Fantasy Friday – Hans Island

This story is hilarious – just the way the author writes about it, really.

Hans Island – perhaps the dispute between Canada and Denmark will endure time…

Noted Arctic historian and published author Kenn Harper walks us through Hans’ past so we may understand its possible future.

By Kenn Harper

The island is barren and steep-sided. No-one lives there. No-one except scientific parties ever have. The question one is inclined to ask is not, “Who owns it?” but rather, “Who would want it?” But this island is different from other interruptions in the surface of the Arctic sea. This is Hans Island, two square kilometers of rock situated at 80° 49′ N and 66° 26′ W, smack-dab in the middle of Kennedy Channel, mid-way between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. It has become the focus of a bizarre border dispute between Canada and Denmark, an issue that has simmered for three decades and finally boiled over in 2005.


Canada showed Hans Island as Canadian territory on a map for the first time only in 1967. Six years later, during negotiations on a Danish-Canadian agreement over division of the continental shelf, Canada voiced its claim to Hans Island but efforts to reach a solution regarding ownership were unsuccessful. Both parties agreed to stop the median line referred to in that agreement at the low-water mark on the south coast of the island and start it again at the low-water mark on the north shore. Because these lines reach the island, the agreement noted that “the island has no territorial sea.”

In 1983, both countries signed an agreement on co-operation in marine environmental matters. They also considered a reciprocal arrangement for processing applications to conduct research on and around Hans Island. Although that agreement was not signed, the respective ministers reaffirmed their common interest in avoiding acts prejudicial to future negotiations. But the unsigned agreement had already been violated.

That year I met a scientist from Dome Petroleum in Resolute, Northwest Territories. Embroidered in bold letters on his knitted Inuit-style hat was the name HANS ISLAND, N.W.T. I asked him about his sartorial claim to an island that I regarded as part of Greenland and was surprised to learn that he had just spent the summer on the island doing ice research.

Dome Petroleum, it turned out, had been doing research on this tiny island for some years. It planned to build offshore artificial islands on which to position drilling rigs in the Beaufort Sea, 1,700 kilometres away. Hans Island was a surrogate for an artificial island. Huge ice floes, some several kilometers in diameter and up to eight metres thick, flow southward each summer through the large funnel that is Kennedy Channel. The first obstacle they meet is Hans Island. With its steep sides, it provided a perfect location in which to determine how strong an artificial island needed to be to withstand the force of multi-year ice coming down from the Arctic Ocean.

Read more on this HUGELY fascinating island at Canadian Geographic

My favorite quote from this article:

The question one is inclined to ask is not, “Who owns it?” but rather, “Who would want it?”

Hey – you know what? Why not.

Why not make this my fantasy for the day. How many people can say they have been to THE Hans Island? Home to one of Canada’s most intense fighting matches.