Sam Hill's Peace Arch
When the Pacific Highway was dedicated at the border north of Blaine in 1915, J. J. Donovan, vice president of the Pacific Highway Association in Whatcom County, placed a motion before the crowd (enthusiastically carried) that the American and Canadian governments be asked to build a marble “peace arch” at the site to commemorate both the dedication of the highway and 100 years of peace between Great Britain and the United States. But the real force behind the creation of the Peace Arch was Samuel “Sam” Hill, founder of the Washington State Good Roads Association and visionary of world peace. Some have called it "Sam Hill's Peace Arch" in recognition of his efforts to have it built.
The Peace Arch was designed by American architect H.W. Corbett (1873-1954). It was built straddling the border between the United States and Canada, with the southern part of the monument on American soil and the northern part on Canadian soil. Construction began in July 1920, directed by V. E. Simmons of Vancouver, B.C. The foundation was made up of 76 piles, each with a diameter of 14 inches, buried about 25 to 30 feet. This supported a 67-foot-tall concrete structure framed with 50 tons of steel. Iron gates, permanently held open, were installed inside the arch's 19-foot wide portal.
Above the gate on the west interior portal wall was inscribed “1814 Open One Hundred Years 1914,” while on the east wall was etched, “May These Gates Never Be Closed.” “Children Of A Common Mother” was written above the portal of the American side of the arch, while over the portal on the Canadian side the words “Brethren Dwelling Together In Unity" were engraved.
By November 1920, much of the work had been done. Construction paused during the rainy winter and early spring months to allow time for the concrete to set. Work resumed in June 1921, and by early September, all was ready. A gala four-day celebration kicked off in Blaine at the corner of Washington Avenue and Clark Street on Sunday evening, September 4, with a Peace Arch Assembly that consisted of lectures and music by the Blaine Juvenile Band. These gatherings continued on Monday (Labor Day) and attracted several thousand celebrants.
The Big Day Arrives
The big day was Tuesday, September 6, 1921. As would happen at many Peace Arch celebrations in the ensuing years, rain set in that morning. It mercifully let up around 10 a.m. and by early afternoon the sun was peeking through the clouds. By the time the official dedication kicked off at 2 p.m., there were about 15,000 people crowding around the arch. This was not as easy as it would be today (2012). In 1921, there was no Peace Arch Park, and wouldn't be for more than a decade. On the American side of the arch the uneven ground was little more than a swamp, while the Canadian side consisted of several older structures, including the St. Leonard Hotel, an inn of ill repute dating from the 1880s.
But people managed. Even if the latecomers weren't able to fight their way through the masses to get near the arch -- and many were unable to get close enough to even see the speaker's platform -- they could still hear the speakers thanks to the "wonderphone" (Blaine Journal), a loudspeaker installed at the scene. Many in the crowd had not heard a loudspeaker (or wonderphone) used in a public address before, and found it wondrous indeed.
Bagpipers played before the ceremonies, starting a tradition that has continued to this day. On each second Sunday in June, the Peace Arch is celebrated by Americans and Canadians alike in a "Hands Across the Border" celebration, which begins with bagpipers marching solemnly through the Peace Arch portal from one country into another.
"Perfect Peace Alone Satisfies"
The ceremonies opened with a short speech by George Ellsperman, deputy collector at the Blaine port, who introduced Sam Hill. A short prayer followed, and Hill then formally laid the Peace Arch cornerstone and addressed the crowd:
"War satisfies neither the victors nor the vanquished. Perfect peace alone satisfies. The instincts of humankind have not been changed by education and only slightly modified by religion. When war holds sway there are no religions. The dominant, though not the most widely accepted religion, made its way by non-resistance. All great movements must so proceed if they are destined to prevail ... ." (Clark, 67).
During the ceremonies Hill placed pieces of wood from two ships inside the Peace Arch, each sealed behind two bronze plaques. One piece was said to be from the seventeenth-century ship Mayflower, though modern historians suggest that the wood may be from another ship of the same vintage. The second piece came from the nineteenth-century British ship Beaver, the first steamship to operate in the Pacific Northwest. These relics were removed in 1985. A time capsule with additional relics was installed in the Peace Arch cornerstone, slated to be opened on September 6, 2021.
Hill's speech was followed by more speeches. (Judge Thomas Burke of Seattle (1849-1925) took the honors for the longest address.) The Canadian flag (which in 1921 was the British Union Jack) and American flag were formally raised to the Peace Arch roof -- a tradition that continues today in the annual Hands Across the Border celebration -- and bands from the two countries played each other's national anthem. The event was topped off by a message of appreciation from President Warren Harding (1865-1923) to Samuel Hill that was read to the crowd.
The ceremony ended in a rush of good cheer: "Tuesday afternoon's ceremonies were regarded by its participants as one of the great events of the century, and their significance, they believe, will give them a permanent place in history," enthused the Blaine Journal three days later. More band concerts followed in Blaine that evening, as well as another meeting of the Peace Arch Assembly. A fireworks show that delighted hundreds of onlookers ended the day. The celebration itself ultimately concluded Wednesday evening, September 7, with a final session of the Peace Arch Assembly.
Take the Time to Dream
Though this was the first dedication of the Peace Arch, it would not be the last. The following March, France's Marshal Joseph Joffre (1852-1931) dedicated the arch a second time, and in 1926, Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938) dedicated it yet again. Though Hill's vision of perfect peace has never followed, his arch nonetheless remains an enduring monument to peace and harmony.
Today (2012), the Peace Arch is known as the Pacific Northwest's busiest border crossing as much as it's known as a monument to peace. Many drive by it and the surrounding park that eventually followed with little more than a glance. But others take the time to park their cars, get out and walk around the attractive 43-acre park and through the arch's portal itself. If they know some of the history behind the Peace Arch, maybe they think of Hill and his dream.