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Motoring ascendant, peace transcendent: The Pacific Highway Peace Centenary Commemoration of 1915

October 31, 2014

On July 4, 1915  a ceremony to commemorate 100 years of peace between the United States and Great Britain was held at the Pacific Highway border crossing and,  in the course of events,  the project to build a Peace Arch, inaugurated at Vancouver, BC  in 1913,  was given new life.

Chief organizer of the event, Samuel Hill, had been party to the completion of the Great Northern railway link between British Columbia and Washington State and was familiar with the sentiments of friendship between nations that had overwhelmed the last spike gathering on February 14, 1891.  

Samuel Hill was also at the  1913 annual meeting of the Pacific Highway Association in Vancouver where a motion  to erect an arch in commemoration of the Peace Centenary was enthusiastically endorsed by the delegates and community at large. 

At Vancouver,  Hill was first elected President of the Pacific Highway Association.  He  also served on the committee formed to secure plans and funding for the arch, chaired by Honorary President JT Ronald.

The 1915 peace centenary celebration was held under the auspices of the Pacific Highway Association and organized by motoring enthusiasts in automobile clubs on both sides of the border.

  A large gathering met on the Pacific Highway in front of the customs offices.  The program included speeches, two bands playing anthems and the raising of flags. Those in attendance included motorists, local citizens from both sides of the line, civic officials, government representatives and foreign consuls.

Reverend John Mackay of Westminster Hall, Vancouver,  addressed the crowd,  saying the lesson of war was the hope of men  "to dwell together like brothers, in unity." 


As the flags of the United States and Great Britain were raised, Sam Hill might have remembered the symbolic glory of the arch over the railway, where it crossed the line just a quarter-mile away.  He thrilled the crowd with the suggestion that a "marble arch" should be erected over the Pacific Highway at this spot.

JJ Donovan of Bellingham, who had helped raise the Union Jack, resurrected the  motion for the building of a permanent arch “as a monument to international good will.”  The resolution was seconded by Mayor Arthur Wellesley Gray of New Westminster, and duly endorsed by the assembly.

Donovan had been present at the boundary arch in the railway celebration of February 14, 1891. Formerly Chief Engineer of the New Westminster Southern Railway under Nelson Bennett, Donovan had once walked the railway bed from Brownsville BC to the United States. 

Donovan had also endorsed and promoted the building of the arch as proposed at the meeting of the Pacific Highway Association in Vancouver two years previous.

The continuing connection between motoring and peace was reflected on the brass plate that was attached to the new Canadian flag staff by Samuel Gintzburger:

"Erected by the Vancouver Auto Club, in commemoration of the Peace Centenary, 4th July, 1915."

Years later in reference to the ceremony, Sam Hill spoke of the event as "the great gathering we held at Blaine to inaugurate the Pacific Highway, July 4, 1915."

Although there were Canadian and American Peace Centenary Committees, chock full of important personages, and filled with ambition to commemorate the Peace Centenary with numerous events and monuments through the summer of 1915, not much was done following the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914. 

Sam Hill was not a member of these organizations. Government representatives who attended this ceremony did so at his invitation. 

Harry E Brittain, of the British Peace Centenary Committee, who happened to be visiting Vancouver at the time,  was invited to attend and he gave a short speech.  Brittain had been a participant in one of the last organized peace commemoration events prior to  the outbreak of the First World War,  the Peace Centenary Ball of June 10, 1914.

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