Have you ever heard of the Hans Island Whiskey War?
Well, let me tell you about it.
First, you’re probably wondering where the hell Hans Island is. It’s a 1.3 square kilometer, uninhabited island with no known reserves of oil, natural gas, valuable minerals, or the like. There are no trees and very little loose soil. It’s located in the cold waters of the north between Ellesmere Island of Canada and Denmark’s autonomous territory of Greenland in the middle of a waterway called the Nares Strait. The strait is 22 miles wide here, and since Hans Island is in the middle, it technically lies within 12 mile territorial waters of both Canada and Greenland.
Thus the conflict because neither side has been able figure out which country actually owns it!
In 1880, it appears that Hans Island got overlooked when Britain turned over it’s North American possessions to Canada. The use of outdated maps probably contributed to this, and some years went by before the mistake was recognized. In 1933, an international court awarded Hans Island to Greenland, but after the court was dissolved, many considered the ruling invalid. In 1973, an agreement was reached between Canada and Denmark regarding the maritime borders of their lands in that part of the world, but they were not able just settle the Hans Island dispute. They decided that it would have to be resolved later on.
There may be some question on the details of how the Hans Island Whiskey War itself actually started. But as one version of the story goes, in 1984, a group of Canadian soldiers arrived on the small island and erected a flagpole upon which their nation’s colors was raised. The story goes on to say that on a lark, the soldiers also left behind a bottle of Canadian whiskey as an entertaining in your face to their Danish rivals.
Well, Danish authorities could not let that stand! So a contingent of Danes was dispatched to the island in response, whereupon they raised the Danish flag to fly over the island. They also left behind a bottle of Danish schnapps and a letter aimed at the Canadians saying “Welcome to the Danish Island.”
This rather comical war of flags and liquor continued for some years as each side would periodically show up on the island to raise their flag and apparently leave behind a bottle of their nation’s distilled spirits. There are reports that in 2005, the governments of Canada and Denmark decided to cease this phase of the conflict and stop raising their corresponding flags on the island. They were supposed to conduct serious negotiations in order to finally settle the issue of Hans Island once and for all.
But as of 2021, it has not been settled. So in some form or fashion, the rather polite conflict over Hans Island continues.