The Ultimate Canadian Geography Quiz: The 49th

In honour of the 200th anniversary of our straight southern boundary, here are 49 questions to test your border brains
Introduction by Will Ferguson
Quiz questions by Nick Walker

Illustration: Kerry Hodgson/Can Geo

Most international borders adhere to some sort of logic. They follow coastlines or rivers, watersheds or natural barriers. They make sense. Not so the 49th parallel north.

The border from the Lake of the Woods to the Rockies was set in October 1818, and was later extended all the way to the Pacific Coast. A Procrustean solution that causes more problems than it solves, it plays havoc with water reservoirs and mountain routes along the way, which more naturally fall north and south.

The border should zigzag wildly up and down like an erratic EKG. Instead, it draws its razor-like line stubbornly to the sea. It defies common sense, slicing off a fingertip of land in British Columbia: Point Roberts, Wash., U.S. territory that can only be accessed via Canada.

It disregards older political boundaries as well: those of the First Nations that had their own trade routes, their own cultural and territorial contours in place long before any surveyors showed up. Indeed, not a single Indigenous culture group is wholly contained within Canada’s borders.

The 49th parallel has since become synonymous with Canada’s border as a whole, as a shorthand for that larger political divide between the Manifest Destiny to the south and the muddled patchwork to the north. Between melting pot and mosaic, as it were.

But for the majority of Canadians, the 49th parallel is a northern border. Most of our population lives well below it, would have to drive north to reach it. Only three provincial capitals sit above it. (Victoria dangles below at the southern tip of Vancouver Island by design, not accident. It was a pre-emptive claim by the Hudson’s Bay Company, aimed at blocking the Americans from extending the line across the lower half of Vancouver Island. Fort Victoria helped pin down the western end of our border.)

The Canada-U.S. border is often heralded as the longest undefended land border in the world. Perhaps. But not uncontested. Our border was born of threats and counter-threats, of sabre-rattling brinkmanship and political chess moves. And any border, even an arbitrary one, shapes us. We grow into our borders, whether we like it or not.

I first reached the 49th parallel as a teenager, during a road trip with my father through Saskatchewan, south of Estevan. We came to a large emptiness marked by competing flags: Canadian on one side, American on the other.

With the confidence that comes with youth, I declared that I didn’t believe in borders. They “weren’t real.” My dad nodded, then gestured to the open landscape. “Well, if you think it’s imaginary, try walking across that field, see what happens.”

I never took him up on his offer, because I knew that no matter how much I wanted to deny it, borders are real. They matter. So here’s to 200 years of defying geography, topography, common sense and Manifest Destiny. Here’s to the 49th parallel.

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BORDER BASICS

1. Three sections of this large Canadian park border the 49th parallel.

Photo: mysticenergy/iStock

E.C. Manning Provincial Park, B.C.
Waterton Lakes National Park, Alta.
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Sask.-Alta.
Grasslands National Park, Sask.

2. How long is the section of the Canada-U.S. border that follows the 49th parallel today?

1,050 kilometres
2,050 kilometres
3,050 kilometres
5,050 kilometres

3. Which province shares a longer stretch of the 49th parallel with the United States? It’s close!

British Columbia
Saskatchewan

4. Point Roberts, Wash., is separated from the mainland United States by the 49th parallel, the southern tip of a peninsula just south of Tsawwassen, B.C. What is the geographical term for this kind of unattached land mass?

Map: Chris Brackley/Can Geo

Enclave
Nodal region
Exclave
Salient

5. From the Strait of Georgia, B.C., to Lake of the Woods, Man., the Canada-U.S. border lies exactly along the 49th parallel.

True
False

6. The International Boundary Commission maintains more than 8,000 monuments along the entire Canada-U.S. border. How many of these appear on the 49th parallel?

Photo: Modfos/iStock

212
912
2,112
4,012

7. This small piece of Minnesota — the result of a cartographic error — is the only piece of the lower 48 states that lies north of the 49th parallel. What is its name?

Map: Chris Brackley/Can Geo

The Northwest Angle
The Minnesota Wedge
The Kenora Corner
The Northern Slice

8. The Canada-U.S. stretch of the 49th parallel is the world’s longest “straight” international border.

True
False

9. How many provinces lie entirely south of the 49th parallel?

One
Two
Three
Five

10. This is the width of the “border vista,” the clearcut strip of land kept free of trees and brush along the entire international boundary.

2 metres
6 metres
60 metres
200 metres

A HISTORIC LINE

11. This is North Dakota’s official state nickname, which refers to a large commemorative garden that straddles its border with Manitoba.

Photo: Karen Massier/iStock

Unity Garden State
Botanical Brotherhood State
Peace Garden State
Peaceful by Nature State

12. Set in 1818, the border along the 49th parallel did not initially extend all the way to the Strait of Georgia and the Pacific Ocean. Where did it end?

The Manitoba-Saskatchewan border
The Saskatchewan-Alberta border
Midway, B.C.
The summit of the Rocky Mountains

13. The border divided the homelands of several First Nations, transforming tribal and family relationships, ancient hunting routes and more. What traditional territory is shown on this map?

Map: Chris Brackley/Can Geo

Iroquois
Ojibwa
Blackfoot
Dakota

14. In 1844, soon-to-be president of the United States James Polk campaigned on taking over all of Oregon Country, a huge territory jointly occupied by Britain and America that stretched all the way to Alaska’s southern border. What was his still-famous campaign slogan?

To Alaska and beyond!
Fifty-four forty or fight!
Forty-nine is not enough!
Sixty or here come the Yanks!

15. This person was prime minister of Canada when the 49th parallel was first set as the Canada-U.S. border.

Sir John Abbott
Sir John A. Macdonald
Alexander Mackenzie
There was no Canadian prime minister

16. This popular American belief in the God-given right to expand across the continent gave Britain reason to settle on a firm border in a hurry.

The American Dream
Manifest Destiny
New Imperialism
America’s Burden

17. The United States and Britain originally planned to divide their territories along the route of the main east-west pioneer trail.

True
False

18. The 49th parallel was nicknamed “the Medicine Line” because of the superior British medical care available in communities north of the border.

True
False

19. Which country gained more land in 1818 by agreeing to a straight boundary?

United States
Britain

20. Hudson’s Bay Company was the first group to make a reference to the 49th parallel as a boundary.

True
False

The 49TH AROUND THE GLOBE

21. Mongolia, through which more than 2,000 kilometres of the 49th parallel passes, is the world’s least-densely populated country.

Photo: Rawpixel/iStock

True
False

22. The 49th parallel south does not pass over any land mass as it crosses the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.

Map: Chris Brackley/Can Geo

True
False

23. The 49th parallel crosses through this many countries.

12
18
31
49

24. In the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine, the 49th crosses this major European mountain range.

Eastern Alps
Caucasus Mountains
Scandinavian Mountains
Carpathian Mountains

25. The 49th crosses the Pacific Ocean without bisecting a single island except for Vancouver Island, on its east side, and Russia’s Sakhalin, on its west. Which island is bigger by area?

Map: Chris Brackley/Can Geo

Vancouver Island
Sakhalin

26. What is the distance between the 49th parallel and the North Pole? (Hint: The north-south circumference of the Earth is 39,931 kilometres.)

Map: Chris Brackley/Can Geo

2,572 kilometres
4,572 kilometres
6,572 kilometres
8,572 kilometres

27. About one eighth of Earth’s surface lies north of the 49th parallel.

True
False

28. This country has the longest share of the 49th parallel after Canada.

Mongolia
Kazakhstan
Ukraine
United States

29. Stand on the Canada-U.S. border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, and this country is on the 49th parallel on the exact opposite side of the Earth.

China
Mongolia
Kazakhstan
Ukraine

30. Is Paris south or north of 49?

Photo: pawel.gaul/iStock

South
North

CROSSING THE LINE

31. In 1932, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alta., and Glacier National Park, Mont., were joined across the 49th to create what was then the world’s largest park.

Photo: Wirepec/iStock

True
False

32. Only two provinces share border crossings with four U.S. states each. Which ones?

British Columbia and Ontario
Alberta and Ontario
British Columbia and Quebec
Ontario and Quebec

33. There are no tunnel or bridge border crossings to the United States between British Columbia and Manitoba.

True
False

34. Close to this many Canadians currently live in the United States.

100,000
500,000
800,000
3 million

35. This became a requirement for Canadians entering the United States in 2009.

Declaring all purchases in excess of $200
Presenting a driver’s licence or other standard government-issued identification card
Submitting to routine vehicle searches
Presenting a valid passport or a Nexus card

36. How many times does Canada’s southern border with the U.S. cross north of the 49th parallel?

Zero times
Once
Three times
Four times

37. About 1.5 million people cross into Canada from Washington state each year. What state is Canada’s next biggest source of visitors along the 49th parallel?

Map: Chris Brackley/Can Geo

Minnesota
North Dakota
Montana
Idaho

38. Rank these border states in order of most to least visited annually by Canadians.
1-Washington     2-North Dakota     3-New York     4-Maine

1, 3, 2, 4
3, 4, 1, 2
3, 1, 4, 2
1, 4, 3, 2

39. The Ambassador Bridge, connecting Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Mich., is the Canada-U.S. border’s —

Photo: Bee-Creative/iStock

highest crossing
busiest crossing
slowest crossing
tightest security crossing

40. This massive, border-crossing ecosystem is critical habitat for a high concentration of large carnivores and numerous other endangered species.

Map: Chris Brackley/Can Geo

Rocky Mountain Stronghold
Corridor of the Sun
Mountain Heart
Crown of the Continent

OUR OTHER BORDERS

41. What issue most recently stirred up the centuries-old Canada-U.S. dispute over tiny Machias Seal Island, in the Gulf of Maine?

Photo: Jill_InspiredByDesign/iStock

Illegal immigration
The island’s strategic position
Seabird protection
Lobster fishing

42. This is the line of latitude that marks the border between southern Quebec and New York and Vermont.

Map: Chris Brackley/Can Geo

48th parallel
45th parallel
40th parallel
32nd parallel

43. What per cent of Canadians live within 160 kilometres (100 miles) of the U.S. border?

50
60
75
90

44. Canada has a total of 119 border crossings with the U.S. Which province has the most?

Quebec
Ontario
Manitoba
British Columbia

45. How did Canada end up owning all of Vancouver Island, about 7,500 square kilometres of which lies south of the 49th parallel?

Photo: StockstudioX/iStock

Fort Victoria (now the provincial capital) was established before the 49th parallel was stretched to the Pacific
Islands are traditionally not cut in two when determining international boundaries
Inaccurate maps of the day showed all of Vancouver Island lying north of 49
a and b

46. Crews clear the southern “border vista” of trees and brush every five or six years, while Canada’s northern border with Alaska is cleared every 15 years. Why?

Photo: tibu/iStock

The North is considered less of a liability to national security
Its remoteness makes it much more difficult to access
Shorter growing season
a and b

47. This part of the Canada-U.S. border was settled in 1903 after a rush of development in the region a few years before.

The Yukon-Alaska border
The Alaska Panhandle
Southern Vancouver Island and the San Juan Islands
The New Brunswick-Maine border, including Grand Manan Island

48. Many of Canada’s interprovincial/territorial borders are drawn along major lines of latitude and longitude.

True
False

49. How many U.S. states does Canada border by land and water?

8
10
13
16

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