The U.S. Might Have Owned 1/2 of B.C.!

Contour of Vancouver Island with Regional Dist...
Contour of Vancouver Island with Regional Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Washington Irving, author of Rip van Winkle, had not been asleep at the switch, the United States might own half of Vancouver Island!

In 1790, Britain and Spain nearly went to war over an incident at Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Spain backed down, paid reparations and agreed to share Vancouver Island equally with Britain. Britain regained possession of Nootka officially on March 23, 1795.

In 1819, the United States bought Florida from Spain. The deal included all Spanish territory west of the Mississippi and north of latitude 42. Washington Irving was American ambassador to Spain at the time. He was supposed to have made a thorough search of documents in Madrid to find out exactly what territory was involved. Somehow, he missed the agreement giving Spain equal rights to Vancouver Island.

Fortunately for Britain and Canada, the Americans did not find out about this until years after the Oregon Boundary Treaty had been signed in 1846. It established the present boundary between Canada and the United States, dipping to give Canada all of Vancouver Island.

Another strange feature about the story was that Washington Irving was greatly interested in the romance of fur trading in Canada. He had visited the famous “Beaver Club” in Montreal, where the great fur traders gathered. He also wrote a story about Fort Astoria on the Pacific coast, when it was involved in the rivalry among the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Northwest Company and John Jacob Astor.

If it seems far-fetched that the States might own half of Vancouver Island, look at a map of the southern tip of the mainland of British Columbia. The strict boundary of the 29th parallel leaves Point Roberts as part of the States although for all practical purposes it is Canadian.

It is always a joke for residents of Greater Vancouver to go to the United States by entering the few square miles that form Point Roberts.

For an interesting biography of Washington Irving, go to, and there’s another one at Wikipedia.


  1. Much of the USA was purchased as territories from Britain, Spain, and France to help fund their government’s war activities. Now, we do not sell land, but USA Treasury Bills. Guess who owns us? (Hint, another name for high quality table settings)


  2. As a child I lived in Ferndale, Wash., for a couple of years, and always enjoyed the short trek over to B.C. whenever my parents would take us on a trip.

    We were only about 15 miles south of the border, but when you’re a first grader, it might as well be a million miles. Years later, when I revisited the area for the first time since I was a kid, it seemed hard to believe that we’d been that close.

    And I, too, never knew Washington Irving served as a US ambassador. Sounds like he should have stuck to writing.


  3. I have have been to BC several times over the years since living in Seattle and just love it..We Americans might have ruined..Glad it did not get in our hands..haha
    As the old saying goes: You snooze, You lose!


  4. Point Roberts used to a stumping ground for many of us due to its famous Xrated movies. It’s no longer there, thank goodness. But one thing I don’t understand how did these countries managed to own parcel of lands in BC. Did Canada sell part of Vancouver Island? Or was it discovered and conquered?


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