San Juan Islands

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The San Juan Islands are a part of the San Juan Archipelago in the northwest corner of the continental United States in the Salish Sea. The archipelago is split into two groups of islands based on national sovereignty. San Juan Islands are part of the U.S. state of Washington, while the Gulf Islands are part of the Canadian province of British Columbia. There are over 450 islands in the entire archipelago at high tide, but fewer than one-sixth are permanently inhabited.

In the archipelago, fifteen islands are accessible by passenger ferry operated by the Washington State Ferries system and the B.C. Ferry System. These passenger ferries serve nine Canadian Gulf Islands and six United States San Juan Islands.



The islands were part of the traditional area of the Central Coast Salish. Linguistically, the Central Coast Salish consisted of five groups: Squamish, Halkomelem, Nooksack, Northern Straits (which includes the Lummi dialect), and Klallam. Exploration and settlement by Europeans brought smallpox to the area by the 1770s. In 1843, the Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Camosun at nearby Vancouver Island.

The 1846 Oregon Treaty forced by President Polk established the 49th parallel as the boundary between Canada and the U.S., except in the San Juan archipelago. While both sides agreed that all of Vancouver Island would remain British, the treaty wording was left vague enough as to put the boundary between modern-day Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands in dispute. Conflicts over this border led to the Pig War in 1859. Skirmishes continued until the boundary issue was eventually placed in the hands of Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany for arbitration. The border was finally established in 1872.

The name "San Juan" was given to the islands by the Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza, who charted the islands in 1791, naming them Isla y Archiepelago de San Juan.[1] The expedition sailed under the authority of the Viceroy of Mexico, Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo and Eliza named several places for him, including the San Juan Islands and Orcas Island (short for "Horcasitas"). San Juan Island itself was first discovered (by a European) by one of the officers under Eliza's command, Gonzalo López de Haro (for whom Haro Strait is named). The Spanish had found the islands a year earlier during the exploring voyage of Manuel Quimper on the Princesa Real, but it was not clear that they were islands.

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