History

In 1792 the Spanish first sighted Point Roberts and called it Zepeda Island. When close scrutiny revealed the Fraser River delta joined the “Island” to the mainland on the north, they charted it as Punta Zepeda. That summer, Captain George Vancouver gave the area its present name in honor of his friend, Captain Henry Roberts.

The large Indian population, dating prior to 500 B.C., called the area Teeltenem. Their many middens provided a wealth of information for anthropologists and archaeologists from many countries.

Point Roberts is separated from the rest of Whatcom County, Washington by a portion of British Columbia’s lower mainland and is generally accessible by land only by a 23 mile drive through Canada from Blaine. If it were not for this connection to British Columbia, it would very likely be considered one of the San Juan Islands.

A first glance at the map often inspires the comment that “The Point” became a U.S. Territory through error or oversight. This was not the case. After years of joint occupation of the disputed area between the Columbia River and Alaska known as the Oregon Territory, James K. Polk was elected president of the United States on the campaign slogan “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight”.

While his government asserted that the title of America to the entire territory unquestionable, Polk and his secretary, James Buchanan made a definite 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 the Island. This offer was rejected and withdrawn.

On April 18, 1846, notice was forwarded to London that the U.S. Congress had adopted a joint resolution abrogating the treaty of 1827 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 49 degrees around the lower end of Vancouver Island. The English had come to look upon Fort Victoria as the future center of their settlements on the coast and were willing to give up territory on the mainland to keep Vancouver Island.

In June, 1848, Lord Aberdeen, British Foreign Secretary, proposed a treaty making the 49th parallel the boundary to the sea giving England the whole of Vancouver Island. The treaty was concluded on June 15,1855.

Point Roberts provided a natural stopover for gold seekers headed north along the Fraser River during the gold rush of 1858, as they arrived by small boats and canoes from Victoria and New Whatcom, which is now Bellingham. A “swinging” business center mushroomed to accommodate the travelers.

After the colorful era of the gold rush faded, “The Point” was made a military reserve so no permanent settlers could make it their home. It became a popular and practical hiding place for smugglers and renegades.

In 1894, a colony of Icelandic families migrated from Victoria and settled in the area. These hardy pioneers cleared farmland from the forest and hewed logs for homes. To obtain mail or supplies meant a seven mile walk to Ladner, B.C.

Early in the 1900′s the military reservation was canceled, and President Theodore Roosevelt extended homestead rights to the settlers, who previously had enjoyed only “squatters’ rights”.

They continued to farm and fish in the area. Fishtraps and canneries were developed to take advantage of the Fraser River salmon run. The waters around Point Roberts still provide an estimated several million dollars worth of salmon annually. Both commercial and sports fishing boats frequent the area.

Long sandy beaches, sunny climate, and the aura of tranquility soon attracted Canadians who built summer cottages, even though they had to travel either by way of New Westminster or the old Ladner Ferry.

In May of 1959, the opening of the Deas Island Tunnel under the Fraser River shortened the trip to Vancouver to less than a half hour. More weekend visitors decided to build cottages and become “summer people”, swelling the area’s population during the summer.

Observing that their ‘summer camps” were within the same commuting area as Tsawwassen, they came to spend more and more time at Point Roberts, and less and less in the city. As a result. the trend during recent years has been toward year ’round residency, and much subdivision has taken place as more permanent homes have been built.