- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Feb 1911, p. 194-200
- White, James, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The Oregon Boundary question; the extension of our boundaries from the Lake of the Woods to the Pacific Ocean. The Treaty of 1783, the Treaty of Peace between Great Britain and the United States, which extended the boundary to the north-west angle of the Lake of the Woods, and from the north-west angle of the Lake of the Woods due west to the source of the Mississippi. This due to the erroneous map that the negotiators had before them. The Treaty of 1803 which extended the boundary by a straight line from the north-west angle of the Lake of the Woods to the source of the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. The attitude of the United States at that time. Great Britain's refusal to accept the pertinent amendment. The proposal of the 49th parallel in 1806 by the British Commissioners as the boundary between the Lake of the Woods and the Rocky Mountains. Negotiations for the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. The Fisheries Treaty of 1818 dealing with the great question of fisheries and boundaries in the West. The inability of the negotiators of the Treaty of 1818 to come to an agreement with regard to the boundary beyond the summit of the Rocky Mountains, the area known as the Oregon territory. [The speaker provides a map for illustration.] Details of negotiations with regard to this area. Contentions on which each party based claims. The tide of immigration in 1841 which changed the face of the population from one almost entirely British. The settlement to take the 49th parallel to the Pacific Ocean, thence through the middle of the channel that divides Vancouver Island from the Mainland. Occupation as the strongest title. The aftermath of the Treaty settlement. A dispute respecting the identity of the "channel which divides the mainland from Vancouver's Island." The famous "San Juan" controversy and reasons for the strong feelings in the United States against Great Britain. Settlement by the Treaty of Washington. The story of a near-war between Great Britain in the United States over the killing of a hog.
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- 16 Feb 1911
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- Full Text
- THE OREGON BOUNDARY QUESTION.
An Address by Mr. James White, F.R.G.S. Secretary of the Dominion Commission on Conservation, before the Empire Club of Canada, on February 16, 1911.
Mr. President and Gentlemen
I have selected as my subject the Oregon Boundary question, that is, the extension of our boundaries from the Lake of the Woods to the Pacific Ocean. In dealing with this question in the brief time I propose to allow myself it will be possible for me only to touch upon the most prominent points in connection therewith.
The Treaty of 1783, which was the Treaty of Peace between Great Britain and the United States, extended the boundary to the north-west angle of the Lake of the Woods, and from the north-west angle of the Lake of the Woods the Treaty stated it was to go due west to the source of the Mississippi; this of course was due to the erroneous map that the negotiators had before them. However, when a survey showed that the source of the Mississippi, instead of being due west, was actually due south, they passed over the former negotiations, and in 1803 a Treaty -was entered into extending the boundary by a straight line from the north-west angle of the Lake of the Woods to the source of the Mississippi. This Convention was not confirmed by the United States Senate as, only two weeks before it was signed, the Louisiana Treaty with France conveyed to the United States the territory between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. The attitude of the United States immediately changed, and the Senate refused to ratify the British arrangement unless the Article respecting the boundaries was struck out. Great Britain refused to accept the amendment but, in 1806, the British Commissioners doubtless acting under an erroneous belief respecting the Treaty of Utrecht-proposed the 49th parallel as the boundary between the Lake of the Woods and the Rocky Mountains. The United States Commissioners accepted this proposal, and it was embodied in the treaty as an additional Article. This Treaty, however, for an extrinsic reason, was not submitted to the United States Senate.
During the negotiations for the Treaty of Ghent, 1814, the British negotiators again endeavoured to have the 49th parallel to the Rockies accepted as the boundary, but as the proposal was coupled with a stipulation for free access to, and navigation of the Mississippi, the United States negotiators refused to incorporate these articles in the Treaty and the matter therefore was postponed. In 1818 the Fisheries Treaty-so prominently brought before us at the Hague Tribunal-dealing with the great question of fisheries and boundaries in the West was settled. That Treaty fixed upon the boundary between the United States and Canada as the 49th parallel from the Lake of the Woods to the summit of the Rocky Mountains. That Treaty was negotiated under a complete misunderstanding. The Treaty of Utrecht of 1'713 provided for the appointment of Commissaries to determine "the limits which are to be fixed between the said Bay of Hudson and the places appertaining to the French." The Commissaries were unable to come to an agreementthe British Commissaries stood for the 49th parallel from a point somewhere near Lake Mistassini and from there westward. Unfortunately the British geographers, assuming that this line would be adopted, put it on their maps with a note that it was the southern boundary of the Hudson's Bay Company's territories. The result of the indication of this erroneous boundary on the maps was the general belief that this line had actually been agreed upon.
The negotiators of the Treaty of 1818 were unable to come to an agreement with regard to the boundary beyond the summit of the Rocky Mountains, and this is the territory with which I am dealing particularly today -this territory which was known during the dispute as the Oregon territory, as you see here on the map. It included the whole of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and a small portion of Montana, and involved an area of about 400,000 square miles. During the negotiations Great Britain offered to accept as a settlement the 49th parallel to the summit of the Rocky Mountains-which is the present eastern boundary of British Columbia-to the Columbia River and thence following the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, which would leave in the United States all the territory lying to the east and south of the Columbia River. This the United States negotiators refused to accept. However it was eventually agreed that this territory should be free and open to the subjects of both nations. There were other things in the negotiations which we can pass over, but down to 1841 the whole territory was really in the hands of the Hudson's Bay Co. It had then a population of about 400 white people, all of whom were in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Co., or connected with it.
Reverting to the negotiations, I may say that the two nations based their claims upon the following contention: Great Britain claimed by virtue of discovery. In 1778 Cook had made a fairly accurate survey of the coast; in 1792 Vancouver had made an accurate survey of the coast; also Meares, a British fur-trades, but trading under Portuguese colours, established a fur-trading post on what is now called Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The Spaniards seized his vessels and Great Britain immediately protested this procedure and, as a result of the Notka Convention of 1790, Spain thereby acknowledged that Great Britain had equal rights of settlement on the west coast, north of the portion setled by Spain-practically the northern boundary of California. Great Britain also claimed possession by virtue of occupation by the British subjects I have already referred to as connected with the Hudson's Bay Coy. The United States claimed by virtue of the Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana purchase as a basis for their claim was absolutely no ground. The grant of Louisiana to De Crozat, which afterward formed what was called the Louisiana Territory, was exclusively confined to the territory drained into the Gulf *of Mexico. They also claimed that by virtue of the Treaty of 1819, Spain had transferred to them all the claims that she had on that territory. They also claimed by virtue of the fact that Gray in his ship Columbia had discovered that the Columbia was a river. They claimed that on the ground that in 1811 the Pacific Fur Company-the head of which was Mr. Astor, an ancestor of the present well known family in New York-had established at the head of the Columbia River a post which he called "Astoria." A few years afterwards this post was sold to the North West Fur Co, and became a British possession.
As I have already mentioned, up to 1841, practically the whole population was British, but in that year a tide of immigration set in and as a result, in 1846, there were about 7,500 people in the territory south of the 49th parallel, of whom only 400 were British. In 1841 McLaughlin, who was Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company on the cost, had joined the provisional Government. That Government was composed mostly of subjects of the United States, and in this dispute, Great Britain vs. the United States, it should be born in mind that Great Britain was really the Hudson's Bay Company. At that time no person in their wildest dreams ever expected Canada to extend to the Pacific Ocean. No one thought much of Canada except as a fur-trading territory. The action of McLaughlin in joining the Provisional Government fatally compromised the Company, and although there is no official confirmation of it, I have no doubt in my own mind that this was the reason that decided them to no longer hold on to this territory, which was so strongly pro-United States.
I might say that McLaughlin, considered as a Christian man, as a humane man, was all that could be desired, but from the viewpoint of the Hudson's Bay Co., he was not "the right man in the right place." These Americans came there and arrived at the Hudson's Bay Company posts starving and almost without clothes to their backs, or shoes to their feet. McLaughlin supplied them with clothing, fed them till spring, then gave them plows and in fact everything they required to start them, and let them settle in the land. Had a man like Sir James Douglas been in command, there is no doubt in the world he would have fed them in the winter, but in the spring he would have put them on board one of the Hudson's Bay Company vessels, and sent them to the land from whence they came, and that would have ended the matter. McLaughlin was charged up with $30,000 by the Hudson's. Bay Company, which he had given out to these people, and which they had never paid back; it took all his property to do this, and he died practically penniless.
It was finally settled between the United States and Great Britain to take the 49th parallel to the Pacific Ocean, thence through the middle of the channel that divides Vancouver Island from the Mainland, and this is the line as you have it today. The effect of the Treaty, was of course, to end the dispute, which had been very acute at times, having brought the two nations to the verge of war repeatedly. It was not, possibly, the settlement we would have preferred, but a settlement, considering things as they were then, I think the Home Government was well advised in making.
The claims of both nations were based largely upon discovery, but after all that does not count for very much, for in the last analysis the strongest title, as with a private owner, is Occupation. We must acknowledge that the British were outnumbered 17 or 18 to one, and that the Americans had the best title by virtue of occupation. It has been said that had this matter been delayed we might have fared better, but with that statement I cannot agree, for had this settlement been delayed until a few years later when gold was discovered on the Fraser River in the Cariboo country (1859-61), and there was such an enormous influx of Americans, the whole of the country, including the present British Columbia, would have passed to the United States by virtue of occupation.
* * *
The aftermath of the Treaty came in a dispute respecting the identity of the "channel which divides the mainland from Vancouver's Island." This is the famous "San Juan" controversy, which some of the older members here today will remember. This map shows the United States contention, and a red line shows the British contention, and a yellow line shows the compromise line offered by Great Britain, but refused by the United States. Great difficulty was experienced in settling this question owing to the strong feeling which followed the Civil War in the United States. As you are aware, there was then a very strong feeling in the States against Great Britain. However, in 1869, a Convention was concluded providing for arbitration by the President of Switzerland, but the Senate failed to take any action. In 1871, an attempt was made to settle the question. by the joint High Commission, but without success, the American Commissioners declining the British offer of the compromise line. By the Treaty of Washington, however, the respective claims were submitted to the arbitration and award of the Emperor of Germany, and, in 1872, the Arbitrator rendered an award in favour of the United States contention for Haro Strait.
Regarding the matter from the point of view of the Emperor of Germany I have no hesitation in saying it was the only decision be could come to; and when I say that, of course, it must be borne in mind that the Emperor of Germany did not in any way consider the question-the matter was referred to the legal officials of the Crown and it was upon their report his decision vas based-as to whether the channel had to go down the Rosaria Strait or the Canal de Haro. The United States contended that the Canal de Haro was the widest and deepest channel; that it was the-one usually shown on the maps in 1846; and that, as it washed the shore of Vancouver Island, it was the channel that "separated it" from the mainland. The British contention was that the wording of the Treaty provided first, that the channel should separate the mainland from Vancouver Island; second, that the boundary should go through it in a "southerly" direction; and third, that it should be navigable. They contended that while the Canal de Haro was navigable, all three requirements were satisfied by Rosaria Strait only, and that the latter had been used by the Hudson's Bay Company since 1825. The British Commissioner quoted certain United States maps in support of this, but the United States impugned the accuracy of one of the maps and the official character of another, and quoted a British map in support of their view.
During this dispute, an Americana settler on San Juan Island, near the Hudson's Bay Company post, killed one of the Company's hogs. This hog was in the habit of routing in the American's garden, and one day in his exasperation the latter killed the hog by shooting it. He offered to settle, but when they asked $100 for the hog he refused to pay the price, and the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company threatened to arrest the American and take him to Victoria for trial; which the United States Government being appealed to, resented, and they landed troops on the island. General Harney ordered up United States troops and Sir James Douglas sent a British man-of-war from Victoria; and as soon as this vessel arrived and the officer saw the state of affairs on the island another man-of-war was asked for. Meanwhile the troops arrived in charge of a man named Casey, and after protest they were landed. Everything was ready for hostilities, and there is no doubt war would have been precipitated by General Harney and some of his "fire-eating" officers, had Sir James Douglas' ensuing order to Admiral Baynes to land British troops been carried out. Although Admiral Baynes knew what disobeying orders usually meant, he refused to act, for which he was afterwards complimented by the British Government. Had it not been for his action, or inaction, there is no doubt the troops of Great Britain and those of the United States would have gone to war. I think this is the only instance in history where two great nations have been brought to the verge of war by a dispute over a hog.