Historyof the Peace ArchPart Three: The Celebration Begins

Published on Thu, Dec 23, 2004 by Richard Clark

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History of the Peace Arch
Part Three: The Celebration Begins

By Richard Clark

They called him Coal Oil Billy. William Carlson was racing at Tacoma’s speedway during the Fourth of July, 1915, when his peppy Maxwell blew a tire. It flipped, tossing Billy and passenger Paul Franzen to terra firma. They died at the scene. And although a Tacoma publisher was injured in another accident that Sunday, his son was killed. Luckily, a Ferndale driver survived his crash with broken ribs.
Meanwhile, in the vicinity of today’s Peace Arch Park, Quaker road-builder Samuel Hill was celebrating both the centennial of the ratified Treaty of Ghent and the opening of his Pacific Highway, a coastal artery tangent to Mexico and Canada. Bellingham Herald reporter Paul Gooding declared 4,000 attended the event, and 300 automobiles – none could have been old in 1915 – were parked on the muddy grounds. It was an occasion of such importance that Hill marked it by posting a bronze plaque at the site.

Welcomed by Blaine mayor Fuller, the international celebration opened at 2:15 p.m. A poetic gesture highlighted Hill’s speech: “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. You are the guardians of this trust, these two great highways. To you we commend them.”

Ironically, a prince of peace had built a highway destined to bear the blood of vehicular violence during the ensuing 89 years. Remarkably, there have never been any educational rallies for safe driving held at the Peace Arch. World War I displaced any awareness of highway safety.Canada had been at war 11 months. Soldiers were dying at the Somme, at Passchendaele, and ultimately at Vimy Ridge where 3,598 lay dead by April 9, 1917. The United States entered the war three days earlier.

Marble is beautiful and endurable. The ceremony of July 4, 1915 closed as Bellingham entrepreneur J.J. Donovan proposed construction of a marble monument at the border. The celebrants shouted their yeas of support. Six years and two months later – it was September 6, 1921 – a portal of concrete and steel was dedicated. Its memories are of marble.
Hill had hoped to dedicate the Peace Arch in 1920, the year inscribed on its Pacific Highway cornerstone. The project was behind schedule, but elaborate preparation compensated for the delay.

For three days intellectual addresses preceded the dedication. But not everyone in Blaine attended Dr. Wingledorff’s “Heredity and Environment” lecture. The Cornish School of Music presented a concert. “Nellie C. Cornish is the daughter of the late N.A. Cornish, the first mayor of Blaine and very prominent in the business life in its early days. Miss Cornish spent several years of her girlhood in Blaine and taught piano here a year just previous to going to Seattle,” stated the program notes.

Blaine Mayor H.W. Hunter oversaw removal of rubbish and weeds before dedication day. But immediately north of the Peace Arch stood the infamous St. Leonard Hotel—Blaine Journal editor J.W. Sheets called it “Blaine’s snake ranch”—that Hill tried unsuccessfully to remove.

I repeat – it was 1921. While 32-year-old Adolph Hitler was admiring his newly designed swastika, and while steamer Kaisho Maru was preparing to bring a Japanese peace delegation to Seattle 20 years before Pearl Harbor, Hill sent cablegrams of peace to Seattle’s Japanese consul Saito, to Premier Briand of Paris, to King Albert of Belgium, to Dr. Yiah, Chinese consul at Vancouver, and to President Warren G. Harding.

Dedication day saw 4,000 autos arrive with an attendance of 10,000 celebrants. Victoria’s Princess Patricia steamed into Blaine harbor with Premier John Oliver and 382 additional Canadians aboard.

Flags were ceremoniously raised. Up went the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack. Anthems were sung. The flags of France and Belgium were also lifted to the Peace Arch roof. Several dignitaries spoke. Among them were R. Rowe Holland, Judge Thomas Burke, lieutenant governors Walter Nichol and W.J. Coyle, and Premier Oliver. Edmund Meany read his poem, “Portal of Peace.”

The audience was doubtless impressed, watching Hill seal wooden relics of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower and S.S. Beaver within those portal walls. But most memorable was his brief speech. “War satisfies neither the victors nor the vanquished,” he said. “Perfect peace alone satisfies.”
I have only skimmed the surface of two momentous occasions. Chapter one of my manuscript, Sam Hill’s Peace Arch: Remembrance of Dreams Past, details the 1915 ceremony. Chapter two covers the dedication of 1921. Meany’s poem is on page 292. You may find my manuscript at our local library or www.thecshop.com.

The Blaine Community Chamber of Commerce granted me permission to present a 20-minute discussion of Peace Arch history at its regular Wednesday noon meeting February 2, at the Pizza Factory. I would like to open it mainly to questions and answers.