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A Happier Suggestion – The Peace Centenary

October 27, 2014

In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the government of Canada invested heavily in celebrating battles. However at the time of the Centenary of  the war,  the thinking in Canada, the USA and Great Britain evolved in the opposite direction, toward the notion of celebrating not the war itself, but the 100 years of peace which followed. An article in the New York Times of December 31, 1911 illustrated the trend of leading opinion.

"Already suggestions have been made that we celebrate with military pomp the battles that the Americans of a century ago fought and won, that we erect lasting monuments to mark out the fields where the two nations of the English-speaking world met in battle. But a happier suggestion has been made, a suggestion that instead of holding National and local celebrations of the battles of a century ago, all the peoples of the English-speaking world unite in celebrating something far bigger, something that throws a far more cheering light on the future – the fact that since the signing of the treaty of Ghent, Christmas Eve, 1814, which terminated the war of 1812, there has been a century of unbroken peace between America and England."

It was a sentiment that was embraced internationally and without promulgation from any one source. As the Times noted:

"The idea of celebrating the one hundred years of peace seems to have occurred spontaneously to many people."

Peace Centenary Associations were headed by Andrew Carnegie in the USA and Sir Edmund Walker in Canada.  In the UK,  Earl Grey,  a former Governor-General of Canada was Chairman.

The year 1915 – centenary of the first year of peace – was to be the time for monuments to be unveiled and celebrations held at all levels.

The most important symbol of peaceful relations was the undefended border between the United States and Canada, demonstrating to the world that nationalities can live side-by-side in mutual trust and cooperation.

Ideas came forward for peace memorials all along the boundary between the United States and Canada.   There were some grand projects including a Peace Bridge crossing of the Niagara River and a grand monument on the Washington-Quebec highway to be dedicated in 1915:

"It is proposed that an arch of impressive size and design, be built at the frontier, spanning this highway."

Neither of those projects were built, however, the notion of grand arch was another of those ideas that seemed to percolate.

The concept of a memorial arch appears to have originated in the Northwest and the first to develop plans for the peace arch was George Ellsperman of Blaine, Washington.

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