Interesting Geography Facts About the US-Canada Border

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Canada and the United States are the second and fourth largest countries in the world by area.  Here are some interesting geography facts about the Canada–United States border.

Longest International Border

The border between the United States and Canada is the longest international border in the world.  The border between the two countries is 5,525 miles (8,891 kilometers) long.

Map showing the international border between the United States and Canada. Data: Natural Earth
Map showing the international border (purple) between the United States and Canada. Data: Natural Earth. Map; Caitlin Dempsey

Quirky Border Section

The Northwest Angle of Minnesota has the oddest shape. The Northwest Angle covers an area of the United States that is 596 square miles, 473 of which are water. This area is the northernmost point in the continental United States.

Landsat 8 imagery of the Northwest Angle of Minnesota.  Image: NASA, public domain.
Landsat 8 imagery of the Northwest Angle of Minnesota. Image: NASA, public domain.

The quirky shape of the Northwest Angle of Minnesota is the result of geography and poor surveying.

As part of the drafting of the Treaty of Paris between the United States and Great Britain, a border agreement was developed from the  Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.

This border involved following smaller lakes and rivers (such as the Rainy) from Lake Superior to Lake of the Woods and then extend at a northwest angle across Lake of the Woods and cut due west to the Mississippi River.

Poor surveying methods resulted in the quirky shape which persists today. Subsequent attempts to bring soft this thumb of land back into Canada by the British were unsuccessful.

The Northwest Angle is the only part of the continent United States that is north of the 49th parallel.

Canada Shares a Border with 13 States

There are 13 states that share a border with Canada.  With 1,538 miles (2,475 km), Alaska shares the longest border. Pennsylvania with 42 miles (68 kilometers) shares the smallest length of the border.

Map by Phizzy, Mediawiki, CC BY 3.0
Map by Phizzy, Mediawiki, CC BY 3.0

The United States Shares a Border with 8 Canadian Provinces and Territories

The United States shares a border with eight provinces or territories in Canada.  Ontario province in east-central Canada shares the longest portion of the border with 1,715 miles (2,760 km).  The western province of Alberta shares the shortest length of border with the United States with 185 miles (298 km).

Map by Phizzy, Mediawiki, CC BY 3.0
Map by Phizzy, Mediawiki, CC BY 3.0

Legal Land Border Crossings

There are 119 legal land border crossings between the United States and Canada.  Of those, there are two that are one-way crossings only.  Churubusco, New York provides a port of entry to the United States from Canada only.  There is no access from the United States to Canada at this location.  Conversely,  there is a legal crossing into Canada from Fort Fairfield, Maine to Four Falls, New Brunswick while visitors from Canada cannot enter the United States from this location.

Map showing legal land border (black dots) crossings between the United States and Canada. GIS data from: United States. Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Map showing legal land border (black dots) crossings between the United States and Canada. GIS border data from: United States. Bureau of Transportation Statistics via Stanford. Map: Caitlin Dempsey

Population Near the Border

Most Canadians live relatively near the US border.  90% of Canadians live within 100 miles (160 km) of the US border.

Busiest International Border Crossing in North America

The Ambassador bridge connects travelers between Detroit, Michigan, United States, and Windsor, Ontario, Canada.  It is the busiest international border crossing in North America based on trade volume.

Ambassador Bridge. Photo: Flibirigit, CC BY 2.0
Ambassador Bridge. Photo: Flibirigit, public domain, Mediawiki Commons.

No Touch Zone

Every six years, a 20 feet (six meters) strip around the US-Canada is clearcut by the International Boundary Commission which calls it “a visible line between friendly neighbors.”  This swath extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.  The commission was created under the treaty of 1908.  Known as the vista, the swath contains 8,000 monuments and reference points, and 1,000 survey control stations.

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