Samuel Hill celebrates international peace and dedicates the Pacific Highway at Blaine on July 4, 1915.

  • By Richard Clark
  • Posted 4/03/2007
  • Essay 8074
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On July 4, 1915, almost a year after the start of World War I in Europe, good-roads advocate Samuel Hill (1857-1931) dedicates the Pacific Highway at Blaine and celebrates international peace. Some 4,000 celebrants with about 300 autos among them attend the event. The highway, as yet incomplete, is planned to extend from Canada to Mexico. In Washington state it will run south from Blaine to Vancouver. The Pacific Highway will be designated US 99 in 1926. Later it will be crossed and paved over by parts of Interstate 5. In 1967 the parts that still exist will be decertified to State Route 99 (Old Pacific Highway on some maps).

Road Builder

After Sam Hill and railroad magnate James J. Hill (1838-1916),  Sam Hill's  father-in-law, drove a team of horses over an exceedingly bumpy road from an outskirt of New Westminster, B.C., to Blaine, Washington, in the approximate year of 1894, Samuel announced he would “see a highway built through British Columbia down our own coastline, clear to Mexico and it’s going to be a hard surfaced road” (Tuhy, 130). He became founder and first president of the Washington State Good Roads Association in 1899, and by 1911, he had built experimental roads on the grounds of Maryhill, his house on the Columbia River (later Maryhill Museum of Art). After displaying his roads, and considerable lobbying at state and national levels, his dream materialized.

On the day of the dedication there was much jubilation at the border. Celebrants from the United States and Canada gathered at a marshy opening in the woods where the highway, today known as Interstate 5, meets the international boundary at Peace Arch State Park. Samuel Hill, a Quaker, pacifist, and indefatigable entrepreneur, had come to celebrate 100 years of international peace and the completion of the Pacific Highway during the centennial year of the Treaty of Ghent.

Open Roads, Bumpy Roads

Not unlike the later premature dedication of Hill's still unfinished Maryhill Museum in 1926, the highway was dedicated prematurely. E. G. Britton, driving from Los Angeles, noted sections that were unfinished, closed, and under construction. He was compelled to complete his trip by loading his auto upon a railway flatcar bound for Blaine. Visitors from Canada weren't impressed, either. "The Pacific Highway was being paved and detours invited broken springs and axles in direct contrast with the cement road leading north into Blaine," recalled visitor Vic Andrews (Clark, 9).

Hill's speech was short but poetic:

"Two Pacific Highways meet here today -- the one reaching from Alaska to Mexico, the other an invisible line reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the highway of peace ... . [referring to the Canadian/United States border.] You are the guardians of this trust, these two great highways -- to you we commend them. Keep them always open that the nations of the earth may forever walk thereon in peace and safety, and if any man seek to take this heritage from you, we charge you to consecrate your fortunes, your lives and your all and resist to the end" (Gooding, 1915).

Peace Talk During War Time

Not everyone in the crowd relaxed in the presence of Hill's comments on peace. Canada was at war with Germany. E. G. Britton, who represented England as chair of the Overseas and Dominion Committee, hinted that the United States might involve itself with the war when, in the course of his speech, he said, "The British people are expecting the United States to take a strong part in helping the nations to adjust themselves to the new conditions that will follow the ending of the European war." Canadian volunteers were fighting in the trenches. And soon young Canadians would die at the Somme, at Passchendaele, and ultimately at Vimy Ridge where 3,598 would be dead by April 9, 1917, the day Germany finally retreated.

The flags of both nations were ceremoniously raised -- a practice that continues yearly at the annual Peace Arch celebrations held each June. Thus, Canada and the United States were linked both by a century of peace, and again, by the Pacific Highway with its promising future.

Dr. James B. Bullit, representing California Governor Hiram Johnson, was aware of the connection. He said, "While we can only deplore the tragic circumstances which have prevented the larger celebration from being held in Ghent, we must recognize as most happy and most appropriate this celebration here today under the auspices of the Pacific Highway association, for roads, gentlemen, lead into states, and into homes, and into human hearts" (Gooding, 1915).  Represented at the celebration were the United States, Canada, England, and Japan, and the states of Washington, Oregon and California.

Japanese Consul Kahachi Abe who congratulated the United States and Canada for its history of a warless relationship, said, "Japan loves peace today, as she did 100 years ago, and would gladly be at peace with all the world. Having in mind your noble record of self-control and mutual trust during all these years, she does not despair that a day may come when she too, may be able to celebrate centennials of good will with all her neighbors" (Gooding, 1915).  

Idea of the Peace Arch at Blaine

Just before the benediction, stated The Bellingham Herald, "J. J. Donovan, vice president of the Pacific Highway association in Whatcom county, made a motion that the Canadian and American governments be requested to build on the site of the celebration, across the Pacific Highway, a marble arch, properly inscribed, commemorative of the event and the 100 years of peace. This motion was seconded by Mayor A. W. Gray of New Westminster and all of the 3,000 or 4,000 spectators who heard the motion enthusiastically carried it" (Gooding, 1921). 

Six years passed. And although the Peace Arch was constructed of concrete and steel rather than marble, Samuel Hill dedicated it on September 6, 1921, and rededicated it with Queen Marie of Romania on November 6, 1926. He is best remembered for the opening remark in his address. "War satisfies neither the victors nor the vanquished," he said. "Perfect peace alone satisfies."

Sources: John E. Tuhy, Sam Hill: The Prince of Castle Nowhere (Portland: Timber Press, 1983), 129-147; "International Road Wanted in County," The Bellingham Herald, June 22, 1915; "Four Thousand Attend Peace Celebration at Blaine," Ibid., July 5, 1915; "International Road May be Built," Ibid., July 19, 1915; Richard Clark, Sam Hill's Peace Arch: Remembrance of Dreams Past (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2005), 1-20.

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