Minnesota’s Northwest Angle

October 12, 2016 at 11:58 am | Posted in Highway Phototours | Leave a comment

The little notch of  Minnesota that sticks up into Canada has a fairly interesting history. Although now almost lost in obscurity, it used to be an economic center of the fur trade. French voyageurs would canoe up the Rainy River to Fort St. Charles on Lake of the Woods.

With the French & Indian War, the area passed from French to British control, and with the American Revolution, it became necessary to draw a boundary between the two countries in the area. Since the voyageurs route was so important, it was agreed that the international boundary  would follow that route, up to the northwesternmost point of Lake of the Woods.

From there, the boundary was to proceed westward until the Mississippi River, which people thought had it’s source at Lake Winnepeg, or at least somewhere northwest of Lake of the Woods.. You can see the obvious problem here. Later, when the source of the Mississippi became known, the boundary was dropped down to the 49th Parallel to match up with the previous agreed on line between the Louisiana Purchase and Canada. The result was the little notch of Minnesota we call the Northwest Angle.

After the fur trade passed into history, the angle faded into obscurity. Most of the economy today is based on the few resorts and vacation properities along the lake. Most of the area inland is either state forest land, or is owned by the Red Lake Indians, who are not at all friendly to outsiders. The two newsworthy things recently were people selling property as potential Y2K hideouts, and the draconian fishing regulations Ontario imposed on people staying at Minnesota resorts, which prompted talk about the angle joining Canada.

These pictures were taken  on a trip a quarter century ago when I was in high school, so they’re by far the oldest pictures on this site.

Road To Northwest Angle

This is a view from the road to the angle on the Canadian side, Manitoba highway 308. Note the lack of shoulder striping. Mn/DOT is authorized under statute 161.141 to help fund and maintiain this a highway to the angle. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the road was completed. Conventional telephone service arrived even later, in the 1990s.


I believe this picture was taken across the border in Minnesota, where the road becomes County 49. The road is now gravel. This is pretty typical scenery for the north central part of the state: flat, poorly drained, dominated by spruce and birch trees. At various times commercial harvest of the peat underlying much of north-central Minnesota has been considered, but was stopped for economic or environmental reasons.


Driving into the angle, you eventually come to what I call the crossroads. Going east takes you to a few resorts. Going west takes you to the town of Angle Inlet. Going straight leads you to the lake, shown here. In the winter there is a 50 mile ice road to Kenora, Ontario. The reason we took this road was because my map said the town was down here, and we got stuck good going back (It took us a good 45 minutes to get free; in case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is not the kind of place were you can call AAA and have a tow truck in a few minutes). I won’t mention any names, but this map company makes a well know line of topographic atlases and is based in Maine.


This is the farthest north post office in the lower 48 states, zip code 56711


This is the last one room school still functioning in Minnesota. For a few years ago it was closed, requiring the children to endure a very long bus ride to Warroad, but it is now open again.The teacher has been here for 30 years.


The only church I saw on the Northwest Angle. I guess that you’re out of luck if you’re picky about denomination


Leaving the angle this is the last sign before the border. All that marks the border is a sign telling you to report to the customs station in Middlebro, presumably only if you want to stay in Canada. Although at the time I went there were no official customs stations, they now they now have videophones at various locations for travelers to check in.

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