Yukon Nuggets

  • View of Red Ensign and U.S. flag at summit depicting U.S. - Canadian 'boundary'. Date: 1899. Yukon Archives. Anton Vogee fonds, #259.

  • View of the Yukon Detachment of NWMP posing for a group picture between the two flags at the international boundary line between the U.S. and Canada at the White Pass Summit. Date: August 8, 1899. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5532.

  • View of four men posing beside the international boundary line marker between the two flags at the White Pass Summit. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5359.

1903 Yukon Nuggets

Alaska Boundary Dispute


What if? History is filled with 'what ifs'. So what if a boundary dispute of long ago between Britain and the United States had turned out differently? The Yukon would now have a sea-port on the west coast, and Yukoners would not be showing passports on the Haines or Skagway roads.

It all began in 1825 when Russia, which then owned Alaska, and Britain, which then owned Canada, signed a treaty to define the borders of their colonial possessions in the Pacific Northwest.

After the United States bought Alaska in 1867 and British Columbia united with Canada in 1871, Canada demanded a survey of the Alaska-BC border, but it was refused by the United States as too costly.

It was the discovery of gold in the Klondike that brought the boundary issue to a head when every square foot of land might contain lots of gold. The precise location of the Yukon-BC-Alaska border had to be clear.

Finally, in 1903, a mixed tribunal of six members, three American and two Canadians and one British representative was setup to decide where the border should be.

The main legal points were which coastal mountain range should be chosen as the basis of the boundary, and whether the border should be measured from the heads of the fjords or from a line which would cut across the mouths of the fjords.

The British board member Lord Alverstone sided with the United States.

Thus, the Alaska panhandle, owned by the United States, was approved. So in the northwest, neither BC or the Yukon would have direct access to the coast.

Canada, was however, given a consolation prize in obtaining a triangle of land in the Tatshenshini-Alsek river regions of British Columbia.

So the next time you head to Haines or Skagway remember that this land at the border was almost your land - but not quite.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.