Borderlocked in Canada

The concept of borderlocking first emerged in the geoblogosphere back in February 2010 thanks to this post at the always fantastic Twelve Mile Circle.  In that article, we learned that if countries can be landlocked, a country’s administrative subdivisions potentially can also be ‘borderlocked’ – not only without access to the sea, but without access to a border crossing as well.  For example, at the national level, both Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan are doubly landlocked; that is, both are surrounded by countries which are landlocked themselves.  Borderlocking expands the concept to much further extremes.  Take the United States,where we know that Kansas and Nebraska are doubly landlocked, but at the county level in the United States, 12MC determined that there are five Kansan counties and one Nebraskan county which are sepdecuply borderlocked – anyone in one of those counties would have to pass through at least 17 counties in order to reach either the sea or an international border.  You can see the map for yourself here.

When the topic came up again this week at 12MC, my interest was piqued.   What would such a map look like for, say, Canada?  I bet that the most borderlocked county/county equivalent in Canada would actually wind up being nowhere near the geographical centre of the country due to: 1) the high level of population concentration toward the southern fifth of the country, resulting in rather large county equivalents covering most of Canada; and 2) the disproportionate number of rural municipalities in southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  The final result?


Click on map to expand (3717×2304).

There are ten levels of borderlocking in Canada.  As I suspected, the deepest layering occurs in southern Saskatchewan.  Just two county equivalents (rural municipalities in the case of Saskatchewan) are trapped within the tenth level: Wood Creek and Wreford.  In a straight line, they are a mere 257 km (160 mi) from the United States border.  When you consider that Canada is in excess of 4 500 km (2 800 mi) long north-to-south and 6 000 km (3 730 mi) long west-to-east, that is an extreme indicator of a lopsided population distribution (and of how tiny rural municipalities can be in Saskatchewan and Manitoba).  Outside of the three Prairie Provinces, the only other province or territory that can even make it to a fourth level (Quebec, with its 104 regional county municipalities and equivalents).

The original offices of the Rural Municipality of Wood Creek in the municipal seat of Simpson, Saskatchewan are now a village museum.

Nokomis is the seat of the Rural Municpality of Wreford in Saskatchewan.  The village was named after the Ojibwe word for ‘grandmother’, nookomis.

Yes, residents of Wood Creek and Wreford (all thousand or so of you), no one else has to cross through more jurisdictions than you to reach the edge of the country.  Borderlocking would be an interesting exercise to conduct with, say, the municipios of Brazil and Mexico, the raions of Russia, or the arrondissements of France (or if you’re a masochist, its 34 000-plus communes).  Anyone care to take a shot?

For the purposes of this exercise, the county equivalents used were:

British Columbia: Regional districts

Alberta: Counties, municipal districts, regional municipalities, specialised municipalities, improvement districts, special areas, cities

Saskatchewan: Rural municipalities, cities, unorganised area

Manitoba: Rural municipalities, local government districts, cities, unorganised area

Ontario: Counties, districts, regions, single-tier municipalities

Quebec: Regional county municipalities

New Brunswick: Counties

Nova Scotia: Counties

Prince Edward Island: Counties

Newfoundland and Labrador: Census divisions (NL has no natural administrative equivalents to a county)

Nunavut: Regions

Northwest Territories: Regions

Yukon: Yukon

Further Reading

Howder, T. (2010). Layers of Borderlocking. Twelve Mile Circle, 28 February 2010. Available at  Accessed 30 November 2011.

Howder, T. (2011). Most Landlocked State.  Twelve Mile Circle, 29 November 2011.  Available at  Accessed 30 November 2011.

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4 thoughts on “Borderlocked in Canada

  • Argh, after seeing this I had to do one combining Canada and the US. Took some time, but here it is:

    Note that the data I used is at least ten years old and might be out of date in places. For Canada I tried to follow your system of "county equivalents" (sometimes regional districts, sometimes municipalities, etc), but my data did not exactly match in some places. And then there are issues of when exactly two counties are touching. I didn't count corner touches and also didn't spent extra time determining exactly where an apparent corner-touch might actually be a very small segment. So, "results may vary". Also, I wanted to include Mexico, but when I looked into 2nd level subdivisions (municipalities) I found they were often *very* small–plus I didn't have a dataset of them. So I made due just using Mexican states.

    With all those caveats, the results are: Three counties in Nebraska, on the border with Kansas, came out as the most locked–21 counties from the sea (or Great Lakes). Those counties are Jefferson, Thayer, and Nuckolls, Nebraska. There's an "island" of fairly locked Canadian county-equivalents in southern Saskatchewan. Two "rural municpalities" being the most "locked", at 15 counties from the sea (or Great Lakes). I had some trouble identifying them, but I think they are Rural Municipality (RM) 69, "Norton" (offices in Pangman, Sask.) and RM 132, Hillsborough (offices in Moose Jaw).

  • That is so cool. I, too, avoided corner touches in mine. If you were a masochist and wanted to grab a Mexican municipal shapefile, they are available at; I imagine it would change the look of the map considerably. I bow to you!

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