Point Roberts’ charm knows no borders

Point Roberts belongs to the US but often feels like Canada. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Point Roberts belongs to the US but often feels like Canada. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Story by Julia Pelish
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor

POINT ROBERTS, WASHINGTON — I stepped off the bus at the corner of 54th and 2nd in the British Columbia community of Tsawwassen, and gazed directly across Diefenbaker Park to where the Point Roberts Boundary Bay border crossing separates Canada from the United States. After a 10-minute walk through the park I arrived at the US Customs and Immigration station, showed my passport and strolled into the accidental exclave of Point Roberts, USA.  A 18-square-metre (seven-square-mile) peninsula, Point Roberts is in US territory yet geographically part of Canada.

My girlfriend, who has a vacation cottage in the town that’s only a 45-minute bus ride from downtown Vancouver, had enthusiastically urged me to visit so she could show me around this charming destination. The scenery is breathtaking and the community warm and friendly, reminiscent of an outport colony that’s carved out an autonomous existence due to the circumstances of its geography.

[nggallery id=108]

American Thanksgiving is this weekend and like most holidays the Canada/US mainland borders will be busy but for residents of Point Roberts criss-crossing the nations is their daily ritual. Driving back and forth between Canadian and American life is a unique characteristic of residing in a border town and most everyone here has a story to tell that ranges from frustrating circumstances (having to drive into Washington state to go to school each day) to hilarious (lobbing tennis balls full of BC marijuana over the border to grateful Americans).

How Point Roberts happened to be put in this odd circumstance is, not surprisingly, a mistake of history. Thanks to the Oregon Treaty in 1846, the 49th parallel was established as the boundary between the British Territory of western North America and the United States. Apparently the map had not been carefully consulted until after the treaty was signed. Then oops!

There it was: A diplomatic conundrum. This fragment of beautiful land, which was clearly negotiated to be US territory, was attached by land to Canada and inaccessible by land from the US. Balancing between two nations, their laws and cultures explains much of the uniqueness of Point Roberts. It oozes charm and has a clear sense of place, even a nickname: Point Bob. Mostly everyone I spoke with has dual citizenship or is related to someone who does. With US and Canadian border guards securing access and checkpoints to get in or out of town, this has been called US’s largest gated community.

It has a population of 1,300 that swells to more than 5,000 in the summer. There’s no dentist, no high school, and few municipal services in the peninsula, but there are three stores where you can purchase wine — and at much lower rates than the BC Liquor Store locations in and around Vancouver.

Lots of creative types have found their way to Point Roberts. A special annual holiday event featuring their work, The Point  Roberts Artisan Guild Art and Craft Faire, will be held Saturday December 7th from 10 am to 5  pm and Sunday December 8 from 11 am to 3 pm where shoppers can pick up unique hand-crafted gifts.

When you go, make sure you don’t forget your passport!


Getting There: From destinations in the lower mainland you can drive, bike ride or take transit.  Visit BC Translink for times and routes. Take the Skytrain to Bridgeport Station and transfer to Bus 601 South Delta. Get off at last stop: SB 54 ST NS 2 AV. There is no transit or taxis in Point Roberts, so either you have walk or arrange for someone to pick you up.
Three Reason to Go:  1) The Scenery: whales, eagles and sunsets, 2) The Prices: Buy Wine at Liberty Wine Merchants or Brewster’s Fine Food and 3)The friendly community: check out the local Maple Meadows B & B or rent a cottage.

View Larger Map

A photographer who has worked in the largest media markets in Canada and the U.S., Julia’s travel photos and videos have been featured prominently in the Toronto Star and been exhibited in galleries in Toronto, New York and Vancouver. Her new line of photo jewelry was inspired by her travels. Even though she is an American, one of her favourite travel experiences was spending Canada Day 2000 on Parliament Hill, joining in a parade with then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien and others. Julia is Vacay.ca’s Visuals Editor. See her work at www.juliapelish.com/blog.

Leave a Reply