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Glad You Asked: Why is the Northwest Angle in the United States?

It's the result of a long-ago mapmaking error.

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Q: The Herald recently had coverage of issues involving the Northwest Angle. If that land is surrounded "on three sides by Canada," as the Herald wrote, why is it part of the United States?

A: The Herald recently published its multi-part print and video documentary series "On the border," outlining unique issues that exist in northernmost Minnesota during the pandemic and the resulting closure of the U.S.-Canada border. Included in that coverage were several mentions of the Northwest Angle.

The Angle is nearly surrounded by Canada lands. In the very simplest terms, it boils down to a long-ago mapmaking error.

According to Paul Colson, third-generation owner of Jake’s Northwest Angle Resort, it has to do with the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which established the boundary between U.S. and British possessions.

“They thought that the Mississippi River ran northwest of here,” Colson explained. “The wording in the treaty says ‘West from the northwest corner of Lake of the Woods due west to the Mississippi River.

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“Of course, Lake Itasca is the source of the Mississippi, which is south of us by about 3½ or 4 hours.”

According to Wikipedia, the mistaken location of the Mississippi River was corrected in the Anglo-American Convention of 1818 “by having the boundary continue due south from the northwest point of the lake, but only to the 49th parallel and then westward along it.”

The result is the Northwest Angle, the chimney-shaped chunk of Minnesota that marks the northernmost point of the contiguous 48 states. The Angle is only accessible by road by traveling through about 40 miles of Canada.

Glad You Asked is a segment in the Grand Forks Herald. Do you have a locally interesting question you'd like answered? Submit it to letters@gfherald.com and we'll consider it. Be sure to put "Glad You Asked" in the subject line.

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