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

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

Who wouldn't want to lay claim to this bird?(Wildlife Boy1 / Flickr)

photo of Brian Resnick
February 21, 2014

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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