What happens when Canada and Denmark (both NATO allies and modern democracies) go to war over the tiny uninhabited Hans Island? Well, it turns out a lot of good-humored banter. Hans Island is located between Canada's vast Arctic north and the massive island of Greenland - Greenland is an extreme and stunning destination that one should know what to expect before visiting.

Today, the Whisky War remains a raging B.Y.O.B. war in high spirits. It is one of the longest-running wars in the modern world, with neither the Canadians willing to dismount nor are the Danish Vikings willing to bury the hatchet.


Casus Belli For The Whisky War

The Whisky War is from a territorial dispute between Canada and Denmark's autonomous territory, Greenland. Hundreds of years ago, Vikings once inhabited the southern part of Greenland and one can even see the archeological ruins of the Vikings in Greenland today.

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Hans Island is little more than a large rock, but the problem is that it lies "smack dab" (as the NY Times puts it) in the middle of the Nares Strait. This strait is what divides Canada's Arctic north from Denmark's Greenland.

  • Nares Strait: 22 Mile Wide Channel that Separates Canada and Greenland

The issue is that the island falls within the 12-mile territorial limit of the shores on either side. Under international law, this means that both countries can (and do) lay claim to it.

Like mature countries, Canada and Denmark sought to establish a definitive border between their countries through the strait in 1973. But they just couldn't agree on Hans Island - so that did the only reasonable thing, agree to agree at some other time down the line.

  • 1973: When Canada And Denmark Settled Most Of Their Border Disputes

Since then the topic has continued to be kicked down the road.

Related: How To Visit Canada's Extreme Northern Arctic Territory: Nunavut

Declaration of The Whisky War

Things took a new turn in 1984 when Canadian troops visited the island and planned the marble leave flag of Canada. But not only that, they left another Canadian marker - a prized bottle of Canadian whisky.

  • Aggressor: Canada
  • 1984: Start of The Whisky War By Canadian Frontier Troops

This was an affront that the Danes just couldn't let stand. Two things were awry. Firstly that was the wrong flag, and secondly, that's the wrong bottle of national beverage. So the Danes soon arrived to set things straight.

The country's minister of Greenland affairs arrived and replaced the Canadian flag with a Danish one. He then replaced the Canadian whisky with Danish snaps (with a note stating "Welcome to the Danish Island."

  • Canadian Beverage: Canadian Whisky
  • Danish Beverage: Danish Snaps

And so a spirited war was born that has lasted decades. For almost four decades now the war has raged on with one side dropping in to replace the bottle of offending beverage with the national one of their own.

It is not - hic - clear what becomes of these offending bottles.

In 2005 Canada and Denmark agreed on a process to resolve the status of Hans Island. But there has been little progress since then. In 2015 a couple of academics put forward a proposal to create a "condominium". A condominium is a situation where the land is under the equal sovereignty of two nations. This would mean that there would be two flags and maybe even a choice of national beverage on the island.

However, there has not been any reporting that any headway has been made since then. In 2018 Canada and Denmark announced the creation of a Joint Task Force to settle the fate of Hans Island.

The Whisky War:

  • Belligerents: Canada And Denmark
  • Duration: 1984 to Present
  • Casualties: 0
  • Primary Weapons Involved: Canadian Whisky and Danish Snaps
  • Outcome: Stalemate - Probable Tipsy Frontier Troops

Related: Traditional Greenlandic Cuisine Is A Celebration Of Local Seafood

About Hans Island

Hans Island sits in the middle of the Kennedy Channel between Greenland and Ellesmere Island.

  • Location: Between Greenland and Ellesmere Island

It is a barren and uninhabited island and measures 1.3 square km or 0.5 square miles. The nearest populated areas are Alert in Canada - 123 miles or 198 km away (population 62), and Qaanaaq in Greenland - 235 miles or 379 kilometers away (population 656).

  • Size: 1.3 Square Kilometers or 0.5 Square Miles
  • Length: 1,290 Meters or 4,230 Feet Long
  • Width: 1,199 Meters or 3,934 Feet Wide
  • Population: 0
  • The Island's Bar: A Bottle of Canadian Whiskey or Danish Snaps Is To Be Found By the Flag

If one would like to visit, it is also not clear which country one should contact for a permit or permission to visit the island.

Also if one is to find the Danish Snaps, there it seems one should sing before drinking it. Wikipedia states:

"Swedes, Danes and Swedish-speaking Finns have a tradition of singing songs (called snapsvisor) before drinking snaps. These snapsvisor are typically odes to the joys of drinking snaps. They may praise the flavour of snaps or express a craving for it."

Next: What Travelers Should Be Prepared For When Visiting The Remote Country Of Greenland