Peace Arch City
By Jack Kintner
Initially settled in the 1850’s by wilderness survey parties and by prospectors from several area gold rushes, Blaine is named for the popular Republican Secretary of State James G. Blaine, who actually signed the papers granting Washington statehood in 1889. Much like Port Townsend with which it is often compared, Blaine boomed in the late Victorian era and then faded, leaving a downtown neighborhood of old buildings and grand wooden homes, many with their once ubiquitous backyard stables just big enough for a horse, a little hay and a buggy still standing. It once was the state’s third busiest port, sending lumber to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire on square riggers that could easily sail into the expansive Semiahmoo Bay off the Georgia Straight more easily than the restricted waters of Puget Sound to the south.
In 1921 Sam Hill erected one of the few monuments to peace anywhere in the world when he built the 62-foot Peace Arch just east of where the international border hits the beach at the town’s northern city limits. Soon a 40-acre park was established surrounding the monument, half in the US and half in Canada. People from both sides can enter the park and mingle without going through customs, a tradition that survived the terrorist scare of September 11, 2001. Where borders everywhere else were being closed down for security, Peace Arch Park’s hours informally expanded to accommodate night-time candle light peace vigils. More information on Peace Arch Park can be found at PeaceArchPark.org.
Blaine is half water, and along with Bellingham it’s one of just two towns on the water in Whatcom County. There are unincorporated areas such as Birch Bay, Sandy Point, Point Roberts and so on but they’re facilities are usually private and provide the public little access to anything more than a pleasant walk on the beach. A very pleasant walk, to be sure, but no marina facilities, fishing piers, ferry services, customs and so on.
Blaine’s marina, extensively renovated a few years ago by the county-wide Port of Bellingham authority, provides moorage for over 350 boats, as does nearby Semiahmoo Marina. Blaine Harbor sits on a spit of land between Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor and provides guest morrage as well as a salmon charter by Rip Tide Charters. On the west side sits the world-class Semiahmoo Resort & Spa. Once home to the Alaska Packers Association (APA) cannery, the 200-room resort hosts gatherings from around the world in a breathtaking setting surrounded by a pristine beach. Here you can book whale watching tours, guided kayak tours and fishing from Outer Island Expeditions. The passenger ferry M/V Plover that once delivered cannery workers across the harbor to work still runs in the summers for tourists. The 1,500 permanent Semiahmoo residents live in homes clustered around a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer, home to an annual charity tournament that last year raised nearly $80,000 to combat Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s public every other day, alternating with its companion course on nearby Loomis Trail. Blaine sits on Drayton Harbor, a nearly circular 4,000-acre jewel that is one of the most important stops, along with nearby Birch Bay, for migrating shorebirds and seabirds along the west coast. Like a huge shallow dish, the harbor sustains a lush variety of plant and animal food. Wildlife biologists using satellite tracking technology have discovered that thousands of migrating birds from all over tend to stop to feed in the harbor and in Birch Bay as if they were a popular highway restaurant. In celebration of the birds, Wings Over Water NW Birding Festival is held annually every spring.
To keep the birds and other marine critters healthy, happy and edible, considerable effort has been expended by the Drayton Harbor Community Oyster Farm over the past decade after the harbor was closed to shellfish harvesting in 1992. Tender and succulent Drayton Harbor oysters, some the size of a middle schooler’s gym shoes, are once again being harvested for a booming market in, among other places, China.
Traditional gatherings, always at or around the waterfront, include late April’s Semiahmoo Regatta, a two-day affair that draws over 100 sailboats and four hundred sailors as it raises money for various charitable causes, one of the few small town Fourth of July celebrations with a pancake breakfast, several block long street fair and auto show & shine, a parade with enough variety and interest to be in the bar scene in a star wars movie (ever seen an antique combine rumbling down main street?) and August’s Plover Days, with the George Raft Race, all kinds of seafood from the local fishing fleet and the annual swim across the harbor entrance. For a complete list of year-round activities in Blaine, click here!
Blaine Harbor & Moorage Information:
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