The bizarre Cold Booze War between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island

This large rock called Hans Island has been disputed territory for decades.

This large rock called Hans Island has been disputed a territory for decades.

For decades Canada and Denmark have had a territorial dispute about a small island in the Nares Strait, between Canada and Greenland. Hans Island is only 1.3 square kilometers big, and it has no vegetation or valuable natural resources. Basically it’s a big rock in the middle of nowhere. Still both NATO-allies fight a Cold War over Hans Island. From time to time both countries launch expeditions to plant their flag and leave a bottle of their national booze on the island, to welcome thirsty visitors with typical “Canadian” or “Danish” hospitality. The whole situation is as bizarre as it is hilarious.

Canadians plant their flag at Hans Island.

Canadians plant their flag at Hans Island.

Hans Island is located between Canada and Greenland, which has been Danish territory since 1815. Canada took control over its Arctic islands in 1880. By then nobody seemed to care about the large rock in the middle of the Nares Strait. That was until a Danish expedition between 1920 and 1923 mapped the whole area of the Northern Greenland coast, naming this particular island after the Greenlandish explorer Hans Hendrik. From then on Hans Island was a disputed territory. Even in 1973, when Canada and Denmark agreed on almost everything while negotiating their maritime borders, no agreement was reached on this notorious rock.

Danish soldiers take back Hans Island.

Danish soldiers take back Hans Island.

After decades of paperwork the fun part of this Cold War started in 1984, when Canadian soldiers visited the island. Not only did they plant the Canadian flag on Hans Island, they also left a bottle of Canadian whisky. It didn’t take the Danish long to respond. One week after the Canadian expedition Jonathan Motzfeldt, the first prime minister of Greenland (who later in 1991 resigned from politics because of a drinking problem) came and replaced the Canadian flag and bottle with a Danish flag, a bottle of akvavit and a note that welcomed visitors to this “Danish island”.

For more than 20 years Canada and Denmark have been fighting their little Cold War, by leaving each other booze bottles. Still the conflict has not been resolved, although both countries showed willingness to each take half of this big rock. It may seem childish to many, but isn’t leaving a good bottle of alcohol a great alternative for violence? Cheers!

Micky Bumbar

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More historical tales and background stories on Lords of the Drinks

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