Eighty-eight years ago this September, philanthropist, lawyer and Washington state legend Samuel Hill dedicated the Peace Arch Monument at the Blaine border crossing as a symbol of “brethren dwelling together in unity.”
Today, that symbol still stands, a familiar sight to Americans and Canadians alike. The arch, located in a verdant 40-acre park on the boundary between the two nations, serves as a tangible representation of nearly two centuries of amiable relations – an often discounted reminder that extending the hand of friendship over international lines is rarely as hard as it seems.
While the monument’s symbolic importance is sometimes taken for granted, its physical condition is not. Last month, work started on a renovation of the arch, its first in over a decade. The arch has been fenced off for public safety reasons while workers clean, seal and paint its 67-foot tall facade. This much-needed restoration is expected to be completed by early September, in time for the arch to be dedicated anew at the park’s annual “Sam Hill Dedication Days” ceremony.
In addition to the repairs being made to the outside of the structure, restoration efforts are being made for the plaques and artifacts that are inside the arch. The “Mayflower” and “Beaver” commemorative plaques will be cleaned and refurbished. These plaques represent famous and historically significant ships from each country. Though it was not finished until 1921, the Peace Arch was planned and created to celebrate the centennial anniversary in 1914 of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. It was this document that formally ended the War of 1812, a conflict which was fought between Great Britain and the young United States, often on Canadian soil.
During the war, American forces tried to invade Canada in order to oust the British troops who oversaw the colony. Many Canadian citizens joined in the ensuing fighting.
Sam Hill, the regional icon who is also famous for overseeing the building and improvement of roads throughout the state, began raising the funds to build the arch in hopes that such conflict would never arise again. In addition to the Peace Arch, Hill funded the construction of the Maryhill Art Museum in Maryhill, Washington, and the Maryhill Stonehenge, a memorial for the fallen soldiers of World War I.
Hill raised the money, and construction began on the arch in 1920. An all-volunteer crew from both sides of the border completed the building. The famed British architect Harvey Wiley Corbett donated the monument’s design. The Peace Arch was dedicated and opened on September 6, 1921.
This September, locals can once again experience the opening, or rather the re-opening, of the Peace Arch at the Dedication Days event, put on by the United States Canada Peace Anniversary Association, a non-profit organization based in Blaine. The event, to be held on September 5, will feature period dress, vintage cars and a reenactment of the original dedication – complete with a Sam Hill look-alike.
For more information on the event, and for updates on the Peace Arch renovation, visit the USCPAA website at www.peacearchpark.org.
The inscription on the inside of the Peace Arch Monument reads “May these gates never be closed.” With a new coat of paint and a good refurbishing, the gates of the arch will remain open for another generation to pass through.