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The Sacred Faith of a Scrap of Paper

October 31, 2014

The dedication of the Peace Arch on the boundary between Washington State and British Columbia, September 6, 1921,  completed the project to commemorate the Peace Centenary initiated at Vancouver BC in 1913.    The realization of this dream, so enthusiastically endorsed at large, was due to the determination Samuel Hill.

In connection with the construction of the Peace Arch, Hill produced a silent film documenting the drawing together of themes of significance to his vision of the  project, including notable dates and events, locations, meetings with personalities and the acquisition of relics.

A large segment of the film is devoted to the Mayflower, which sailed from England in 1620 bearing Pilgrims who hoped  “to found in the new world,  a colony where Peace, Tolerance and Fraternity should rule.”  The Mayflower Compact was signed November 11, 1620.

Entitled The Sacred Faith of a Scrap of Paper, the film takes its name from the poem by Henry Van Dyke, published November 11, 1914,  respecting the sanctity of treaties.

Sam Hill - Peace Arch 1921 - film crew - Vancouver Archives photoThe connection between the Treaty of Ghent, the border between Canada and the United States and the Pacific Highway, is expressed in the opening forward of the film,  and in a scene shot at William Penn’s house in England,  the film text reads:


“The child never forgets its love for its mother.

The sacred faith of the scrap of paper signed between them December 24th, 1814 at Ghent in Belgium remained unbroken for one hundred years and is still unbroken. 

And another child – the beautiful Canada – grows up in peace beside her sister – no wall, no fort, no gun, separates these twain; bound as they are by ties of love and friendship along a boundary of 3000 miles and knit closer by that bond, the Pacific Highway.”


Hill thus completes the transition from  “bonds of steel,” love between siblings and “international amity” as expressed at the railway opening under the border arch on February 14, 1891,  taking the themes to a grander level with the modern international road link, the great Pacific Highway and its own permanent monument, the Peace Arch. 

The peace portal  was built not of marble, but of steel rails, encased in concrete.

Sequestered in the Peace Arch are relics of the Mayflower and the Beaver steamship,  the one from the east coast of America, the other from the west coast of Canada, equally symbolic of British and American settlement. 

Peaceful relations with First Nations people—based often solely on mutual trust in the absence of any treaty at all—do not play a significant role in Hill’s pantheon.

1921 09 06 Columbia & Brittania in Peace Arch dedication ceremonyBritannia and Columbia,  personifications of Great Britain and the United States, were represented at the Peace Arch dedication. 

Also encased within the base of the peace portal is a copy of Samuel Hill’s documentary film, The Sacred Faith of A Scrap of Paper.

At a speech in New Westminster in 1921, Hill said there would be three camera crews at the Peace Arch ceremony – “one sure if another fails.”

Portions of Hill’s film were shown at Vancouver BC and Seattle,  however  the finished version, complete with final scenes from the parade of relics in Victoria and the Peace Arch dedication, was not distributed. 

“Peace, not war, brings happiness to mankind.” – Cardinal Mercier, Ghent, Belgium, 1921.  From The Sacred Faith of a Scrap of Paper.

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