Peace Arch park straddles two nations with one goal
The Stonehenge replica at Maryhill was not Sam Hill’s only Washington monument to world peace.
Hill, who also turned his mansion along the Columbia River into an art museum, was the driving force behind building a “peace arch” along the U.S.-Canadian border.
Today, Hill’s monument to peace stands next to one of the busiest border crossings in the Pacific Northwest.
The Peace Arch was originally conceived as a monument commemorating the completion of the Pacific Highway near Blaine, linking Canada, Mexico and the United States, as well as the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Ghent, the 1814 document that ended the War of 1812.
But Hill, a Quaker pacifist and highway advocate, saw the arch as a way to further promote his vision of world peace, especially at a spot along a nearly 3,000-mile undefended border.
At the time, the world was anything put peaceful. In 1915, when the highway was completed, World War I — billed by some as the “War to End All Wars” — had been raging for a year. U.S. troops would join the fight two years later.
The war — as well as fears that the project would interfere with America’s neutrality during the early years of the war — limited funding for the project, but work was able to begin in 1919, with Hill’s enthusiastic support.
While J.J. Donovan, the vice president of the Pacific Highway Association in Whatcom County, conceived of a marble arch, it was instead built of the same material Hill used for the mansion that would later become the Maryhill Museum – reinforced concrete.
Architect Harvey Wiley Corbett – who also designed skyscrapers in New York and London and was known for his conception of future cities with multiple layers of roads and rail lines – designed the arch.
In an international effort, the 800 cubic yards of concrete used to build the arch were donated by R.P. Butchart, whose former cement quarry site and estate is now Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, while Elbert H. Gray, one of the founders of US Steel, donated the 50 tons of reinforcing steel for the arch.
The arch’s foundation consists of 76 pilings buried 25-30 feet deep.
The arch straddles the border, angled so the two ceremonial gates within the archway are in separate countries. This was to suggest that the entrance could only be closed by mutual consent.
On the American side, the words “Children of a Common Mother” are engraved above the archway, while “Brethren Dwelling in Unity” adorns the Canadian side.
The arch would be the centerpiece of an international park, where people would be free to walk between the two countries without having to go through customs, as long as they left the park through their country of origin.
Upon learning that the remains of the Mayflower, the ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth Bay, were incorporated into a Quaker barn in England, Hill conceived of the idea of enshrining a piece of the ship within the arch. In 1920, Hill made the trip to England, where he obtained a piece of wood believed to have been part of the Mayflower, securing it in a chest given to him for the purpose by Sir Basil Thompson, chief of Scotland Yard.
The chest, with pieces of the original Mayflower section, are in the collection at the Maryhill Museum.
Along with the Mayflower relic, a piece of the S.S. Beaver, the first steamship to sail the waters of the Northwest and was used by the Royal Navy to survey the coast of British Columbia, was also procured for the project.
On Sept. 6, 1921, 300 years to the day the Mayflower sailed from England on its historic voyage, the arch was dedicated amid much fanfare before a crowd of up to 15,000. The relics of the ships were placed in caskets secured behind bronze plaques in niches on opposite sides of the arch.
Hill was among the speakers who addressed the audience who crowded the area on both sides of the arch.
“War satisfied neither the victors nor the vanquished,” Hill said in his brief address. “Perfect peace alone satisfies. The instincts of humankind have not been changed by education and only slightly modified by religion. When war holds sway, there are no religions. The dominant, though not the most widely accepted religion made its way by non-resistance. All great movements must so proceed if they are destined to prevail.”
British and American flags were raised on the roof of the arch. The Union Flag was replaced with the Canadian maple leaf flag after Canada adopted it as its national flag in 1965.
There were two more dedication ceremonies as the park was expanded and completed – the first in 1921, with French Field Marshal Joseph Joffre presiding, and again in 1926 by Queen Marie of Romania, a friend of Hill who also dedicated Maryhill Museum.
In time the highway, which was to the east of the arch, was redirected and today goes around either side of the arch and its park.
During restoration work in 1985, conservators discovered that the caskets containing the relics of the Beaver and Mayflower had leaked and the wood was deteriorating. The Mayflower piece was removed by the state State Parks and Recreation Commission, which holds it in its central collections facility but is not on display, while the Beaver relic is at the Maritime Museum in Vancouver, B.C.