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Why Canada and Europe now share a land border for the first time

The decades-long ‘whisky war’ has finally come to an end in the Arctic

Sophie Dickinson
Written by
Sophie Dickinson

We know what you’re thinking. There are many, many miles between Canada and Europe, so the idea of them having a land border seems frankly ridiculous. But Canada and Denmark have just ended their decades-long ‘war’ over an uninhabited island in the Arctic, and now they’ve come up an agreement that splits the place in two.

The uncertainty over Hans Island began in 1973 when a maritime boundary was drawn in the Arctic. There’s never been any actual conflict; rather than go to war over such a trivial issue, the two sides have always been keen to emphasise the silliness and arbitrariness of land disputes. Instead, their respective navies (and, once, a Canadian defence minister) have sailed out to the island and left flags and bottles of whisky or schnapps for the other side. The most dramatic things got was when there were calls for Canadians to boycott Danish pastries. Not very dramatic, in other words.

All this booze-based conflict led to it being named the ‘whisky war’, of course. And as the border was officially marked on Tuesday, Canadian and Danish foreign ministers swapped their representative drinks – while joking that Canada could join the European Union now that the two countries share a land border. 

As for Hans Island itself, the 1.5-square-kilometre, snow-covered landmass is pretty much inhabitable. But as climate change causes ice to melt in the Arctic, new shipping lanes and fishing routes are opening in previously inhospitable areas. In response, both delegations have promised to minimise the exploitation of resources in the region. Now they’re neighbours, it’ll be easier than ever to work that out (and share a drink in the process).

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