Photos: The American town left behind in Canada

Point Roberts, Washington, is cut off from the rest of the U.S. by the Canadian border.

  • Ed Park and Judy Ross eat dinner at home with their cat, Zoe, in Point Roberts, Washington, a community that is part of, but not physically connected to, the mainland United States.

    David Ryder
  • A red umbrella provides shade to beachgoers on the south-facing shores of Point Roberts.

    David Ryder
  • Pride for both the United States and Canada is common in Point Roberts. Most of the fire hydrants in town are painted with some kind of design, and this international artwork can be found just steps from the international border at Maple Beach.

    David Ryder
  • Kiniski's Reef Tavern and the attached liquor store are seen on the west-facing beaches of Point Roberts.

    David Ryder
  • Point Roberts is seen from a southwest aerial vantage point. The international boundary slices through this peninsula, creating a five-square mile American exclave on the right third of the land.

    David Ryder
  • Families enjoy the last of the day's sunlight during high tide at Maple Beach.

    David Ryder
  • A chalkboard at the Point Roberts Senior Center announces the July birthday of the U.S.A. during a pancake breakfast on Independence Day.

    David Ryder
  • A woman rides her bike past the seawall at Maple Beach.

    David Ryder
  • Liz Otwell tends to Kvika, an Icelandic horse, on the property of Sylvia Schonberg. Point Roberts has a rich Icelandic history, with Schonberg's grandparents among the Icelandic immigrants that settled there and lived off the land and sea.

    David Ryder
  • Don Falk, easily captivated by ancestral research, is reflected in a wall of framed pictures of his ancestors.

    David Ryder
  • Bob Murphy sits in the late afternoon sun with his daughter, Mallory, during a family vacation at a cabin built by his grandfather, one of the early Icelandic settlers of Point Roberts. Many who grow up in Point Roberts move away for college or work, but return to vacation and later, retirement.

    David Ryder
  • Women play table tennis on a quiet afternoon inside Kiniski's Reef Tavern.

    David Ryder
  • Women watch orca whales from the beach during sunset.

    David Ryder
  • Judy Ross prepares dinner at her home in Point Roberts, Washington.

    David Ryder

 

In 1846, the Oregon Treaty drew an international border along the 49th parallel, separating Canada and the United States. In doing so, they isolated Point Roberts, a sliver of the U.S. abandoned on the Canadian side of the border. This little piece of the U.S. hangs off Canada, just south of the 49th parallel and just north of the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. While the population of the small town bursts with mostly Canadian visitors in the summer, the year-round population is just over 1,000.

Photographer David Ryder first visited the community in July of 2014. He found a laid-back town he says feels like “a well-stocked outpost,” with border guards. It’s a bit of an idyll, surrounded by beaches and full of natural spaces. 

But the isolation also complicates residents’ lives. On July 4, it’s not just American independence that gets fêted: Volunteers raise a Canadian flag alongside the stars and stripes. And, starting in fourth grade, American children have to cross the international border four times and drive 25 miles through Canada, just to go to school in mainland Washington. Other amenities such as healthcare and car registration also require the long trip.