Hans Island – Denmark / Canada - Atlas Obscura

Hans Island

Denmark / Canada

A long-disputed island that Denmark and Canada claim by periodically alternating flags and bottles of liquor. 


Hans Island is a small, uninhabited, barren rock in the Arctic with no known reserves of oil or natural gas. Still, there is an ongoing territorial dispute between Denmark and Canada over who owns this little rock, and a very odd one at that.

Unlike many other territory conflicts, this one is fought in a markedly peaceful way. The potential serious diplomatic implications aside, the Canadians and Danes take turns placing their flags on the island. This curious practice that has been going on since the 1980s. But it gets even odder.

The island was first disputed in 1933, but largely forgotten during World War II. The unusual dispute began again in earnest in 1984 when, during a visit to the island, the Danish Minister for Greenland planted the national flag and left a message saying “Welcome to the Danish island” (“Velkommen til den danske ø” in Danish) along with (it is said) a bottle of brandy. 

Ever since then, when the flag on the island is periodically changed between the Danish and Canadian flag, the bottle is also replaced. The Canadians leave a bottle of Canadian Club and the Danes a bottle of schnapps.

The conflict is as of today still unresolved, but there are suggestions on how to move forward. Arctic experts from Canada and Denmark propose making Hans Island into a condominium, a solution that has proven to resolve other conflicts in the past. But in a region of growing importance, as natural resources are becoming available and new shipping routes are opening up, it is unclear if both countries can settle for such a solution. 

Update as of August 2022: Canada and Denmark have agreed to share the island. 

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