23 March

Britain Regains Nootka

If Washington Irving, author of Rip Van Winkle, had not been asleep at the switch, the United States might have owned 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 (see January 4). 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 comprise Point Roberts.


23 March

-1633    Champlain left France for the last time.

-1665   Jean Talon was commissioned as Intendant of New France.

-1670    Fathers Doller de Casson and Galinée claimed Lake Erie for France.

-1752    The Halifax Gazette, the first news paper in Canada, was published.

-1764    Captain Holland was commissioned to survey the Island of St. John (Prince Edward Island).

-1832    A political riot broke out at York (Toronto) .

-1865    The Imperial Parliament voted 50,000 (pounds) for the defense of Canada owing to tension over the Alabama incident.

-1893    The Bering Sea tribunal met at Paris.

-1949    Royal assent was given to the North America Bill passed by the British Parliament for the union of Canada and Newfoundland.