THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

23 March 2011

Borders: Canada, the U. S. and a very important line

Victoria Parliament opening 
One way to firm up a border: the opening of the British Columbia parliament, photographed by J. W. Jones (February 10th, 1898). Shelfmark: HS85/10

Many people reading this blog will have an idea that borders matter in the Americas. However, while the importance of the Mexico-U.S. border or the disputes between Colombia and Venezuela may spring to mind, the important and sometimes testy history of the Canada-U.S. border may not be at the forefront of our historical awareness. After all, the most pressing concern today is often seen as being how to boost trade and mutual American-Canadian security at the border.

This was not always the case though. The history of the Canada-U.S. border is actually one of geopolitical struggle, reservations, trade wrangling, colonial politics, bail jumping and draft dodging. British Columbia’s early history is an example of how contested the U.S. and Canada’s border spaces were even in the late nineteenth century. The Klondike gold rush created conditions through which the province became increasingly Americanised, leading to Canadian fears that the territory would move beyond their control. As a result many state building exercises were conducted, such as the construction of the impressive Victoria parliament buildings (above), in order to affirm the cultural identity of the state and in turn strengthen the province’s Canadian status. This, of course, came after the initial wrangling through which the border was defined at the 1846 Oregon Treaty. Given the opening of the Victoria parliament happened over fifty years after the Oregon Treaty was formalised the border between British Columbia and Washington State illustrates the constant efforts nations feel is required to maintain and assert their own borders.

For anyone interested in the complex history of this significant border the Library’s collections provide all sorts of insights. Documents on the Oregon Treaty are prevalent, with items such as, Lewis Cass’s ‘Substance of a Speech… Delivered in a secret session of the Senate… on the ratification of the Oregon Treaty’ (1846, Shelfmark: 8177.d.18.) and our Early Canadian Microfiche materials at Mic.F.232, providing perspectives from both sides of the border. Similarly, publications such as, R. C. Harris (ed.) ‘Historical Atlas of Canada: Volume 1’ (Toronto, University of Toronto Press. Shelfmark: f87/0428 DSC) provide perspectives on the evolution of the border as a whole; considering not just the American-Canadian context but also wider colonial and Native American aspects.

[PJH]

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