49th parallel north

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The 49th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 49 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane.

The parallel forms part of the United States-Canadian Border from British Columbia to Manitoba on the Canadian side and from Washington to Minnesota on the U.S. side, or from the Strait of Georgia to the Lake of the Woods. Its use as the international border is a result of the Anglo-American Convention of 1818 and the Oregon Treaty of 1846.

49th parallel at Waterton Lake, showing the cleared strip of land along the US/Canadian border.


Starting at the Prime Meridian and heading eastwards, the parallel 49° north passes through:

Co-ordinates Country, territory or sea Notes
49°0´N 0°0´E France Lower Normandy, Upper Normandy, Île-de-France (region), Picardy (region), Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine (region), Alsace, Lorraine (region), Alsace
49°0´N 84°E Germany Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg
49°0´N 13°24´E Czech Republic
49°0´N 15°0´E Austria For about 5km
49°0´N 15°4´E Czech Republic
49°0´N 17°57´E Slovakia
49°0´N 22°32´E Ukraine
49°0´N 39°42´E Russia Rostov Oblast, Volgograd Oblast
49°0´N 46°55´E Kazakhstan
49°0´N 86°44´E China Xinjiang (Chinese Turkestan)
49°0´N 87°55´E Mongolia
49°0´N 116°8´E China Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang
49°0´N 130°0´E Russia Amur Oblast, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Khabarovsk Krai
49°0´N 140°21´E Strait of Tartary Strait of Tartary
49°0´N 142°1´E Russia Island of Sakhalin
49°0´N 142°57´E Sea of Okhotsk Gulf of Patience
49°0´N 144°26´E Russia} Island of Sakhalin
49°0´N 144°27´E Sea of Okhotsk Passing between the islands of Kharimkotan and Ekarma in Russia's Kuril Islands chain
49°0´N 154°22´E Pacific Ocean
49°0´N 125°41´W Canada British Columbia - Vancouver Island, Thetis Island and Galiano Island
49°0´N 123°34´W Strait of Georgia
49°0´N 123°5´W Canada / United States border British Columbia / Washington, (Point Roberts)
49°0´N 123°2´W Semiahmoo Bay
49°0´N 122°45´W Canada / United States border British Columbia / Washington, British Columbia / Idaho, British Columbia / Montana, Alberta / Montana, Saskatchewan / Montana, Saskatchewan / North Dakota, Manitoba / North Dakota, Manitoba / Minnesota
49°0´N 95°17´W Lake of the Woods Passing just south of Big Island (Lake of the Woods) and Bigsby Island (Lake of the Woods), Ontario, Canada
49°0´N 94°25´W Canada Ontario, Quebec
49°0´N 68°38´W Saint Lawrence River
49°0´N 66°58´W Canada Gaspé Peninsula
49°0´N 64°24´W Gulf of Saint Lawrence Passing just south of Anticosti Island, Quebec, Canada
49°0´N 58°31´W Canada Newfoundland (island)
49°0´N 53°44´W Atlantic Ocean
49°0´N 5°38´W English Channel Gulf of Saint-Malo
49°0´N 1°33´W France Lower Normandy


Following the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803, it was generally agreed that the boundary between the new territory and British North America was along the watershed between the Missouri River and Mississippi River basins on one side and the Hudson Bay basin on the other. However, it is often difficult to precisely determine the location of a watershed in a region of level plains, such as in central North America. The British and American committees that met after the War of 1812 to resolve boundary disputes recognized there would be much animosity in surveying the watershed boundary, and agreed on a simpler border solution in 1818: the 49th parallel. Both sides gained and lost some territory by this convention, but the United States gained more than it lost, in particular securing title to the Red River Basin. This convention established the boundary only between the Lake of the Woods and the Rocky Mountains; west of the Rockies, the convention established joint occupation of the Oregon Country by both parties. A geographical oversight resulted in the creation of the Northwest Angle.

Although the Convention of 1818 settled the boundary from the point of view of the non-Aboriginal powers, neither the United Kingdom nor the United States was immediately sovereign over the territories on its side of the line: effective control still rested with the local nations, mainly the Métis, Assiniboine, Lakota and Blackfoot. Their sovereignty was gradually ceded by conquest and treaty during the several decades that followed. Among these nations, the 49th parallel was nicknamed the Medicine Line because of its seemingly magical ability to prevent U.S. soldiers from crossing it.

In the 1844 U.S. presidential election, the Democratic Party asserted that the northern border of the Oregon Territory should be 54°40′, later reflected in the 1846 slogan "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!" However, the Oregon boundary dispute was settled diplomatically in the 1846 Oregon Treaty. This agreement divided the Oregon Country between British North America and the United States by extending the 49th parallel boundary to the west coast, ending in the Strait of Georgia; it then circumvents Vancouver Island through Boundary Pass, Haro Strait, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This had the side-effect of isolating Washington.

As border

A typical boundary marker, one of many along the 49th parallel. This one divides Washington from British Columbia.

Although parts of Vancouver Island and parts of Eastern Canada are located south of the 49th parallel, and parts of the United States (Alaska, Northwest Angle) are located north of it, the term 49th parallel is sometimes used as a nickname for the entire Canada-U.S. border. This can be misleading, since many of Canada's most populated regions (and about 72% of the national population) are located south of the 49th parallel, including the two largest cities Toronto (44° north) and Montreal (46° north), the federal capital Ottawa (45.25° north) and the capital cities of all provinces except the Prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), these being the only three provinces entirely north of the 49th parallel. The three Maritime provinces are each located entirely south of the parallel; however, the vast majority of Canadian territory lies north of the 49th parallel.

Parts of the 49th parallel were originally surveyed using astronomical techniques that did not take into account slight departures of the Earth's shape from a simple ellipsoid, or the deflection of the plumb-bob by differences in terrestrial mass and although the surveys were subject to the limitations of early to mid 19th-century technology, extremely accurate results were obtained. However, in some places the surveyed 49th parallel is as much as several hundred feet from the actual geographical 49th parallel for the currently adopted datum, WGS84. The Digital Chart of the World (DCW), which uses the Clarke 1866 ellipsoid, reports the border on average at latitude 48° 59′ 51″ north, roughly 270 m (290 yd) south of the modern 49th parallel. It ranges between 48° 59′ 25″ and 49° 0′ 10″ north, respectively 810 m (885 yd) and 590 m (645 yd) on either side of the average. In any case, the Earth's North Pole moves around slightly, notionally moving the 49th and other parallels with it - see polar motion.

While the United States and Canada have not disputed the boundary from the original survey lines, the difference of the survey from the geographical 49th parallel was argued in front of the Washington Supreme Court in the case of State of Washington v. Norman, under the premise that Washington did not properly incorporate the portions of land north of the geographical 49th parallel, as laid out by detailed GPS surveying. The court decided against the premise, ruling that the internationally surveyed boundary also served as the state boundary, regardless of its actual position.

Monuments on the border

The Peace Arch border
  • The Peace Arch is a large monument between Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington. It is the centerpiece of Peace Arch Park.
  • The International Peace Garden is located at the border between Manitoba and North Dakota, about midway between the nearby communities of Manitoba and North Dakota. It has as its focal point the Peace Tower (actually four identical monuments 120 feet (36.6 m) tall set parallel only a few feet apart, two on each side of the border, giving the appearance of a double tower from most vantage points in the Garden).
  • Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in Alberta and Montana

Ordnance Survey of Great Britain

The British national grid reference system uses the point 49° N, 2° W as its true origin.[1]


  1. "The true origin". Welcome to OS Net. Southampton: Ordnance Survey. 2007-09-04. http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/gps/information/coordinatesystemsinfo/guidetonationalgrid/page2.html. Retrieved 13 August 2009. 

External links