The quaint hamlet of Point Roberts, Washington looks like a piece of Norman Rockwell’s America. Seattle Seahawks flags flap in the breeze while families frolic at the beach. But then something seems out of place: gasoline prices are listed in liters and there’s an awful lot of liquor stores and parcel post drop-off businesses. You see Point Roberts (or Point Bob or simply the Point as locals refer to it) is an exclave. No not an enclave, an exclave: an area of a country that’s separated from the main part by foreign territory. (Yes, I am a geography geek who revels in such arcane trivia.)
Due to a quirk of both geography and history, Point Roberts sits at the tip of a peninsula that is attached to Canada. In 1846 the boundary between Canada and the United States was set at the 49th parallel leaving this unattached tip of land as part of America.
It would have made sense to give it to Canada but that never happened. To travel to Point Roberts by land from the United States you must drive over the border and through Canada before reaching it. It’s a quirky aspect of life that locals are used to.
Public schooling is offered until Grade 3. After that students embark on a daily 40 minute bus ride through Canada where they reenter the United States to attend class in Blaine, Washington. It all seems so complicated but the 1,100 residents of Point Roberts take it in stride.
The gas prices are posted in liters because Canadians visit quite frequently to get lower priced American gasoline. The parcel delivery stores are there so Canadians can get packages shipped to a U.S. address and avoid international tariffs.
To enter Point Roberts you must pass through a U.S. Border Control checkpoint that is the same as any other along the Canadian and Mexican borders. What’s odd though is that when you stray a few blocks from the checkpoint the border gradually becomes a random fence along people’s backyards, until finally petering out into a yellow concrete curb with a sign marking the border. You can even toss a Frisbee back and forth between the two countries. However, the best indication of which side is Canadian is the presence of a children’s hockey goal in the street.
On the beach there is no physical barrier between the two countries, just a giant concrete marker designating the border. (This was in sharp contrast to our sojourn to the beachside U.S.-Mexican border south of San Diego. When we walked up to the border there we were greeted by a a steel fence and a Border Control agent flipping his siren on and telling us to turn around.)
As we were leaving Point Roberts we passed through Canadian customs for the second time that day. The border agent asked us the purpose of our visit. After I told him it’s a place I always wanted to visit he responded, “Did it fulfill your hopes and dreams?” You have to love that wry Canadian sense of humor.
This obelisk was placed here in 1865 to mark the 49th parallel and the western terminus of the longest undefended border in the world.
Can you suggest any unusual places like this to visit?