Visiting A Bit Of The Continental USA You Can Only Get To By Going Through Canada

This past weekend, my wife and I headed up north to visit her family, who live way (way!) upstate. As we were driving along, I found myself playing around with the GPS map, and happened to notice something unusual: if you zoom-in on the northwestern tip of Vermont…

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…you’ll find an insanely small bit of land that looks like it should belong to Canada. But! Because of the way the border falls, it’s technically part of the United States.

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Doing some research, I learned that this is an extremely rare example of a “practical exclave” – a piece of land requiring travel through a foreign country to access, but not being surrounded entirely by that country. The United States has about four, including Point Roberts, Washington, whose middle and high school-age children must travel 40 minutes through Canada to get to school each day in Blaine, Washington:

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Province Point is probably the most obscure, and so I decided it might be interesting to pay a visit to this oft-overlooked bit of American homeland.

With my brother-in-law-to-be Justin along for the ride, we headed through the Champlain border crossing. Unfortunately, the border guard wouldn’t accept a simple “sight-seeing” as the reason for our visit, and so I proceeded to give a full dissertation on the nature of enclaves, exclaves, and practical exclaves. Eventually, he got bored and let us through.

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A picture of the border crossing from Google maps, because I didn’t feel like getting shot for taking one of my own.

I’d never been to this section of Quebec before, and was amazed at how much it reminded me of the midwest…

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…from vast stretches of flat farmland…

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…to houses straight out of a John Steinbeck novel.

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Of course, there were occasional reminders that we were in a different world. The road signs were the most obvious…

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…though I think the most distinctly we-must-be-in-Canada oddity we came across was this very quaint, charming and wholesome antique shop selling all sorts of timeworn knickknacks located just a few feet from from the Chez Dianne strip club.

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After 20 minutes of driving toward Province Point, we passed a trailer park…

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…and then found ourselves on a dirt road.

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We parked, but I wasn’t sure if we were in the right place. I noticed a man working on his lawn, and politely asked if he spoke English. “As you wish,” was his reply (which is how I’m going to answer all questions in the affirmative from now on). Unfortunately, we had unknowingly passed onto a private road (though I think we could be forgiven; see that sign in the above picture that’s folded in half? I realize looking at it now that it might say PRIVATE ROAD…though I’m not 100% sure). Luckily, he graciously allowed us to park, and pointed us in the direction of the marker. Alas, for anyone hoping to recreate this trip, you’ve now been warned that this road is indeed private, so please respect that!

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As we followed a dirt path a little ways out, I started to wonder if there might be a fence or a DO NOT ENTER sign or something along the border. Nope, though in retrospect, this might actually have been an undercover border guard:

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And then, we arrived at America’s least famous practical exclave: Province Point!

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The dividing line is marked by this monument, one of roughly 900 that line the American-Canadian border from coast to coast. Laid out in the mid-1800s long before the magic of GPS, most of these monuments are, on average, about 200-300 feet away from the 49th parallel they should be following.

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On one side is the “Boundary” date: August, 9th, 1842, referring to the Webster-Ashburton treaty which solidified the border. The remaining three sides read: “Treaty of Washington,” “Albert Smith, US Commissioner,” and “I. B. B. Estcourt, H.B.M. Commissioner” (who I can only assume were responsible for the border marking project).

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A note on the base says “Renewed: 1964.” No clue what this refers to – other border monuments have differing dates.

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As for Province Point itself? I’m happy to report back to my fellow Americans that it’s a perfectly nice parcel of land…

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…with some rather gorgeous views of its technical homeland.

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And…that’s about it. šŸ™‚

We would’ve stayed longer, but it was about that time that the border patrol turtle asked us to kindly return to our vehicle and proceed out the way we’d entered.

-SCOUT

PS – For anyone hoping to recreate our perilous adventure, I have to advise against. The road leading in is indeed private, and I got the sense from my short conversation I’m not the first annoying American to wander in.

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11 comments

  1. Great discovery, I live in Quebec and I’m Canadian. I like how you see rural part of Quebec as cowboy themed…

    Private roads in Quebec only means that the city (municipalities) doesn’t take care of the road financially, the residents do. Anyone can access as it does not belong to the residents but they have to maintain it (ie Snow Removal, water damage). It’s a way for municipalities and resident to save money (mostly municipalities). But I can only believe that if you pay yourself for the road maintenance, that any non-resident visitors are not “as welcome”. “Private Property” is different.

    Hope you took (or will) the chance to see Montreal… The new ground for filming locations…

    Thanks for the discovery, was nice to read.

    Cheers

  2. Glad you made it up to our neck of the woods – still Scouting NY!! I’m in northern VT and did not know about this! Of course my other favorite state is NY! Thanks, Scout!

  3. Interesting post (as always). I live in Windsor, ON, and when I clarify our location, I tell people we’re “just across the river from Detroit.” However, most Americans can’t wrap their head around the idea that Detroit (and most of Michigan) is NORTH of Windsor. šŸ™‚

  4. Not to be too picky… But Alaska is part of the Continental US. We are on the same continent. We are not part of the contiguous US. And to drive to Alaska, you drive through Canada. So Alaska should be included in your list of places in the continental US that you access via Canada. Unless you meant to use contiguous in your title and not continental.
    Love you blog though… Been following for several years. If we ever make it to New York, your blog will be one of guides.

  5. You didn’t mention if anyone lives on the point and who the property belongs to.

  6. This post brought back some fond memories as we always drove this route on our way to Montreal. Nice to see it hasn’t changed very much.

    Interesting post as always, Scout!

  7. It’s a private property. Owner, owns the property on both sides of the border. The US side is a bit of a protected area for those Lake Champlain turtles. He finds a lot of dead turtles with antennas in the back. The owner has to pay both the US and Canadian taxes. The US agriculture department one time sent him a letter saying that they would ‘like’ him to not let his cows eat on the US side because of some sort of regulation.

    Interesting…

  8. You can’t help yourself when your on the road! As always Nick, you manage to fund the obscure. If you ever find yourself in South Jersey, try to get to the two exclaves belonging to Delaware. New Jersey’s southern boarder is also defined by an early act of Congress. One of the spots was created by natural accumulation of sediments, the other from River dredging. Delaware’s northern boarder was set by the River’s original water line along New Jersey. The two states usually get into a dispute every 20 years or so over this issue.

  9. Last time we were near Vancouver, we took the opportunity to spend the night at an RV park in Point Roberts. A very interesting enclave. I took the opportunity to send postcards from there, since I could use my US stamps. The area is known to Canadians for purchasing fuel, liquor and cigarettes.

    A memorable part of the trip.

  10. ohh wow

    i am serious: how wwuld one go about buying this peace of land? Maine owns it? what is the legal deal behind it? thanks..

  11. Fantastic write-up. I had a similarly fun excursion to this wee little exclave myself. Fun times!
    http://lakewoodhiker.blogspot.com/2014/11/province-point-vermont-geographical.html

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