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Territorial Evolution, 1927

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In 1927, the boundary between Canada and Newfoundland is defined by the Imperial Privy Council. Canada’s long and diversified settlement history is reflected in the two distinct patterns of boundaries that differentiate between eastern and western Canada. The eastern boundaries closely conform to natural features such as drainage basins, while the boundaries of western and northern Canada reflect the administrative organisation of these lands by, first, the Hudson’s Bay Company and later the Government of Canada.


In 1925, Canada officially claimed a sector of the Arctic. Canada claimed the sector between 60 degrees west longitude and 141degrees west longitude. The idea of claiming this sector had first been put forward by Senator Poirier in a speech made in the Canadian Senate on February 29, 1907. The sector claimed by Canada has appeared on maps since 1925.

Photograph of Saint John Vocational School[D]
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Photograph of Saint John Vocational School

In 1927, another important boundary was defined by the Imperial Privy Council: the line between the Dominion of Canada and the colony of Newfoundland. The colony of Newfoundland had long claimed a strip of land along the coast of the continent, which came to be called Labrador. The Province of Quebec, on the other hand, believed that the interior part of Labrador should be part of its own territory. The controversy raged on for many years, until the governments of Canada and Newfoundland submitted the matter to the Imperial Privy Council. The boundary it defined in 1927 is the one still in use today.


To the east of the province of Quebec, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, lay a dependency of the colony of Newfoundland called Labrador. The creation of Labrador dates to the Royal Proclamation of 1763. In 1774, Labrador was transferred to Quebec, but it was returned to Newfoundland in 1825. Newfoundland had lost the Magdalen Islands in 1809; it had also lost Anticosti Island and the north shore of the St. Lawrence in 1825, but it had retained Labrador.

Although Labrador had been tossed back and forth between Quebec and Newfoundland, its land boundary had never been determined. This had first been raised in 1888 when a judge in the Newfoundland Supreme Court observed a difference between the jurisdictional extent of Newfoundland and a map of Labrador.

In 1902, a company called the Grand River Pulp and Paper Company received leases from the Government of Newfoundland, to cut timber in the area of the Hamilton River (now called Churchill River). The Government of Quebec, however, said that the area was part of its territory, and that the right to cut timber had to come from the Quebec Department of Lands, Mines and Fisheries. The dispute was referred to the Government of Canada. Its decision was that only coastal areas and islands were included in Labrador, and that the area in question was neither. The Government of Newfoundland disagreed, so the two governments agreed to ask for a decision from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

The Privy Council looked at the arguments of both sides in the dispute. It decided to use the "height of land" (or watershed) to decide on the question for a variety of reasons. First, it recognized that under international law, occupation of a sea coast included the right to all the lands drained by the rivers that empty into the ocean. Second, the watershed was, for a great distance, the boundary that the Hudson's Bay Company had used. Third, the Privy Council considered that the words "coasts of Labrador", as used in 1825, meant to include all the territory included in the watershed. The decision of 1927 gave all of the watershed area to Labrador.

The animation Territorial Evolution 1867 to 1999 shows sequentially the history of the political boundary changes in Canada from Confederation to the creation of Nunavut.