Remembering the meaning of the Peace Arch monument
By Richard Clark
Not many years after Kelli Linville’s great grandfather, Knute Evertz, forged and fastened iron gates to the Peace Arch walls, the Great Depression made its gloomy visit. Park development was arrested. The gates of progress seemed closed. Fortunately, Andrew Danielson went to Olympia and saved the project, thanks to legislation that allotted $15,000 toward the park.
With Blaine mayor C.V. Wilder in charge of landscaping and employment, 30 workers were requested at four dollars per day. Over 80 applied. In order to spread the wealth, so to speak, each employee could work only two days. Three employees with teams of horses were paid eight dollars per day. They kept six dollars and kindly donated one-fourth of their salary to a relief fund that afforded additional employment.
Although most Americans had “nothing to fear
but fear itself,” the
depression spawned frightening rumors. Fearing bank failure,
customers raced to the wickets to withdraw their savings. After
Home State Bank closed its doors on Valentine’s Day, 1933,
an enterprising young man opened the community’s hearts
with his Peace Arch scheme.
Albert Balch was an ambitious young man who graduated from Blaine high school in 1922 and the University of Washington in 1929.
Although he lost his candidacy for the State Legislature, he won the admiration of Blaine’s unemployed by introducing them to Peace Arch wooden money. Although it wasn’t his invention, his scheme convinced them that they could spend every portal penny earned so long as they earned and spent it in Blaine. After all, he knew Tenino’s bill-shaped wooden currency seemed to be working.
Balch’s monumental money scheme entailed the production of wooden coins, one-sixteenth of an inch thick, in denominations of nickels, quarters, half-dollars and dollars designed by W.Y. Chester of San Jose, California. Blaine newspaperman James Cramer stamped them with images of the Peace Arch. Each coin heading for circulation was numbered and recorded by the Blaine Relief Association. Rev. Floyd Green, the association’s president, then initialed each piece in waterproof ink, later to be initialed by treasurer Earl McKinney.
At par with gold, the wooden coins were in circulation by January 1933. Suddenly, Canadian souvenir collectors went wild over them. It had been the usual practice of the city to accept Canadian money at par, but they bought such large amounts of the wooden money, that McKinney felt forced to declare a discount. The city was delighted. Taking the hint, wooden money was sent to John D. Rockefeller, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The wooden money era lasted but a year. The federal government terminated an illegal operation, innocently contrived, that became the best-kept secret in town. “For those who have not had an opportunity to see a scrapbook on Blaine wooden money, it is now on display at the public library,” reported the Blaine Journal-Press, May 10, 1934. “It will remain there for one week only, so you had better hurry.”
Balch moved to Seattle in 1935, where he and radio broadcasting veteran Ralph Jones ventured into real estate. They developed Ridgeview neighborhood, but Edith, Balch’s wife, didn’t like the name, so she christened the next one Wedgwood, after her collection of English chinaware. Balch died a wealthy entrepreneur September 27, 1976. He was 73.
Samuel Hill’s scheme, by contrast, dealt with his Pacific Highway and how to attract tourists to his new Peace Portal Golf Course near the Peace Arch. With a plan for beautifying his highway, he created the Memory Gardens Association and named Queen Marie of Romania honorary president.
Hill’s scheme never materialized, but it inspired Mary A. Kelly, Blaine, who sent a letter to the editor of the Blaine Journal-Press in 1929. “Why not start a Memory Garden right here in Blaine?” she asked. Blaine’s Peace Portal Garden Club became her answer. Flowers were planted in the park, in vacant lots, and in residential yards. “If just 25 percent of our residents should exert themselves to develop an attractive lawn and a few flower beds, Blaine would quickly win the reputation of being ‘The City Beautiful,’” ran a 1938 Blaine Journal editorial.
By year 1949 Canadians, mainly from White Rock, joined the club. Renamed the Peace Arch Garden Club International, a floral design featuring a seven-foot model of the Peace Arch was displayed in Bellingham the next year.
I could find no relevant garden news beyond year 1978. Blaine lost a bit of its “social capital” after the garden club closed.
There’s more in Sam Hill’s Peace Arch: Remembrance of Dreams Past, at Blaine’s library or www.thecshop.com. The Peace Arch wooden coin story is in chapter four, and garden club coverage begins on page 218.