Page images

mountains situated parallel to the coast? and (2) what is the coast?

Without pursuing the inquiry too minutely or entering into many of its details, it is proposed to set down here briefly the British and American interpretations of this treaty, in so far as their respective contentions can be ascertained from the published views and utterances of public men in Canada and the United States, for neither Government has as yet given out an official statement of its claim.


Fortunately for our purpose, however, the Honourable John W. Foster, ex-Secretary of State of the United States, and a member of the International Joint High Commission, has taken the somewhat unusual course in a plenipotentiary, during the progress of a negotiation in which he is engaged, of contributing to a magazine an article and a very full and interesting article it is on the subject of the Alaska boundary. In view of General Foster's recognised position as a high authority on the subject of which he treats, this paper must be deemed to be an authentic, if informal, presentation of the case of the United States Government.

While no British commissioner has been so considerate as General Foster in this respect, Canada's claim can nevertheless be stated here with all needful accuracy.

At the outset it may be observed that there exists a very general agreement to the effect that the negotiators of the treaty of 1825 relied largely upon Vancouver's charts and the narrative of his voyages for their information respecting the physical features of the country with which they found themselves called upon to deal. Both parties concur in holding Cape Muzon to be the southernmost point of Prince of Wales Island, though, as a matter of fact, it is not on Prince of Wales Island at all, and both acknowledge that the body of water to-day known as Portland Canal is, despite the erroneous description in the treaty, the channel along which the line is to ascend. Here, however, agreement ends. The United States holds that the line should enter Portland Channel by what since 1853 has been known as Portland Inlet, which is a part of the waters named by Vancouver Observatory Inlet.' The British contention is that the Portland Channel of the treaty is the channel so marked on Vancouver's charts and described in his narrative in terms that leave no doubt as to the body of water to

*The National Geographic Magazine, November, 1899.

which he intended them to apply. The deflection desired by the United States would give to that Power the principal islands lying at the entrance of Portland Canal, and thereby the command not merely of the inlet, but also of the harbour of Port Simpson in British Columbia, which, by reason of its natural advantages, is destined to become an important commercial and strategic point.

In support of this claim it is argued on the side of the United States that the line, departing from the southernmost point of Prince of Wales Island, should follow along the parallel of 54° 40', which would bring it in at the mouth of Observatory Inlet. They base their contention on the fact that this latitude is expressly mentioned in the treaty in connexion with the point of commencement, and they urge that the reason of the omission to state that the boundary should proceed along that parallel is that the repetition was considered unnecessary.

The Canadians reply that when in the course of the negotiations of 1823-5 Russia was forced to abandon her extravagant pretensions put forward in the ukase of 1821, she took her stand upon the charter of the Emperor Paul, and claimed down to 55°. To that line she stubbornly adhered throughout. Inasmuch, however, as the parallel of 55° cuts Prince of Wales Island near its southern extremity, the Russian plenipotentiaries proposed that the portion of the island below that line should be included in the Russian possessions. In order to effect this result the starting point was fixed at the southernmost point of Prince of Wales Island, which happens to be in latitude of 54° 40'. Thus the extension to 54° 40' was merely a local exception to fit a particular case. For similar reasons of convenience the continental line was carried south a few minutes of latitude to Portland Canal, which affords the first natural boundary on the continent south of 55°.

There can be little doubt from the text of the treaty that the southernmost point of Prince of Wales Island and not the parallel of latitude was intended as the point of beginning. The geographical co-ordinates are given for the purposes of identification merely. If they were intended to govern, the wording would be different, for the definition of a point by geographical co-ordinates must be by the intersection of two lines, and not by a parallel of latitude and two meridians seventy-five miles apart. Seeing that the line is to ascend 'to the north,' a claim that it is first to run sixty miles due east along a parallel of latitude seems manifestly untenable.

Canada also contends that, having determined the point of departure (Cape Muzon) and also the place on the continent where the boundary strikes the coast (the mouth of Vancouver's Portland Channel), it is agreeable to the rules of legal construction to hold, in the absence of any specific directions, that the line joining these two points should take the shortest way, which is not a parallel of latitude, but along the arc of a great circle.

Following the same rule of interpretation Canada maintains that the head of Portland Canal and the point where the 56th degree crosses the mountains situated parallel to the coast within ten marine leagues from the ocean, should be joined by a straight line.

The treaty continues:

'De ce dernier point' (that is, the intersection of the mountains by the 56th parallel) la ligne de démarcation suivra la crête des montagnes situées parallèlement à la côte, jusqu'au point d'intersection du 141° degré de longitude onest.'

The difficulty here lies in the fact that this whole region is highly mountainous. There exists not one range, but many, rising one behind the other in irregular fashion, connected in many places by spurs, the whole forming more or less a confused jumble of mountains.

The United States, according to General Foster, takes the ground that the treaty of 1825 was framed in the light of imperfect geographic knowledge; that the mountain range depicted on Vancouver's maps as almost bordering the coast has no existence in fact; that there is no continuous range or chain at all, and that consequently it is necessary to fall back upon the alternative provision of Article IV., under which they claim that the boundary line should be every where ten marine leagues inland from the coast, the distance being measured from the head of tide. water round all the inlets. It will be observed that the United States read this clause as if it meant that the boundary line is to be everywhere not less than ' instead of nowhere more than ' ten leagues from the sea.

The British claim is that by the crest of the mountains situated parallel to the coast is meant the tops of the mountains nearest the ocean. Great Britain denies the necessity for a continuous range' or 'chain,' and points out that neither word occurs in the treaty. The word 'parallel,' it holds, is not to be taken in its strict geometrical sense as implying equidistance. It is unnecessary to search for mountains which are all at precisely the same distance

from the coast, for Article IV. of the treaty contemplates the possibility of these mountains being sometimes more and sometimes less than ten marine leagues therefrom. It is a natural fact that mountains from 3,000 to 5,000 feet high lying within five or six miles of the sea border the coast throughout its entire length. When it is borne in mind that Vancouver had no knowledge of the interior country, his observations having been made from his ships, it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that the mountains depicted on his charts are those seen from the sea as fringing the coast line, to the serrated appearance of whose tops, heightened by their irregularity of outline, the word 'crest' is peculiarly applicable. Canada holds these to be the mountains of the treaty. She maintains that in delimiting this boundary the summit ridge of each of these mountains should be taken, and the valleys between crossed by straight lines from crest to crest, whether they contain streams, rivers, or such arms of the sea as do not form part of the ocean.

Thus, while Canada seeks to restrict her neighbour to a narrow strip of sea coast, having an average breadth of perhaps four or five miles, the United States claim an extensive tract of country running back in some places more than a hundred miles. In the presence of such widely conflicting claims recourse is naturally had to the negotiations which led up to the treaty of 1825. These negotiations. were carried on at the outset between Sir Charles Bagot, British Ambassador at St. Petersburg, acting under instructions of George Canning, at that time Foreign Secretary, and Count Nesselrode, then Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Subsequently Sir Charles Bagot was replaced by Stratford Canning, by whom the treaty was concluded.

The correspondence between these statesmen contains a good deal to support the British contention that the boundary follows the summit of the mountains nearest the sea. Throughout the whole of their negotiations it is quite clear that Russia's paramount desire was to preserve for her establishments on the islands a monopoly of trade with the coast Indians, and with that object in view she strove to keep back the British by barring their access to the ocean. Nothing could so effectually serve this purpose as a range of mountains, and therefore we find Nesselrode at an early stage of the proceedings suggesting that the line

' remonteroit le long de ces montagnes parallèlement aux sinuosités de la côte, jusqu'à la longitude du 139° degré (méridien de Londres), degré dont la ligne de prolongation vers le nord formeroit la limite

ultérieure entre les possessions Russes et Angloises au nord, comme à l'est.'

And he frankly goes on to say:

'Le motif principal qui force la Russie à insister sur la souveraineté de la lisière indiquée plus haut sur la terre ferme depuis le Portland Canal jusqu'au point d'intersection du 60° avec le 139° de longitude, c'est que, privée de ce territoire, la Compagnie Russe-Américaine n'auroit aucun moyen de soutenir les Etablissemens qui seroient dès lors sans point d'appui, et qui ne pourroient avoir aucune solidité.' With the width of the strip he does not appear to have been specially concerned; for, writing to Count Lieven, Russian Ambassador in London, he observes with reference to the above proposal:

'Cette proposition ne nous assuroit qu'une étroite lisière sur la côte même, et elle laissoit aux Etablissemens Anglois tout l'espace nécessaire pour se multiplier et s'étendre.'

And in their second written offer the Russians propose as the eastern boundary

'la chaîne de montagnes qui suit à une très petite distance* les sinuosités de la côte.'

The Hudson's Bay Company, to whom this proposal was referred by Canning, expressed their general agreement thereto, but in respect of the question of the eastern boundary the Governor observed:

They beg me, however, to suggest the expediency of some more definite demarcation on the coast than the supposed chain of mountains contiguous to it, and they conceive there can be no difficulty in arranging this point from the expression in the proposition of the Russian negotiators: "la chaîne des montagnes qui sont à une très petite distance des sinuosités de la côte."

Adopting this suggestion, Canning instructed Bagot to take as the line of demarcation

'a line... through Portland Channel, till it strikes the mainland in latitude 56, thence following the sinuosities of the coast, along the base of the mountains nearest the sea* to Mount Elias, and thence along the 139th degree of lcngitude to the Polar Sea.'

And in the draft projet enclosed he embodies the same idea in different words :

From this point it shall be carried along that coast, in a direction parallel to its windings, and at or within the seaward base of the

* In the original these words are not italicised.
These words are italicised in the original.

« PreviousContinue »