This is the story of a country within a country, a 5-square-mile strip of land that rubs shoulders with Canada on one side and the gaping mouth of the Salish Sea on the other. As a testament to the fact that geographical boundaries have no logic, Point Roberts is emphatically American, purely because it lies south of the 49th parallel. But to get there from America you have to pack a passport and cross no less than two international borders.
That’s because Point Roberts is an exclave, which essentially means it’s not physically connected to the US. Perched on the southern tip of Canada’s Tsawwassen Peninsula, it looks out over Boundary Bay to the east and the Strait of Georgia to the south and west. Its closest neighbor is Delta, BC, and many of its 2,068 housing units are owned by Canadians who flock to their seaside cottages in the summer.
At Point Bob, as it’s affectionately known, the fluctuating strength of the Canadian loonie against the greenback has a huge influence on the traffic between Point Roberts and BC’s Lower Mainland. American gas, booze and food – specifically milk, eggs and cheese – are the sought-after commodities in Point Roberts when the Canadian dollar is strong, because these items are almost always more expensive in the Great White North than they are in Uncle Sam. And as online shoppers grow in tenaciousness many Canadians rent a Point Roberts mailbox so they can avoid cross-border shipping charges on the products they buy.
The 2010 Census revealed that some 1,314 residents call Point Roberts home, a number that swells to 4,500 when the Canadian cottagers return in the summer. The rest of the year two thirds’ of Point Bob’s homes sit vacant. “Some 39 percent of Pont Roberts is owned by Canadians,” says Jim Julius, a local realtor who has lived in the exclave since the 1940s.
Other year-round residents like Julius have chosen their home carefully, mostly for the love of the community and their location, rather than for its conveniences. School-age kids must cross into Blaine after third grade to continue their education and when doctors, dentists, hospitals, pharmacies or vets are needed, that same crossing is required. But it’s not really a problem, locals agree. There’s a nurse practitioner at Point Roberts Clinic, Emergency Medical Technicians and for more urgent medical attention the St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham is 12 minutes away by Medi-Vac helicopter service. Many year-round residents carry special insurance for such emergencies because of the complexity of getting American health insurers to pay for treatment by Canadian providers.
“There’s dentists, doctors and vets in our community, but you can’t get them to work,” Julius quips. “They’re all retired!” The lifestyle is secluded, he added, but take a quick look at a map and you’ll notice that Point Roberts is in the center. “Fourteen miles by ocean and you’ve got 15 islands, and within 30 miles you take in the cities of Vancouver, Victoria and Bellingham,” he said. Add to that the armed presence of border guards securing the Point Roberts/Boundary Bay crossing, and it’s apparent that Point Bob is among America’s most secure gated communities.
If You Go:
- Pack a passport or Nexus card!
- From Bellingham take I-5 North to the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, cross into Canada, merge onto BC-99 N and proceed until exit 26 toward BC-17. Take this exit, merge onto BC-17 and turn left onto 56 St. This will take you to the Point Roberts Port of Entry, at which point 56 street turns into Tyee drive.