Aerial view of Hans Island

Canada and Denmark end decades-long dispute over Arctic waste rock | Arctic

It has been described by some as a “pseudo-confrontation”, and by others as a diplomatic afterthought. Now, however, the so-called “Whiskey War,” which was never really a conflict, has finally been resolved with the formal division of a tiny, barren Arctic island between Canada and Denmark.

Located in the Kennedy Channel of Nares Strait, between the northwest coast of the semi-autonomous Danish territory of Greenland and Canada’s Ellesmere Island, the half-square-mile uninhabited Hans Island, n It has no mineral resources or much of interest unless you are a visiting seabird.

Shaped like a muffin and surrounded by cliffs, it was for centuries a hunting ground for the Inuit. Crucially, however, it has been at the center of a long-running border dispute between Canada and Denmark – via the Greenland Home Rule Government – Copenhagen claiming geological evidence points to Hans Island being part of Greenland – a claim dismissed by Ottawa.

Aerial view of Hans Island
Aerial view of Hans Island. Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images

Canada and Denmark agreed in 1973 to create a border through the Nares Strait, halfway between Greenland and Canada. But they were unable to agree on which country would have sovereignty over Hans Island, located about 1,100 km south of the North Pole. In the end, they decided to settle the ownership issue later.

This prompted largely good-natured advocacy between the two sides, including advertisements posted on Google promoting their demands and flag-raising stunts.

The reference to the ‘Whiskey War’ came after Denmark’s Greenland Affairs Minister hoisted a Danish flag on the island in 1984, buried a bottle of Danish schnapps at the base of the mast and left a note saying: ” Welcome to the Danish island”.

The Canadians then planted their own flag and left behind a bottle of Canadian brandy. Since then, countries have alternately hoisted their flags and left bottles of various spirits in tit-for-tat motions.


In 2002, Nana Flensburg was part of a Danish military crew who stood on the cliff to perform a flag-raising ceremony. The Politiken newspaper quoted her on Tuesday as saying in her diary that “among the stones in the cairns were many bottles, glasses, etc. with documents informing of previous visits to the island”.

At the height of the rivalry, the two sides took to buying ads on Google to assert their rights after Denmark said it would send a letter of protest against a 2005 visit by Canada’s defense minister to the time, Bill Graham.

Graham said Canada had always owned the island, prompting Denmark to reply, “Hans Island is our island.” Some Canadians have in turn proposed a boycott of Danish pastries, echoing the way some Americans rejected “fries” when France refused to join coalition forces in Iraq.

Now the friction is coming to an end, with the two countries agreeing to share the tiny island in a deal to be signed later on Tuesday.

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“This sends a clear signal that it is possible to resolve border disputes … in a pragmatic and peaceful way, where all parties win,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said. He said it was “an important signal now that there are a lot of wars and troubles in the world”.

The agreement will enter into force after the completion of the internal procedures of the two countries. In Denmark, the parliament must give its consent to the agreement.

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