The 49th Parallel As Military “Medicine Line”


James Douglas 1st Governor of Vancouver Island which straddled the 49th parallel

On this day in 1846, the United States and the British Empire agreed to extend the 49th parallel border from the Rockies all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

As a result, the southern tip of Vancouver Island remained as the only British (now Canadian) territory, west of Minnesota that lay south of 49th parallel.

The seemingly straight line of a border suggested one simple stroke of the pen, but that was not the case. It took three treaties struck in the years 1783, 1818 and 1846 and a lot of bellicose rhetoric to get that border from Lake of the Woods (Minnesota) to the Strait of Georgia, just short of the Pacific.

The American Indians, often trying to elude the U.S. Cavalry, nicknamed the border “the medicine line.” This was due to its extraordinarily magical effect in stopping the blue coats’ pursuits.

A nugget from the Canadian perspective: 

Vancouver Island was founded by The Hudson’s Bay Com pany in 1849 at Victoria. At that time they abandoned Fort Vancouver on the mouth of the Columbia River (the American Vancouver in Washington, across the river from Portland, Oregon).

The influx of American miners sparked when news of the discovery of gold became widespread in 1858 threatened the fledgling British Colony.

Vancouver Island and not long after, British Columbia’s first Governor, James Douglas, took decisive steps to secure the area for British rule. He opened roads to the Interior and made treaties with Vancouver Island First Nations (the current and correct word in Canada for Indians, or the aboriginal peoples).

He also welcomed a group of 700 freed black slaves who managed to organize their migration north from California on his invitation. All was done to increase numbers of residents of the area that would be loyal to the British Crown and therefore keep Vancouver Island – and the colony of British Columbia Canadian.

History glitters a little brighter as Military Success Network polishes today’s nugget.

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