A Linear Portrait of the USA/Canada Border

The 49th Parallel boundary continues across the top of Washington State for 280 miles, crossing through the most remote and the most developed portions of the border. American surveyors began work on the 49th in 1857, starting at the western edge of the state, and heading east to the Continental Divide, taking five years to complete the survey. The reports of the survey were lost in the federal bureaucracy, and have never been fully recovered. A new survey was ordered, and completed in 1907, resulting in the first cut-line along the 49th, and iron or brass markers installed every mile along the way, until the line meets its end, at the Pacific Ocean.

3950Google map.

3951Google map.The state begins, at its northeastern end, at the tri-point formed at the intersection of Washington, Idaho, and the International Boundary, in a remote wooded site.

3952Google map.12 miles west along the line across the top of the state is the first of 13 official road crossings in Washington, the Metaline Falls/Nelway crossing, on Highway 31.

4386CLUI photo.
The border comes over a cliff from the east, and drops across the crossing. It passes through the Kiwanis club plaque (a common feature of the border) and through the International Boundary Commission monuments (the larger concrete ones typically used to mark the boundary on either side of the road at crossing points).

4387CLUI photo.
Looking west along the line, the boundary crosses the road past the US Port.

4388CLUI photo.
Then through another monument and westward through the cut line.

3953Google map.
This is the region of epic dams and flooded rivers along the Columbia River watershed, shared by the two nations. Two miles west of the Port, the swollen Pend Oreille River crosses the line northward after the Boundary Dam, and arcs through Canada for 12 miles. The river passes through the Seven Mile Dam in Canada, and then another at Waneta, just before joining the main channel of the Columbia next to the next border crossing.

3954Google map.
The river passes through the Seven Mile Dam in Canada, and then another at Waneta, just before joining the main channel of the Columbia next to the next border crossing.

3955Google map.
The Boundary/Waneta crossing is a quiet crossing, on the river, built where the small town of Boundary, Washington, once stood a century ago.

4389CLUI photo.
A new USA Port of Entry was built a few years ago, a few hundred yards south of the old one.

4390CLUI photo.
The boundary line heads west across the crossing.

4391CLUI photo.
Then down to the old town site near the river, which is actually the upper reaches of Lake Roosevelt, a reservoir created by the Grand Coulee Dam, 120 miles downstream.

4392CLUI photo.
It crosses a railway track, with open gates on the US side.

4393CLUI photo.
It passes through an old-style bronze-aluminum monument, before heading back up into the hills to the west.

3956Google map.
The next crossing is the Frontier/Paterson crossing, less than ten miles down the line. The crossing has a new style LEED Port of Entry, like most of the others, though the Canadian port is of an older style, which is also typical. There is a large dairy operation, on the Canadian side of the line.

4394CLUI photo.
The boundary comes from the east and crosses the road.

4395CLUI photo.
Then heads west down the line.

3957Google map.
The next crossing, Laurier/Cascade, is 18 miles west down the line. Its on Highway 395, which runs south through Reno to Southern California.

4396CLUI photo.
The US Port of Entry is an older style, and the town of Laurier has several closed businesses.

3958Google map.
This is a crossing with an international airport, Avey Field, with a runway that crosses the line into Canada. The grass-covered strip is privately owned, and has recently been taken out of service.

4397CLUI photo.
The boundary comes from the east and becomes a fence at the edge of the old airport.

4398CLUI photo.
It crosses the old runway.

4399CLUI photo.
Looking west, as it crosses the highway and heads up a rocky slope into the hills.

4400CLUI photo.

4488Google map.
The next crossing, 13 miles west down the line, is Danville/Carson, on Highway 21. The Canadian side is a fairly developed agricultural valley, while there is not much population on the US side.

3959Google map.
The Port of Entry building straddles the line, and is shared by both countries.

4401CLUI photo.
The station opened in the late 1980s, and is one of only five joint Port of Entry facilities, built intentionally on the line.

4402CLUI photo.


3960Google map.
It is less than 12 miles west down the line to the next crossing, Ferry/Midway.

4403CLUI photo.
The crossing does not see much traffic, and has an old-style US Port of Entry building.

4404CLUI photo.
The line comes over the hill from the east and across the road.

4405CLUI photo.
Heading west the crossing has a steel boundary marker, and the cut line is a bit overgrown.

4406CLUI photo.
West of here, the line enters a region of high and bare hills, hay farming in the pines, with a few old crossings that have been closed long ago, now dirt roads that peter out on private land, before getting to the border, such as at this former crossing at Chesaw, which closed in the 1950s.

3961Google map.
The railway grade north of Molson still crosses the international boundary, near a few scattered homesteads, though the tracks are long gone, and the crossing closed in 1941.

4407CLUI photo.
Molson is a spirited historic town, a mile south of the boundary, an old mining venture started by the Molson brewery family of Montreal, in 1900. When the railroad came through a few years later, the town became the commercial center for the Okanagan Highlands, as the region is known.

3962Google map.
West of town is 9 Mile Road which follows the old railroad grade, and runs along the border line for a quarter mile. When the railroad was constructed through here in 1905, it was discovered that making a normal northward curve around the hill would put the line into Canada.

4408CLUI photo.
To avoid this the railway had to make a quarter mile-long trench in solid rock, which remains as an overgrown ruin, next to the border.

3963Google map.

4409CLUI photo.
At the former border town site of Sidley, abandoned and gone for a hundred years, the cattle fence along the border continues west, while the road turns southwest, following the old railroad grade into the valley, and the town of Oroville.

3964Google map.
Oroville is at the southern end of Osoyoos Lake, which spans the international boundary. The lake is in the Okananagan Valley, a valley that extends north into the Canadian Rockies, and is well known for its fruit production.

3965Google map.
The Okanagan Highway, the main highway through the Valley, crosses the International Boundary at the Oroville/Osoyoos border station, more than 30 miles west down the line from the last crossing.

3966Google map.
The new Port of Entry here is a long building, perpendicular to the boundary, on a road that runs diagonally through the town.

4410CLUI photo.
The boundary runs through the middle of the structure, under a glass section of the roof, symbolizing the openness of the border. 

4411CLUI photo.
Though both nations operate their functions at the Port of Entry under one continuous roof structure, their functions and offices are divided by outdoor space.

3967Google map.
The line heads west from the crossing, between orchards on either side, then over the bare rolling hills to the next crossing, ten miles away.

3968Google map.
At the next crossing, Nighthawk/Chopaka, the road makes a right angle turn between the two Ports of Entry.

4412CLUI photo.
Though it has a new US Port of Entry building, with just a few cars crossing during the day, this is the least used crossing along the line in Washington State.

3969Google map.
West of Nighthawk is the most remote part of the entire boundary of the lower 48 states. It crosses through the Cascade Mountains, with peaks close to 9,000 feet high. The next official border crossing point is 125 miles further down the line.

4413CLUI photo.
25 miles of boundary follows along the top of Northern Cascades National Park, and is crossed by several hiking trails, including the Chilliwack trail, which crosses the boundary south of Chilliwack Lake, and the Pacific Crest Trail, which travels the length of the USA, from Mexico to Canada, and a distance of 2,663 miles. The US part of the trail ends near a slide area at the Boundary Commission’s monument # 78. The trail continues for several more miles into Canada, arriving at a settlement along Highway 3, at Manning Park. Hikers crossing the line are technically supposed to report to the nearest Port of Entry, but many do not. The US Border Patrol has dozens of officers patrolling the rugged hills, and in boats on the water, armed with automatic weapons. A fair amount of contraband drugs have been intercepted on hiking trails, as well as some human smuggling. A few years ago an alleged terrorist was captured by agents working on Ross Lake.

3970Google map.
Ross Lake is a reservoir, formed by damming the Skagit River with the Ross Dam, 20 miles south of the border line.

4414CLUI photo.
The dam was completed in 1949, and was made to provide electricity for Seattle, more than 100 miles away. It is one of three dams and two reservoirs in this system, built by Seattle Power and Light, that are inside North Cascades National Park.

3971Google map.
The northern tip of the lake extends into Canada, for about a mile. A road travels down the east shore from the Canadian side of the park, to campgrounds.

3972Google map.
At the boundary, the shore on the Canadian has been contoured with recreational facilities, including a beach, boat ramp, and camp sites. The road continues south, into the US, to the Winnebago Flats and Hozomeen Campground, then dead-ends after a couple of miles. There is no Port of Entry to report to here. People who cross south of the boundary have to drive back through Canada, so they are not expected to report to US officials, even though they might have camped on US soil, for days or weeks.

3973Google map.
On the west shore of Ross Lake there are no roads. The boundary line goes through a dead log jam and into the cut-line westward.

3974Google map.
Eventually the boundary emerges from the Cascades, and drops into the flat and fertile Fraser River Valley.

4415CLUI photo.
The cut-line lands in the valley from the east, between a blueberry farm in Canada, and a cut hay field in the US, then heads west across the valley towards the ocean, less than 30 miles distant. Along the way it passes through the most developed portion of the entire boundary.

3977Google map.
After passing by a gas plant on a pipeline crossing under the border, the line comes to the town of Sumas, Washington, and the Sumas/ Abbotsford crossing, on Highway 9, where there is a large Port of Entry building on either side, and where, remarkably for such a built up crossing area, there are few structures of any kind, directly on the line.

3978Google map

4416CLUI photo.
From the east, the line comes into the crossing area between some back yards in the US, and the railway on the Canadian side.

4417CLUI photo.
The crossing itself is busy.

3979Google map.
West of the crossing the line continues, dividing small farms and back yards, with remarkably few objects spanning the line – just possibly a swimming pool behind a Canadian home.

3980Google map.
Four miles west of the Sumas crossing, 0 Avenue begins (0 as in zero) and follows the boundary on the Canadian side nearly all the way to the Pacific Ocean, 18 miles away.

3981Google map.
A few miles west, Boundary Road comes up from the US side, and turns west along the border, well watched by camera towers.

4418CLUI photo.

4419CLUI photo.
Boundary Road runs next to 0 Avenue for 1.5 miles, before heading south again. For a while just a few feet of grass divides the nations, a kind of international median strip.

4420CLUI photo.
Occasional monuments, every mile or less, remind people of their relative positions.

4421CLUI photo.
It does this once again, a mile further west, where Boundary Road comes up from the south, and heads west along 0 Avenue. The boundary median is slowly becoming more trench-like.

3982Google map.
Boundary Avenue stops, abruptly, as a dead end at the next crossing, Lynden/Aldergrove.

3983Google map.
In 2005 a drug tunnel was discovered by border officials a hundred yards east of the Port of Entry. It connected a Quonset hut on 0 Avenue, to a house in the trees on the south side of Boundary Avenue.

4422CLUI photo.
After the smugglers were arrested and convicted, the tunnel was filled in by excavating the ground above it. The roads above it were rebuilt. Though more than 30 such tunnels have been discovered on the Mexican border, this was the first on the northern border of the US.  The Quonset hut on the Canadian side has since been torn down.

4485CLUI photo.
The house on the US side, where the tunnel emerged from under the living room floor, is still there.

4424CLUI photo.
Next to it, cars stream north to the Port of Entry at the Lynden/Aldergrove crossing, which is being enlarged by the Canadians to allow for more truck traffic. This requires a fair amount of construction on the approach roads on the US side.

4425CLUI photo.
Westward the boundary crosses the southbound lane heading to the US Port of Entry, where no expansion activity is occurring, then heads west, joined again by 0 Avenue, on the Canadian side, and fields and wooded homesteads on the US side.

3984Google map.
Ten miles west down the line is a community near Blaine, Washington, around Canada View Drive. A few years ago the Leu family, the owners of a house there, began construction on a retaining wall at the bottom of their property, which slopes downwards towards the boundary line.

3988Google map.
The International Boundary Commission became aware of the construction, and determined that the wall was 30 inches inside the vista line, and would have to be removed. The homeowners protested, and lawsuits ensued. When things were settled, the wall stayed, but the US head of the Boundary Commission, Dennis Schornack, was fired, for handling the matter poorly.  He did not go down easily though. The appointment of the US Boundary Commissioner is made by the President of the United States. After receiving the letter from President Bush informing him of his dismissal, Commissioner Schornack responded with a letter to the President, saying that he had no authority to fire him, according to the International Treaty of 1908 that created the IBC. President Bush fired him anyways.

3989Google map.
A mile west down the line is the Blaine/Surrey crossing, also known as the Pacific Highway crossing.

4426CLUI photo.
This is the primary commercial crossing on the West Coast, and is among the busiest crossings on the entire border.

4427CLUI photo.
Looking west down the line at the crossing is the standard concrete IBC monument, behind which the boundary continues as a trench, full of thick and thorny plants.

4428CLUI photo.

3990Google map.
Less than a mile west is the Peace Arch crossing, where commercial traffic is prohibited.

3987Google map.
A great green lawn spans the space between the Ports of Entry and the divided lanes of traffic heading north and south. In the middle of the lawn is a giant white arch, the Peace Arch.

4429CLUI photo.
The crossing is the main highway down the west coast of the continent. Northbound is Highway 99 to Vancouver, 20 miles away.

4430CLUI photo.
Southbound is Interstate 5 to Seattle and Los Angeles. This is the third busiest car crossing on the border, with up to 4,800 cars crossing per day.

4431CLUI photo.
Wait time can be as much as four hours. Traffic lights have been installed on the southbound lane, with timers indicating how long you have to wait before the light turns green. This enables people to shut off their engines. It also enables people to get out, throw a football around, visit the public restrooms on the Canadian side, or take in some of the sights on this unusual international traffic island park.

4432CLUI photo.
At the north end of the lawn is a floral Canadian flag, and at the south end a US one.

4433CLUI photo.

4436CLUI photo.
There are monuments and plaques of all kinds. Some discuss historical points about the boundary, others simply commemorate commemoration.

4437CLUI photo.
The most eloquent and monumental monument of course is the Peace Arch itself. The arch was conceived and designed  by Sam Hill, a proponent of road and rail development in the Pacific Northwest, and a visionary builder, whose great works include a replica of Stonehenge and a drive-thru mansion on the Columbia River, now the Maryhill Museum.

4438CLUI photo.
The arch was dedicated in 1921. It stands directly on the border, at an angle. Inside are two gates, bolted in such a way that it would be difficult to close them.

3975Google map.
Peace Arch Park is not limited to the traffic island though, as it extends northward on both sides of the highway, and eastward along the boundary line. This portion is a Washington State Park, and has playing fields and picnic tables. Its northern edge is unfenced, and is directly on the boundary, parallel to 0 Avenue.

4439CLUI photo.
Over its last few miles, the green strip separating the nations along 0 Avenue has become a trench, a few feet deep and full of brambles, which is a barrier for vehicles and most pedestrians, as well as a functional drainage ditch.

4440CLUI photo.
At the park, the trench  has small pedestrian bridges over it, and in the middle of one bridge is a  stainless steel boundary post, installed by the IBC. There are also signs letting you know what’s happening (sort of): On the US side they say “leaving United States border.” On the Canadian side they say “pets on leash.”

4441CLUI photo.

4442CLUI photo.
Other than that, along this quarter mile stretch of park along 0 Avenue, adjacent to the homes and street grid of Surrey, British Columbia, there is nothing indicating that you are crossing the international boundary. The park is an open international space, like the International Peace Garden in North Dakota, or the golf course at the Aroostook Valley Country Club, in Maine.

4461CLUI photo.
Leaving the park’s southern perimeter by foot there is a small sign in the bushes, notifying pedestrians that “Federal law requires that all persons seeking to enter the United States be inspected by immigrations and customs officers before proceeding beyond this point. Report for inspection at the Peace Arch Point of Entry.” It is easy to miss. It is noticeable that there are no obvious cameras in the park itself, and this is part of what makes it such a remarkable and peaceful place, and a kind of hole in the otherwise often anxious boundary.

4462CLUI photo.
But the Border Patrol clearly keeps a very close eye on the park, with agents parked in cars, walking around, and on bikes. And there are some pretty powerful-looking steerable cameras on poles outside the park.

4463CLUI photo.

4464CLUI photo.
At the western terminus of 0 Avenue, the road turns northward at the park.

4486CLUI photo.
This is a popular spot for carrying picnic supplies into and out of the park, despite the minor inconvenience of the fence on the international boundary.

4470CLUI photo.
Next to the fence is a paved pedestrian entrance into the park, from the Canadian side, that leads down the slope to a monument that is directly on the boundary line.

4472CLUI photo.
Walking from here, the line westward is easy to see, by lining up the row of monuments, one after another, like a microcosmic historic tour of the boundary, a kind of bi-national Appian Way.

4473CLUI photo.
This first monument has plaques on either side, commemorating the 1846 signing of the Oregon Boundary Treaty, which established the 49th Parallel as the border for the territory.

4474CLUI photo.

4475CLUI photo.
A few yards down the line is a concrete boundary marker on the east side of Highway 99 northbound, typical of the tall concrete semi-ornamental monuments the IBC places next to the road at border crossings, with the lettering “TREATY 1925” embossed into the side, referencing the 1925 treaty that reaffirmed the International Boundary Commission authority to mark the boundary.

4476CLUI photo.
After that, on the other side of the roadway, the second concrete boundary marker of the pair, supplemented with a plaque that says “1918-2003/ International Boundary Commission/Maintaining a peaceful boundary for more than a century” in French and English.

4477CLUI photo.
Then the local Kiwanis Club monument, commonly found at crossings, dated 1936, and saying “This unfortified boundary line between the Dominion of Canada and the United States of America should quicken the remembrance of the more than century old friendship between these countries a lesson peace to all nations.”

4478CLUI photo.
Then the Peace Arch, with a plaque of the Mayflower on its eastern side. The arch commemorates the Treaty of Ghent, from 1814, which settled the outcome of the war of 1812, and affirmed the northern boundary of the USA at that time, especially around New England. Inside the arch, above the two halves of the symbolic gates bolted to the wall, inscriptions read “1814 OPEN ONE HUNDRED YEARS 1914” and “MAY THE GATES NEVER BE CLOSED.” At the top of the arch “ CHILDREN OF A COMMON MOTHER” and “BRETHREN DWELLING TOGETHER IN UNITY.”

4479CLUI photo.
After passing through the Arch, the boundary goes through the semi-ornamental concrete IBC monuments, on either side of the southbound highway.

4480CLUI photo.
Then through a replica of the original cast iron monuments used to mark the border on the 49th Parallel between here and the Cascades during the 1857-1861 survey, and a plaque commemorating the 125 anniversary of that survey.

4481CLUI photo.
The boundary then passes a functional sign next to the railroad tracks, that says USA CANADA BORDER, a version of which has been there for almost 100 years.

4482CLUI photo.
Then over the ballast and tracks, down a bushy slope, and onto the muddy shores of Boundary Bay.

4483CLUI photo.

4484CLUI photo.
There are five range towers marking the boundary across Boundary Bay, towers topped with reflectors and lights, protruding from the water, before the border makes landfall again 12.5 miles away at Point Roberts.

3976Google map.
Point Roberts is a five square mile partial exclave of the US, the tip of a peninsula extending south from Canada cut off by the 49th Parallel, accessible from the US only by boat, or plane. It is home to around 1,300 people, and is the westernmost point of land in the USA, along the 49th Parallel.

3985Google map.

4465CLUI photo.
The boundary comes to Point Roberts from the east, across the bay from Blaine, and hits the last of the range towers marking the boundary across the waters of the bay.

4466CLUI photo.
The boundary lands on the shore at Maple Beach, a public swimming beach where people can swim in international waters, so long as they return to same side of the beach that they left from.

4467CLUI photo.
Heading west up the beach, the boundary lines up with Range Tower C, on the shore.

4468CLUI photo.
The base of the tower has a Boundary Commission plaque, like those found on some other structures that cross the line.

4469CLUI photo.
The plaque locates the boundary line exactly, by the agency that defines it, a line that technically has no thickness at all.

4460CLUI photo.
Behind the tower, the boundary heads west across Point Roberts, between Roosevelt Road in the US, and a house, for sale, in Canada. Roosevelt Road follows the boundary on the US side across the length of the 2.5 mile-wide peninsula.

4459CLUI photo.
A block west of the beach is a fence blocking the remnant of Meadow Lane, the former border crossing on the Point. It was closed in 1975 after a new, larger crossing was built further west, on Tyee Drive. The old Port of Entry on the Canadian side has been turned into a home.

4458CLUI photo.
The boundary across the point becomes a wet drainage trench, filled with thicket of thorny raspberries bushes, and is difficult to cross.


4457CLUI photo.
In a mile, the line meets the official crossing, Point Roberts/Boundary Bay, the last crossing on the 49th Parallel, and the last one in the Lower 48 States. There are small Ports of Entry on either side.

4456CLUI photo.
West of the crossing Roosevelt Road continues westward, past backyards of Canadian houses, up against the boundary trench.

4453CLUI photo.
New boundary markers place the line a few feet north of the trench, establishing an interstitial zone between a thorny trench in the US and backyard walls in Canada.

4452CLUI photo.
Some people have gates in their back fence, and occupy the border vista line in a provisional way.

4450CLUI photo.
Roosevelt Road ends at a small park, built around Monument 1, the last boundary monument on the 49th Parallel (or the first, headed in the other direction). 

4449CLUI photo.
The large ornamental obelisk was made in Scotland, and brought by ship around Cape Horn. It was installed here in 1865.

4448CLUI photo.
The line continues west, behind the monument and next to a house in Canada, then plunges down the bluff through thick shrubbery to the beach.

4447CLUI photo.

4445CLUI photo.
At the base of the bluff, the boundary emerges from the shrubs next to the drain pipe that drains the water from the boundary trench.

4444CLUI photo.
The line continues across the beach, and through Range Tower B, just off shore. Beyond is the ferry terminal projecting from the shore at Tsawwassen, British Columbia, ending just shy of the 49th Parallel.

4443CLUI photo.
Range Tower A is visible, almost a mile further out, through the legs of Tower B.

4455CLUI photo.

3986Google map.
Though not visible anymore, the line continues over the water, passing a light tower on the Canadian side that guides the ferries to port, then, after another eight miles, it abruptly turns south, leaving the 49th Parallel, and zig-zags its way between islands, and out the Strait of Jaun de Fuca, into the Pacific Ocean, where it dissolves completely into the sea.

4487CLUI photo.