By Ken Jennings, Condé Nast Traveler
In 1814, during the War of 1812, two thousand British soldiers under Major General Robert Ross occupied and burned much of Washington, D.C. Because the invasion was a response to American incursions into British Canada, Canadian schoolchildren -- with the clarity of patriotism if not historical accuracy -- still grow up learning about this event as "the time we burned down the White House." But what if Canada really had taken over the U.S. government in 1814?, I sometimes wonder. What would an America under tyrannical Canadian rule look like? More polite? Cheaper health care? Would we all have to call macaroni and cheese "Kraft dinner"? The best way to envision this nightmarish alternate-universe dystopia is to peek in on the quiet town of Hyder, Alaska.
Hyder, population 87, is Alaska's easternmost town, a tiny town surrounded by lofty, glacier-covered peaks at the corner of the Alaska Panhandle. The town boomed in the early 20th century when gold and silver were discovered nearby, but is now so small that residents bill it as "Alaska's friendliest ghost town." The ferry to Ketchikan, the nearest Alaskan city, stopped running more than a decade ago.
What's interesting about the residents of Hyder is that their only neighbors for miles and miles in any direction are the good people of Stewart, just ten minutes away -- but across the border into British Columbia. Stewart, as if you didn't know, is internationally famous as "Canada's most northerly ice-free port!" (Remember, the vast majority of Canada is a frigid, uninhabitable wasteland of no interest to anyone, even Canadians.)
As a result of its geographic isolation, Hyder functions as America's only de facto outpost of Canada. All businesses (except the post office) price stuff in Canadian dollars, and take "Victoria Day" and "Boxing Day" off every year. Clocks are set to British Columbia time, the electricity comes from a B.C. utility, and the nearest police are Mounties. It's the only place in Alaska not to use the state's 907 area code -- even Hyder's phone numbers have joined in the open treason, and begin with a Canadian code, 250. Kids can be taught at home or bundled off to boarding school in Ketchikan, but many parents choose the dubious indoctrination of the Canadian public school system instead, especially up to the sixth grade. (Oops, sorry, Canada. "Grade 6.")
And how is this un-American lifestyle working out for Hyder? Pretty well, from what I can tell. It's a popular vacation getaway from Americans looking to hunt, fish, or gawk at all the grizzly bears stalking salmon in the creeks just outside of town. It's also a popular destination for Canadians looking for a quick way to cross Alaska off their bucket lists. If you make the trip to Hyder, don't forget to stop at a local bar to become "Hyderized." Tourist earn a special certificate for drinking the local specialty: 190 proof Everclear. After a couple shots of that, even I might welcome our new Canadian overlords.
Follow Conde Nast Traveler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CNTraveler