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Column: I have an affection for our friends above the 49th Parallel

Mountains near the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, roughly an hour north of Kimberley in British Columbia.
(Ben Waller | Associated Press)

I’ve crossed the 49th Parallel from the United States into Canada on numerous occasions.

Spoiler alert: Canada Day is coming, July 1.

Canadians are our neighbors to the north who live a snow globe existence and have funny, clipped accents, eh? From a yin and yang standpoint, their south is our north and our north is their south.

That benevolent yin and yang, like the glaciers of North America, have carved complementary personalities in our sister nations.

I love all things Canadian … especially freezing rain and Canadian Geese. Oops, make that Canada Geese. Really, I should know better!

Remember the 49th Parallel? We learned about it in the sixth-grade. Or was it eighth? I was never a 49ers fan.

The Treaty of 1818 established the 49th Parallel as the official boundary between the United States and British North America (Canada didn’t yet exist). The accord recognized the 49th Parallel, from Minnesota in the east to the Rockies, as the border.

Remember the bloody Pig War of 1859 between arch rivals, the U.S. and Britain? Let me refresh you on that one. I exaggerated a bit. It was actually a bloodless war, save for a lumbering slab of Canadian bacon.

The U.S. and U.K. governments claimed Puget Sound’s San Juan Islands as their own. A few dozen American settlers and British employees of Hudson’s Bay Co. populated San Juan Island.

A British hog got loose and was shot by a Yankee farmer protecting his potatoes.

In classic overreaction, the U.S. 9th Infantry was dispatched to the island followed by three British warships.

Less than 100 9th Infantry soldiers dug in. The British clearly held the advantage with 84 guns and 2,000 troops aboard warships.

Things ramped up for a while but, thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. The Brits permanently stationed a garrison on the north side of the island, and the U.S. had a contingent on the south. Potatoes and grapevines separated them, and the troops began to hang out with each other.

Churchill would have approved.

Today, Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, USA, is a beautiful Puget Sound tourist destination. The island produces spectacular vistas of Vancouver Island and a winsome Cabernet. Not a single British frigate is in sight.

So, as it stands, all Americans (except Alaskans) live south of the 49th and Canadians live north, right?

Wrong.

How many Canadians live south of the 49th Parallel? Most of them!

And I’m not even talking about snowbirds in Palm Springs and Tucson.

Fully 72% of 35 million Canadians live south of the 49th. Canada’s two largest cities, Toronto and Montreal, are south of Seattle. So is the federal capital of Ottawa. Windsor, on the southern tip of Ontario, is below the California-Oregon border. Are you kidding me?

Check out a map.

The vast majority of Canadians live in the southern underbelly of their country that dives below the 49th into Mid-America.

I’ve entered Canada from Washington state into British Columbia (from several locations); from Montana into Alberta; from Maine into New Brunswick; from Maine into Nova Scotia; from New York into Quebec; and from Alaska into the Yukon Territory.

The U.S. has a population of more than 300 million people, and Canada one-tenth that. The United States is portrayed as packed to the gills with quivering humanity. Canada is virtually empty with more lighthouses than people.

Yet, that’s not the impression one receives when driving south-to-north, from the U.S. into Canada. At virtually every border crossing I’ve navigated, the U.S. is wide-open territory or dense forest for 50 miles until you reach the border.

No one in sight. The Swiss Guard in their Rudi Gernreich uniforms could march in and occupy us.

After crossing the border, Canada is awash in cars and people — for 50 miles. Weird, huh?

Here’s the answer: 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border. By contrast, 12% of Americans live within 100 miles of Canada.

It’s the longest non-militarized border in the world — 5,526 miles — separating two of the loveliest places on earth.

JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.


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