What if Today’s U.S.-Canada Hockey Game Settled a 200-Year-Old Border Dispute?

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Who wouldn't want to lay claim to this bird?
National Journal
Brian Resnick
Feb. 21, 2014, 6:27 a.m.

Let’s up the ante of Fri­day’s U.S. vs. Canada hockey match.

Let’s say — just for fun — whichever team wins, that coun­try can lay fi­nal and ab­so­lute claim over one 500-yard, rocky bird-watch­er para­dise loc­ated 12 miles off the coast of Maine.

Yes, Ma­chi­as Seal Is­land is an ap­pro­pri­ate prize, hav­ing been dis­puted between the Amer­ic­ans and the Ca­na­dians since the found­ing of the two coun­tries. And what a gem it is. Ac­cord­ing to bird­ing site New Eng­land Seabirds, “Every birder should vis­it Ma­chi­as Seal Is­land at least once,” to ob­serve its pop­u­la­tions of puffins and razor­bills. Land­ing on the two-per­son in­hab­ited is­land is de­pend­ant on calm wa­ters. And due to con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, only 15 people a day are al­lowed to vis­it.

The trouble with that par­tic­u­lar is­land star­ted with the Treaty of Par­is, the doc­u­ment that ended the Re­volu­tion­ary War.

“The treaty as­signed to the newly in­de­pend­ent 13 colon­ies all is­lands with­in 20 leagues — about 70 miles — of the Amer­ic­an shore,” The New York Times re­por­ted in 2012. “But the treaty also ex­cluded any is­land that had ever been part of Nova Sco­tia, and Ca­na­dians have poin­ted to a 17th-cen­tury Brit­ish land grant they say proves the is­land was in­deed part of that province, whose west­ern por­tion be­came New Brun­swick in the late 18th cen­tury.”

And the bor­der was made more am­bigu­ous by the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war of 1812.

“Grand Man­an Is­land was awar­ded to Bri­tain in 1817 by a com­mis­sion set up by the Treaty of Ghent,” the Chris­ti­an Sci­ence Mon­it­or re­por­ted in 1982. “Some Ca­na­dians claim Ma­chi­as Seal Is­land is part of the Grand Man­an Ar­chipelago of about 100 tiny is­lands scattered in the shoals south­w­est of Grand Man­an.”

See­ing how the is­land is barely in­hab­ited, real con­flicts re­gard­ing the Is­land are rare. Also, Ca­na­dians have manned and op­er­ated a light­house on the is­land since the 19th cen­tury. If pos­ses­sion counts most of all, then the Ca­na­dians have it.

But there have been mo­ments of fric­tion. In the 1980s, an Amer­ic­an cap­tain be­came an­noyed when the Ca­na­dian Coast Guard pre­ven­ted him from land­ing on the is­land. The cap­tain in­formed the Ca­na­dians that they were in Amer­ica, and he didn’t have to listen to their or­ders. It be­came a minor news story. At the time, Ca­na­dian of­fi­cials re­spon­ded, ”There is no dis­pute as far as we are con­cerned…. It is a Ca­na­dian is­land and Ca­na­dian-reg­u­lated.” Like­wise, a U.S. State De­part­ment of­fi­cial provided the cap­tain with a let­ter that stated “‘that Ma­chi­as Seal Is­land is part of the United States, and has been since the found­ing of the Re­pub­lic.”

Oth­er con­flicts have erup­ted over the place­ment of lob­ster traps near the is­land.

Did we men­tion that the is­land comes with a sea­son­al pop­u­la­tion of 10,000 puffins? You know, those ad­or­able birds of the north that look like a cross between a pen­guin and a tou­can? These ones:

There’s a lot at stake here, Team U.S.A.

Cor­rec­tion: This post ori­gin­ally stated Fri­day’s match was for a gold medal. It is the semi­final game. 

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