By Meg Olson
The more local history buff Mark Swenson learned about Point Robert’s unique place in the history of the Salish Sea, the more he thought, “There’s a book here.”
“Point Roberts Backstory: Tales, Trails and Trivia of an American Exclave” is a whopping 593 pages long, with 100 images, 900 footnotes and 10 maps. The two-pound book includes a 16-page historical timeline to accompany eight chapters that take readers on a tour of different sections of the Point, telling their stories.
“I liked the idea of a spatial rather than a chronological history,” Swenson said. “A main goal of the book is to promote tourism and show people there is a lot to see on the Point. The history of Point Roberts is a lot more exciting than how we typically tell it.”
The book spans the period from early Coast Salish peoples to the present day. It has stories of squatters, pirates, smugglers, as well as tales of the unique daily life living in an exclave.
One of Swenson’s favorite stories is of Sir Ranulph Fiennes, dubbed “the world’s greatest living explorer” by the Guinness Book of World Records, who chose Point Roberts as the terminus of his 1972 expedition across Canada from north to south by inland waters. “The world’s greatest living explorer got lost, bumping around in pea soup fog off the Point,” he said. “A police launch found him and towed him to the Lighthouse Cannery.”
More than a collection of stories, the book explores the social history of the Point and how the community faced challenges over the years spawned by its unique geography, from radio towers to accessing services.
Not surprisingly, given the two communities’ similarities, there are a number of references to Blaine in the book. Like Point Roberts, Blaine history involves the contribution of the fishing and canning business and the role that Icelandic settlers played in the town’s development.
Swenson has lived on the Point for 15 years but his family has been in Whatcom County for over 100 years; four generations have worked on the Point, mostly as fishers. In the 1930s his grandfather brought the mail and supplies to the Point when the regular boat, the Tulip, was out for repairs.
It took Swenson 22 months to write the book. “I read every newspaper I could find from cover to cover,” he said. From the All Point Bulletin to the Ocean Star and Point Roberts Guide, Swenson gathered all he could, even combing through county and Western Washington University archives as well as interviewing locals and reading local histories housed at the Point
The book was published by Village Books in Bellingham and is available there or from the author through pointrobertsbackstory.com. Swenson also offers guided tours of the Point. He can also be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.