The Alaska boundary dispute, took place between Canada and the US over the boundary of the Alaska Panhandle running south to latitude 54°40' north on the coast of BC. When the US purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, it inherited the Russian position on the boundary, first defined in the 1825 Anglo-Russian treaty. The US claimed a continuous stretch of coastline, unbroken by the deep fiords of the region. Canada demanded control of the heads of certain fiords, especially the Lynn Canal, which gave access to the Yukon. The KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH
, which got underway in the autumn of 1897, brought the smouldering dispute to a head. When direct negotiations in the Joint High Commission of 1898-99 failed, the problem was referred in 1903 to an international tribunal, whose 3 American and 2 Canadian members (A.B. Aylesworth and Sir Louis Jetté) were frankly partisan. The sixth, Lord Alverstone, Lord Chief Justice of England, supported the American claim for a boundary running behind the heads of the inlets, but agreed to the equal distribution of 4 islands at the mouth of Portland Canal. In protest the Canadian judges refused to sign the award, issued 20 October 1903, and violent anti-British feeling erupted in Canada.
Irritated at the decision, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier asserted that Canada's lack of TREATY-MAKING POWER made it difficult to maintain its rights internationally, but he took no immediate action. Canadian anger gradually subsided, although suspicions of the US provoked by the award may have contributed to Canada's rejection of FREE TRADE in the 1911 "reciprocity election." Nevertheless, the Alaska settlement promoted better understanding between the US and Britain that worked to Canada's advantage in WWI.
Alaska Boundary Dispute