Canada and Denmark are using booze and flags to fight over this island

Hans Island is a tiny speck of rock that lies almost exactly halfway between Canada and Greenland in the Nares Straight, a thin body of Arctic seawater between the two countries. Denmark and Canada both claim the island as sovereign soil.

For over 95 years, they’ve been fighting the world’s most gentlemanly military struggle by sending their navies to claim the island using sarcastic signs, national flags, and bottles of Danish brandy and Canadian whisky.

The island was mapped in 1920 and has been a spot of contention between between Canada and Denmark ever since. Since the .5-square-mile island has no resources, inhabitants, wildlife, and hardly any soil, the island has limited value in itself.

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Photo: Copyright Free/Twthmoses

But, its location makes it a prime spot for managing sea traffic going into and out of the Arctic, something that is becoming more important with each bit of sea ice that melts. So, the two countries sat down and settled most of their border disputes in 1973 but were unable to come to terms on Hans Island.

Sometime in the 1980s, the bottles began appearing on the island. Denmark upped the ante sometime in the early 2000s when they placed a large flag on the island and a sign that said, “Welcome to Denmark,” with the liquor. Canada answered back with its own flag, sign, and liquor in July 2005.

The conflict has edged into more serious territory a few times. A visit to the island by the Canadian Defense Minister in 2005 drew angry comments from Denmark as did a 2004 increase in Canadian defense spending increase that cited Hans Island as a factor.

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The small rock in the center of this satellite image is Hans Island. Photo: NASA

Still, the island has continued to exist in a polite limbo. Canada even suspended operations on and near the island in 2013 amid worries about creating an international incident with Denmark.

Potential solutions to the issue have been discussed many times, and splitting the island down the middle or sharing it is the solution proposed most often.