The tiny U.S. community of Point Roberts is a historical anachronism.
The 1,200-hectare hamlet sits just south of Tsawwassen, B.C. — a 30 minute drive from the rest of Washington state, but cut off from the U.S. by two land borders.
To Metro Vancouverites, it’s known as a place for a quick summer holiday or to pick up cheap gas, cheap cheese, cheap beer, and the occasional package mailed to a U.S. address for “economical” reasons.
Now, one U.S.-Canadian dual citizen and former resident of the peninsula wants to undo that, by staging a vote to have the community join Canada.
Call it the Point Roberts Purchase.
“I think you could start with, say, $5 billion, a billion dollars per square mile, and work from there,” said John Lesow, who now lives in Vancouver.
“It would be worth the money.”
Point Roberts was created essentially by accident as an artifact of the 1849 Oregon Treaty between the U.S. and Britain, which saw the U.S. border drawn at the 49th Parallel.
That process sliced the peninsula off from the rest of the U.S., and the idea of amalgamating it with Canada has been repeatedly, if informally, floated since then.
This time, Lesow wants to make it official, and he’s in the process of getting it on this year’s election ballot.
“This is an initiative to be voted on in the November 2020 election,” said Lesow. “That requires gathering signatures from 8,800 people in Whatcom County.”
Lesow argues there are several reasons the residents of the community may want to join their northern neighbours — chief among them, schools and hospitals.
The community is only home to a small medical clinic and an elementary school, meaning a trip to high school or hospital involves an international crossing.
The border itself, which Lesow described as once being “quaint,” has radically changed since 9/11.
“Because of the traffic congestion, border waits, it’s getting worse.”
Locals that Global News spoke with in Point Roberts were split on the idea, some salivating at the prospect of cashing in on Metro Vancouver’s real estate boom, others lamenting the possibility of losing their U.S. connections.
But Lesow faces an uphill battle to make the dream come true: It’s not just Point Roberts residents he’ll need to convince.
If he can get the signatures he needs to put his initiative on the November ballot, he’ll still need to convince a majority of Whatcom County’s nearly 150,000 registered voters to give up the land.
Even a win there would have no formal standing other than putting the idea on the table for discussion. At the end of the day, questions about borders and territory are in the hands of the two countries’ federal governments.
Nevertheless, Lesow is optimistic.
“You have to determine if the people want it,” he said.
“I’ve talked to people on both sides of the border, politicians, over the last year, two years. And they all say if it’s what people want, then we will support it.”
-With files from Catherine Urquhart