miles across North America, tranquil, undefended but not uncared for.

The boundary vista must be entirely free of obstruction and plainly marked for the proper enforcement of customs, immigration, fishing and other laws of the two nations. The job of keeping the boundary vista in proper condition falls to the International Boundary Commission. The Commission was founded under the Treaty of 1908 for one specific purpose: the complete reestablishment and mapping of the boundary from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The boundary had already been defined by treaty and most of it surveyed by 1874. The fires of national honor, which had flared up over the legalities of boundary location and had colored American and Canadian relations for 140 years, had been relegated to the history books. But between1874 and 1908 the boundary had become overgrown and monuments obliterated so that it was necessary to reestablish the border demarcation to avoid any uncertainties that could lead to dispute. In 1925, when it was realized that such maintenance would have to be on a continuous basis, another treaty was signed establishing the Commission as the permanent caretaker of the boundary area and its markers.

The Commission is made up of two commissioners: one appointed in the United States and one in Canada, each chief of his own staff, equipment and budget. The U.S. Commissioner is appointed by the President and reports to the Secretary of State. The Canadian Commissioner is appointed by Order-in-Council, and reports to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. For administrative purposes, the Canadian Section of the Boundary Commission is located within the Department of Natural Resources Canada as a section of the Legal Surveys Division of Geomatics Canada.

Officially, the Commission's work is described as maintaining the boundary in an effective state of demarcation. This is done by inspecting it regularly; repairing, relocating or rebuilding damaged monuments or buoys; keeping the vista cleared, and erecting new boundary markers at such locations as new road crossings.
The Commission also regulates, under the provisions of the 1960 International Boundary Commission Act, all construction within 3 metres or 10 feet of the boundary and is responsible for defining the boundary location in any legal situation involving the border. The commissioners report annually on the work done during the year and provide to both governments the latest data on the boundary monuments.

All monuments along the boundary are located so that they tie in with the survey networks of both the United States and Canada through 1000 survey control stations established for this purpose near the border. The position of any monument may be redetermined at any time by the survey crews of the Commission, which are called on constantly to perform assorted survey duties along the boundary. These duties include improving survey connections to the control stations and establishing new monuments.


 The Vista

Highlands Vista
Reclearing of the 2,172 kilometres(1,349 miles) of boundary vista through forest and brush requires a major portion of the Commission's efforts. Early clearing operations were carried out using manual tools such as axes, machetes and hand saws.

Over the last quarter century power-saws have greatly facilitated clearing operations.In addition a program of herbicide spraying treatment to control growth was carried out between 1952 and 1978, using chemicals approved by the enviromental regulatory agencies of both countries. The selective use of spraying allows existing grasses and ferns to dominate and prevent the growth of tree seedlings. No herbicides were sprayed near water or food crops.

In more recent years the spraying of chemical herbicides has been replaced by a vista grooming technique that involves stripping the vista by bulldozer and seeding the area with desirable grasses. An experimental project of this kind was carried out in 1981-1982 on the Maine-New Brunswick boundary, where the vista is now landscaped in a pleasing manner.

So far this program was succesfully carried out on the 125 kilometres (78 miles) of the North Line boundary, the 134 kilometres (84 miles) of the Southwest and South Line boundaries and a 66 kilometres (41 miles) portion of the Manitoba-Minnesota section of the 49th Parallel boundary. Maintenance on the vista following a grooming operation should be limited mainly to side clearing for a number of years.

Conventional methods of maintenance will continue to be employed on those remote and difficult sections of the boundary that do not lend themselves to grooming treatment. The present day emphasis on contracting out will result in a greater portion of the maintenance being completed under these arrangements.


Defining the Boundary

The boundary may be only a line drawn between two friendly nations, taken for granted by citizens on both sides. The proper definition and demarcation of the boundary is still as essential for law enforcement as it was throughout the history of boundary establishment. It prevents local misunderstandings that could lead to disputes.

The International Boundary Commission, under International Treaty, maintains the 8,891 km (5,525 miles) boundary shown on 255 official boundary maps. The Commission inspects, maintains and re-establishes over 8,000 monuments and reference points, 1,000 survey control sites and keeps a 6 metre or 20 foot wide clear vista along the land boundary line.

Boundary on Land 5,061 km 
or 3,145 miles:
  • Identified by a series of straight lines which intersect at boundary monuments
  • 2,172 km through forest which requires clearing of a 6 metre vista, on a regular basis
  • 5,528 boundary monuments
  • 5,700 triangulation stations
  • shortest distance between two boundary monuments: 46 cm
Boundary on Water 3,830 km or 2,380 miles: 
  • Identified by a series of straight lines which intersect at unmarked turning points
  • 5,723 Turning Points
  • 2,457 Reference Monuments
Length of boundary by province New Brunswick- 513 km or 319 miles 
Québec- 813 km or 505 miles 
Ontario- 2,760 km or 1,715 miles 
Manitoba- 497 km or 309 miles 
Saskatchewan- 632 km or 393 miles 
Alberta- 298 km or 185 miles 
British Columbia-2,168 km or 1,347 miles 
Yukon- 1,210 km or 752 miles
Length of boundary by state Maine- 611 miles or 983 km 
New Hampshire- 58 miles or 93 km 
Vermont- 90 miles or 145 km 
New York- 445 miles 716 km 
Pennsylvania- 42 miles or 68 km 
Ohio- 146 miles or 235 km 
Michigan- 721 miles or 1,160 km 
Minnesota- 547 miles or 880 km 
North Dakota- 310 miles or 499 km 
Montana-545 miles or 877 km 
Idaho- 45 miles or 72 km 
Washington- 427 miles or 687 km 
Alaska- 1,538 miles or 2,475 km
Length of Canada-United States boundary from Atlantic to Pacific Oceans 
Length of Canada-United States boundary from Pacific to Arctic Oceans
6,416 km (2,878 km-land 3,538 km-water) 
3,987 miles (1,788 miles-land) 2,199 miles-water) 

2,475 km (2,183 km-land 292 km-water) 
1,538 miles (1,357 miles-land 181 miles-water)


 The Legal Aspect

The Commission is responsible for determining the position of any point on the boundary necessary to settle questions that might arise between the two governments. For example, law officers preparing to make arrests for smuggling or drug trafficking in the border area must be sure that their suspects are on national territory. Also, if ships collide in the St. Lawrence or on the Great Lakes, their position must be accurately known to determine where the legal case will be heard.

Such legal teasers were common during the 140 years it took to establish the present boundary location. In fact, the following examples became major issues in redefining the boundary from a general description in treaty papers to a surveyed and marked line on the ground.

In 1825, an American citizen symbolically raised an American flag on the north shore of the Saint John River, and then declared that he would defend its honor. Legally, could he have been tried for treason in a British court when ownership of the territory was in dispute?

In 1859, an American citizen on San Juan Island shot a pig - the property of the Hudson's Bay Company. Could law enforcers take him before a magistrate in Victoria and make him pay damages under British law?

In 1845, an American citizen made a claim on alleged land of the Hudson's Bay Company north of the Columbia River. Was this claim to be honored in territory already claimed by the British?

Attempts to answer such questions arose as settlers moved across North America. They resulted in clashes between the settlers, land claiming prompted by national pride and imperial design, and negotiations that sometimes approached open hostility. But in the end, diplomacy prevailed and the boundary was accurately described and marked on the ground, ending such problems.


Haskell Free Library
Haskell Free Library


The Commission faces another problem of clutter along the vista caused by construction. The International Boundary Commission Act provides for the regulation, by the Commission, of any "work" within 3 metres or 10 feet of the boundary line. This work may include billboards, building additions, airstrips, railway stations, transmission lines and pipelines. No additions are allowed to the buildings still on the boundary vista. These include a hotel and a cocktail lounge on the Quebec - New York line and many buildings in the villages of Derby Line, Vermont, and Rock Island, Quebec, where the boundary passes through bedrooms, apartments, a library, a factory and even an opera house.

 Obtaining Permission for Construction

To perform any type of work on the 20 feet(6 metre) wide vista along the boundary, a letter of authorization by the commissioners is required. Work is defined in Section 2 of the International Boundary Commission Act, R.S.C. 1985, c1-16, as: "Any ditch, earthwork, building or structure of any description or any lines of telephone, telegraph or power, including posts, piers or abutments for sustaining or protecting the wires or cables of those lines."

The applicant wishing to obtain an authorization for work on the boundary vista in accordance with Section 5 of the Act must provide to the Commission the following documents:

1) A detailed letter describing the type of work proposed and it' s general location(lot #, municipality, town, province/state).
2) Two copies of drawing showing the location of the proposed work in relation to a boundary monument or boundary reference monument.

The application must be submitted to the section of the Commission in the applicant's country.

If a permission is granted for construction by the Commissioners, the letter is valid for both countries.


Canadian Section:
International Boundary Commission 
555-615 Booth Street 
Ottawa, Ontario 
K1A 0E9
tel. (613)992-1294 fax (613)947-1337
United States Section:
International Boundary Commission 
1250 23rd Street, Suite 100 
Washington, D.C. 20037
tel. (202)736-9102 fax (202)467-0746

Boundary History

The story of defining the boundary starts with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which described the border from the Atlantic Ocean to the Prairies between British North America and the American states that had gained independence seven years earlier. It was the basis for discussions about the boundary for 60 years after it was signed and disagreement over the description in the treaty continued until the Webster -Ashburton Treaty of 1842, in which both countries finally agreed to the boundary location in this area. The boundary from the source of the St. Croix River to the St. Lawrence was surveyed from 1843 to 1847, and through the Great Lakes from 1817 to 1824.

The Jay Treaty of 1794 created the first International Boundary Commission. Over the succeding years Canada and the United States appointed a series of temporary boundary commissions to oversee boundary surveys, mapping and general maintenance. By the early 1900's the physical definition of the boundary was largely completed.
With the Convention of 1818, the border was defined from Lake of the Woods to the Stony (Rocky) Mountains, establishing a frontier for land settlement across the western part of North America. The boundary survey from Lake of the Woods to the Red River Settlement was completed in the winters of 1872 and 1873 and the balance to the mountains in the summers of 1873 and 1874.

The expansionist cry,"54-40 or fight", of the Democrats, brought their man, James Knox Polk, to the presidency in 1844 best indicates the atmosphere in which the boundary from the mountains to the Pacific was contested in the Oregon boundary dispute. By agreement, the territory had been open to both British and American subjects leaving a situation ripe for conflicting claims by settler groups, encounters between imperial and national interests and political intrigue. Basically the United States claimed the territory up to Russian Alaska (54o 40' N) and the British claimed the land down to the Columbia River.

The Oregon Treaty signed in 1846 extended the boundary along the 49th parallel to the coast and through the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca to the Pacific Ocean. Ownership of the San Juan Archipelago was established in 1873 in an arbitral award. This region was surveyed from 1856 to 1861 and the Strait of Georgia in 1906.

In 1903, a tribunal of three Americans, two Canadians and a representative of Great Britain, established the Alaska panhandle boundary. This section of the Alaska boundary was surveyed from 1904 to 1914. Under the Convention of 1906 the balance of the border, defined by earlier treaties as along the141st meridian, was surveyed from 1907 to 1913.

In 1925 the two countries created a permanent International Boundary Commission to maintain the boundary. The modern IBC is reponsible for:inspecting the boundary line;repairing or replacing damaged boundary markers; maintaining a clear 6 metre vista through the brush and trees;and helping to resolve disputes along the border as they arise.


Important Border Crossings

Peace ArchThe International Boundary Commission is concerned with fixed things on the boundary line or near it, not with movement across it. The transboundary passage of people and goods is within the jurisdiction of the respective national police, customs and immigration authorities. There are about 140 land crossings with customs stations on the undefended border. About 50 of these are relatively obscure such as those on small country roads that wind across open grasslands or through uncleared forests and across the boundary.

Some crossings are noted for tourist traffic such as the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls, which is close to one of the continent's major tourist attractions, and the crossing at Douglas, B.C.-Blaine, Washington, where a special peace arch commemorates the completion of the boundary from coast to coast and the friendship between two nations. Port-of-entry Others are important as general crossings with heavy commercial and private traffic. These crossings include the port-of-entries on the Pacific Highway and at Sumas, Washington-Huntingdon, B.C.; Osoyoos, B.C.-Oroville, Washington;Sweetgrass,Montana-Coutts, Alberta;Estevan(North Portal), Saskatchewan-Portal, North Dakota; and Pembina, North Dakota-Emmerson, Manitoba.

Heavy commercial and private traffic rumbles through a tunnel and across a bridge(Ambassador) between Windsor and Detroit. Major bridges also cross the international boundary between Buffalo, New York-Fort Erie, Ontario(Peace Bridge); Sarnia,Ontario-Port Huron, Michigan(Blue Water Bridge);Watertown, New York-Lansdowne, Ontario(Thousand Islands Bridge);Cornwall, Ontario-Rooseveltown, New York(Seaway International Bridge); Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario-Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; and Ogdensburg, New York-Prescott, Ontario.

In Quebec, major border crossings are the Blackpool(Lacolle)-Champlain, New York crossing, south of Montreal, and the Armstrong-Jackman, Maine crossing southeast of Quebec City.

In Maine-New Brunswick, important crossings are Madawaska-Edmunston and Houlton-Woodstock. Then there are those crossings noted for something unusual like the International Peace Gardens located between Bottineau, North Dakota and Brandon, Manitoba and at St. Stephen, New Brunswick-Calais, Maine, where the residents of the communities share a fire brigade.



Organization Chart



How to Contact Us:

In Canada: In United States:
Peter Sullivan, Commissioner
605 - 9700 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta
T5J 4C3
Telephone: (780) 495-7347 
Dennis L. Schornack, Commissioner
1250 23rd St. NW, Suite 100 
Washington, D.C. 20037 
Telephone: (202) 736-9100

Al Arseneault, Deputy Commissioner 
615 Booth Street, Rm. 571 
Ottawa, Ontario 
K1A 0E9 
Telephone: (613) 992-1294
Kyle K. Hipsley, Deputy Commissioner 
1250 23rd St. NW, Suite 100 
Washington, D.C. 20037 
Telephone: (202) 736-9102
Joseph Harrietha, Senior Field Engineer
615 Booth, Rm 573 
Ottawa, Ontario 
K1A 0E9 
Telephone: (613) 992-1414
Kevin D. Haskew, Engineering Technician
Eastern Region Field Office 
Post Office Box 459 
Houlton, ME 04730 
Telephone: (207) 532-2111
Jo´┐Żl Petit, Field Engineer
1138 Melville street, suite 1501
Vancouver, British Columbia
V6E 4S3 
Telephone (604) 666-5320
Presently Unoccupied, Engineering Technician
Western Region Field Office 
Post Office Box 7007
Great Falls, MT 59406 
Telephone: (406) 727-9341 
Louis Carpentier, Field Engineer
615 Booth Street, Room 433
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E9
Telephone: 613-943-4130
Fax 613-947-1337
Bryan C. Cloutier,Engineering Techician
Central Regional Field Office 
Post Office Box 29
Thief River Falls, MN 56701 
Telephone: (218) 681-5248
Nathalie Brousseau, Field Engineer
615, Booth Street, Room 433
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0E9
Telephone: (613) 943-4131

Updated: April 2, 2007