Mr. Uhl to Lord Gough .

No. 143.]

My Lord: In October last the attention of this Department was called to apparently conflicting claims of territorial jurisdiction over [Page 703] certain islands in Lac La Croix (otherwise called Nequowquon), on the northwestern boundary between Minnesota and Manitoba. It seems that one Frank Gardner, of Rat Portage, Ontario, purchased in 1882 and 1883 certain lands in St. Louis County, Minn., bordering on the Canadian line, among them being an island named Coleman Island, all of which were included in the survey previously made by the General Land Office of the United States and taxed by the authorities of St. Louis County, Minn. It is stated that three years ago the Canadian authorities made a survey of timber limits along the boundary including Hunter’s and Coleman islands, and that notice has been served upon Mr. Gardner by the Crown timber agents forbidding him to cut timber on Coleman Island.

So far as Coleman Island is concerned it appears impossible that its jurisdiction could legitimately become a subject of contention. Not only is its position well to the south of any natural boundary line passing through the waters of Lac La Croix, but by continued occupation and governmental survey many years a presumption of title on our behalf has been established not to be set aside save upon the most absolute proof to the contrary, the burden of which would necessarily rest upon the Canadian authorities.

In examining the question, however, the demarcation of that part of the northwestern boundary lying between the Neebish Rapids of St. Mary’s River and the Lake of the Woods is found to be in a vague and unsatisfactory condition, which appears to require the careful attention of the two Governments.

Under the seventh article of the treaty of Ghent, commissioners were authorized to determine the boundary between the dominions of the two powers extending from the water communication between Lake Huron and Lake Superior to the most northwesterly point of the Lake of the Woods, and to decide to which of the two nations the several islands, water communications, and rivers, respectively, belonged. The commissioners were unable to agree as to the true meaning of the description of this part of the boundary in the treaty of 1783, and their labors terminated with the decision under the sixth article of the treaty of Ghent, by which the definition of the boundary terminated westwardly at the foot of the Neebish Rapids A long correspondence ensued between the two Governments, ending in the negotiation of the treaty of August 9, 1842, by Mr. Webster and Lord Ashburton, the second article of which purports to define the boundary from the place where the joint commissioners terminated their labors under the sixth article of the treaty of Ghent in the Neebish Channel in the most northwestern point of the Lake of the Woods.

The line so described is distinct to Ile Royale on the western shore of Lake Superior, but from this point to the Lake of the Woods the description is not sufficiently minute to designate the exact boundary through the tortuous water communication, which presents a chain of lakes and rivers filled with numerous islands. No chart of that portion of the boundary has ever been made by the two Governments jointly.

There has been furnished to this Department by Her Majesty’s Government a series of maps, published by the ordnance survey office at Southampton in 1868, reproducing the original maps filed before the commission under the treaty of Ghent, including the charts upon which the commissioners marked an agreed boundary, as well as other maps showing a proposed boundary, or denoting merely the contours of the shores and islands of the boundary waters. One of these maps, filed as of October 23, 1826, is described as a true map made and presented by [Page 704] Mr. James Ferguson, American principal surveyor to the commission, and certified and signed by him and the commissioners, this particular copy being intended to exhibit the course of a certain line described by the British commissioner for a proposed boundary, as set forth in the journal of the board under date of October 23, 1826. Upon this chart the British commissioner had traced a tentative line of demarcation through and among the intricate waters and islands of Lac La Croix; and Hunter’s and Coleman islands appear designated therein by the numbers 25 and 27, to the south of the British commissioner’s proposed line.

I have the honor to invite, through you, the attention of Her Majesty’s Government to the question of reaching an exact agreement whereby this portion of the boundary line between the United States and Her Majesty’s Dominion of Canada may be precisely marked, in accordance with the true intent of the contracting parties expressed in the treaty of 1842, and having due regard to prescriptive rights of undisputed occupation within the reasonable limits of such boundary.

In this relation, I invite attention to the above-described map, upon which Commissioner Barclay’s proposed line is traced, and beg to inquire the views of Her Majesty’s Government in regard thereto.

The conventional lines traced by the commissioners of the treaty of Ghent by the various boundary commissioners of the two Governments acting jointly have in several instances failed to denote the water boundary with sufficient precision to avert disputes of fact. This was lately seen in the discussion of certain seizures of fishing boats opposite Eastport, Me., and the treaty stipulations of July 22, 1892, were found necessary to settle the matter.

Awaiting the result of such consideration as Her Majesty’s Government may give to this subject, commensurate with its importance,

I have, etc.,

Edwin F. Uhl,
Acting Secretary.