Point Roberts

Point Roberts

Point Roberts, uninc. town (1990 pop. 750), Whatcom co., NW Wash., on the Strait of Georgia near the tip of the Point Roberts peninsula, extending south from British Columbia, Canada, and separated from the Washington mainland by Boundary Bay. There is dairying, cattle raising, and tourism, as well as the manufacture of machinery parts and electronic components. The point was visited and named in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver. The town can be reached overland from the United States only by going through British Columbia, or by private boat. There is ferry service from nearby Tsawwassan to Swartz Bay, on Vancouver Island.

Point Roberts is a small Census-designated place in Whatcom County, Washington, United States. A geopolitical oddity, it is a practical exclave of the United States, located on the southernmost tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, south of Delta, British Columbia, Canada.

Point Roberts can be reached from the rest of the United States only by traveling through Canada or crossing Boundary Bay. Other exclaves of this type include the U.S. state of Alaska; and parts of Minnesota such as the Northwest Angle and Elm Point, Minnesota.


The first Europeans to see Point Roberts were members of the 1791 expedition of Francisco de Eliza. The maps produced as a result of Eliza's explorations depicted Point Roberts as "Isla de Cepeda" or "Isla de Zepeda In 1792 the British expedition of George Vancouver and the Spanish expedition of Dionisio Alcalá Galiano encountered one another near Point Roberts. In the morning of June 13, 1792, the two ships under Galiano sailed into Boundary Bay and verified that Point Roberts was not an island, which was thus renamed Punta Cepeda. They then sailed around Point Roberts and immediately encountered the HMS Chatham, the second ship of Vancouver's expedition. The two parties made contact and soon agreed to share information and work together in mapping the Strait of Georgia. Point Roberts acquired its present name from George Vancouver, who named it after his friend Henry Roberts, who had originally been given command of the expedition. Point Roberts assumed its present political status in 1846, when the Oregon Treaty extended the 49th parallel as the boundary between American and British territory from the Rocky Mountains to Georgia Strait.

Treaty history specific to Point Roberts

After years of joint occupation of the disputed area between the Columbia River and Russian America known as the Oregon Country to the Americans, and as the Columbia District to the British, American expansionists like U.S. Senator Edward Allen Hannegan of Indiana urged US President James K. Polk to annex the entire Oregon Country up to latitude 54°40'N, as the Democrats had been elected on the slogan "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight".

While his government asserted that the title of America to the entire territory was unquestionable, Polk and his secretary, James Buchanan made an offer of a boundary at 49 degrees with the line straight across Vancouver Island, with no commercial privilege to be granted to the British south of the line, with the exception of free ports on Vancouver Island. This offer was rejected by the British and withdrawn by the US shortly thereafter.

On April 18, 1846, notice was forwarded to London that the US Congress had adopted a joint resolution abrogating the Treaty of 1818 which provided for joint occupancy.

The British emissary, Richard Packenham, had previously been advised that the last concession which could be expected of America was in bending the boundary at the 49th parallel around the lower end of Vancouver Island. Fort Victoria was viewed as the future center for settlements on the island. It was deemed necessary around this point in time to give up territory on the Lower Mainland to keep Vancouver Island part of British North America.

Lord Aberdeen, British Foreign Secretary, proposed a treaty making the 49th parallel the boundary to the sea, giving Great Britain the whole of Vancouver Island. The Treaty of Oregon was concluded on June 15, 1846.

The acceptance of the 49th parallel as the international boundary was concluded without precise knowledge of the effects it would have. Later, as the Boundary Commission was surveying the line, the British government realized that the peninsula of Point Roberts would be an isolated part of the United States. The British Foreign Office instructed Captain James Prevost, the British Boundary Commissioner, to inform his American counterpart of the situation and request that Point Roberts be left to Britain, because of the great inconvenience it would be to the United States. If the American Boundary Commission was reluctant, Prevost was instructed to offer "some equivalent compensation by a slight alteration of the Line of Boundary on the Mainland". It is not known how the American commissioner responded, but Point Roberts remained part of the United States.


Point Roberts is a U.S. quasi-exclave bordered by Canada and the waters of Boundary Bay. It is south of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. Point Roberts is part of the U.S. because it lies south of the 49th parallel, the official latitude defining the Canada-US border in that area. (Because of inaccuracies in 19th-century surveying, the border actually lies some 200 metres north of the 49th parallel in this location.)

Point Roberts borders the municipality of Delta in British Columbia. Boundary Bay lies to the east of Point Roberts and the Strait of Georgia to the south and west. The peninsula is about from north to south and about from east to west. It has an area of .


As of the US 2000 census, there were 1,308 people, 607 households, and 373 families residing in the CDP. There were 1,820 housing units. Only 34% of the housing units are occupied by residents of Point Roberts; in the summertime the majority of people staying in Point Roberts are Canadians who use it as a cottage or holiday spot.

The racial makeup of the CDP was 75.1% White, 12.3% African American, 0.9% Native American, 3.6% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 5.5% from other races, and 2.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 12.5% of the population.

In the CDP the population was spread out with 22.1% under the age of 19, 2.2% from 20 to 24, 29.0% from 25 to 44, 32.0% from 45 to 64, and 14.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43.2 years.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $36,146, and the median income for a family was $45,417.

The zip code is 98281.


Point Roberts Primary School, the only school on the Point, is for K–second-grade pupils; older public school students who are American must be taken by bus into British Columbia and back into the United States at the Blaine, Washington, border crossing; it is a 40-minute drive.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, school transportation became a question, with long delays at the border crossings, however, school buses were regularly given right of way and the issue was averted. Similar trips are often required for residents who wish to obtain goods not available in the exclave.

Canadian students who live in Point Roberts are allowed to go to school in British Columbia.


The only authorized land access to Point Roberts is 56th Street, a major thoroughfare that runs through the community of Tsawwassen on the Canadian side of the border; southward, the road turns into Tyee Drive. Point Roberts also has a small airport and a large marina for air and water access.


Many of the area's businesses are geared toward recreational and weekend visitors from Greater Vancouver, especially those in search of cheap gasoline. The handful of area bars and nightclubs are popular with visiting Canadians (despite a 21 drinking age in the US versus 19 in British Columbia), and were even more so in the days before Sunday drinking was legalized in British Columbia. The local post office rents hundreds of post office boxes to individuals and businesses from the Greater Vancouver area (including the US Consulate in Vancouver) which find it a convenient and fast way to receive mail and parcels from the United States without paying for cross-border shipping costs.

As reported in National Geographic Magazine, residents enjoy a low crime rate at the cost of a high local security presence.

Because American health insurers will not pay for treatment given by Canadian providers, Point Roberts citizens usually seek medical care in Bellingham, Washington, even though Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada is closer. This includes even emergency patients.


Point Roberts lies within a depression created by Vancouver Island, the north shore mountains surrounding Vancouver, and the North Cascades (including Mount Baker). This micro-climate provides some of the mildest weather in the Pacific Northwest. With an average annual rainfall of about 1000 mm (40 inches), Point Roberts enjoys more sunny days and a milder climate than its neighbors.

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Avg high °F
Avg low °F
Rainfall in inches


Beneath Point Roberts, the bedrock Chuckanut Formation was deposited as an alluvial plain containing layers of sediments consisting of silt, sand, sand and gravel, and peat. During the last 60 million years the sediments were compacted and folded by mountain building forces resulting from continental drift to form strata of siltstone, sandstone, conglomerate and coal. During recent geologic history, the Chuckanut formation was overridden by four or more glaciations.

Point Roberts consists of a series of the resulting glacial sediments resting upon the Chuckanut Formation. The lowest glacial sediments (now near sea level) are from Salmon Springs or older glaciations. At the peak of the most recent glaciation, the main ice sheet was in excess of 7,000 feet thick as it moved southward between Vancouver Island and the Canadian Coast Range and down the Strait of Georgia. A smaller lobe of the continental glacier in excess of 5,000 feet traveled down the Fraser River flood plains merging with the main ice sheet over the greater Vancouver area and Whatcom and Skagit Counties. The coalesced continental ice sheet traveled south terminating in the vicinity of Chehalis, Washington. Relatively impermeable Vashon glacial lodgment till (estimated to be as much as 40 feet thick at the uppermost layer) was plastered over the advance outwash as the weight of the 7,000 foot thick plus Strait of Georgia ice lobe moved southward over approximately 10,000 years. (Armstrong, et. all, 1965) Point Roberts, Tsawwassen, and part of British Columbia extending Past English Bluff actually comprised an island at the close of the Vashon glaciation, approximately 11,000 years ago.

As the ice sheets melted, the thinner Fraser Lobe began to float while the Strait of Georgia lobe acted as a dam forming a lake under the Fraser Lobe. Sediments settling from the melting, floating ice resulted in the accumulation of 300 feet or more of Glacial Marine Drift over much of western Whatcom County. (Easterbrook, 1976; Geologic Map of Western Whatcom County, Washington, USGS, Map I-854-B) This Glacial Marine Drift is generally soft and was not consolidated by the weight of the glacier. A discontinuous, thin mantle of this Glacial Marine Drift above the Glacial Lodgment Till has been identified sporadically across Point Roberts. The uppermost layer of glacial sediments consists of recessional sand, silt, and gravel deposited as the Strait of Georgia ice lobe receded. Since the recession of the glaciers, the Fraser River has deposited deltaic sediments on the north and easterly side of the Point Roberts-Tsawwassen Island connecting it to the Greater Vancouver mainland (approximately 2,500 years ago, Murray 2008). At some locations, these sediments have been eroded or removed exposing the lodgment till.

Parks and features

  • Maple Beach, Washington (NE)
  • Monument Park (NW)
  • Lighthouse Marine Park (SW)
  • Point Roberts Skate Park (Central - recreational open space)
  • Lily Point Marine Reserve (SE)
  • Cascadia Marine Trail (S and E)


  • Bells Grove
  • Crystal Waters
  • Freeman Beach
  • Lily Point
  • Maple Beach
  • Waters Plat


Until 1988, Point Roberts telephone numbers were in British Columbia's 604 area code and served by BCTel, a Canadian telephone company. Today, Point Roberts phone numbers are in the 360 area code and the 945 exchange, and the local regular-service telecom provider is Whidbey Island Telephone Company. Point Roberts is served by DirectTV and Delta Cablevision for cable TV and broadband internet. Mobile telephone service is provided by a variety of companies, both American and Canadian.

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