Dean Kahn

How asphalt and peace merged in Blaine

World peace and good roads were the twin themes of a celebration in Blaine at the U.S.-Canada border on July 4, 1915.
World peace and good roads were the twin themes of a celebration in Blaine at the U.S.-Canada border on July 4, 1915. Bellingham Herald file

World peace and good roads were twin themes at a celebration July 4, 1915.

Samuel Hill, a Quaker and pacifist, loved the idea of international peace. He also loved the idea of good roads.

After suffering a bumpy ride from New Westminster, B.C., to Blaine several years earlier, Hill founded the Washington State Good Roads Association and began lobbying for a hard-surface Pacific Highway stretching from British Columbia to Mexico, recounts HistoryLink.org, an online encyclopedia of Washington history.

To reach Blaine in 1915, a motorist from Los Angeles at one point had to have his car loaded onto a flat rail car to complete the trip.

So on Independence Day a century and a year ago, people gathered at Blaine to dedicate the highway, even though it wasn’t finished, and to celebrate peace, even though World War I was aflame in Europe.

Hill wanted to celebrate a century of peace – it had been that long since the U.S. and the United Kingdom had signed a treaty ending the War of 1812 – as well as completion of the highway.

Whether the highway was completed was a matter of debate. One person driving the highway from Los Angeles had to load his car onto a flat rail car to complete the trip. Meanwhile, Canadians complained that rough detours around unpaved sections put their vehicles at risk of major damage.

Still, about 4,000 people showed up for the festivities at a damp spot in the woods where the highway met the U.S.-Canada border.

Early in the proceedings, Bellingham businessman and civic leader J.J. Donovan proposed that the U.S. and Canadian governments erect a marble arch to commemorate the event and the century of peace between the nations. The crowd loved the idea, and Hill ran with it.

Six years later, on Sept. 6, 1921, the concrete-and-steel Peace Arch was dedicated. Despite rain that morning, some 15,000 people showed up for the ceremony.

Conditions were better than at the 1915 event, but not much. Peace Arch Park was still in the future, so people at the ceremony had to walk on uneven, wet ground. The Canadian side sported several old buildings, including a hotel of ill repute.

Fortunately, people standing in the back could hear the speakers thanks to a “wonderphone,” a newfangled device we now call a loudspeaker.

Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291

  Comments