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Samuel Hill's Vision: The Peace Arch and Peace Portal Golf Course

Contributions of information and photos by Jack Berry

Samuel Hill was the visionary responsible for the idea of an International Peace Arch and Peace Portal Golf Course. The Peace Arch stands astride the international boundary between Blaine, Washington and Douglas, British Columbia. Peace Portal Golf Course was to be part of an elaborate tourist center catering to Americans and Canadians alike.

Samuel Hill

Samuel Hill was born of Quaker parents at Deep River, North Carolina on May 13, 1857. After a short stay in Indiana, the Hill family moved to Minneapolis in 1865. Samuel became a railroad survey employee at the age of 17. He returned to school to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree at Haverford College, Pennsylvania, and completed a second B.A. at Harvard in 1879. He was admitted to the bar in 1880, and practiced Law in Minneapolis. By 1886 he had won so many cases against the Great Northern Railway that the GNR owner James Hill (no relation) asked Samuel to become a company legal advisor and he soon a senior manager within Jim Hill's empire. In time he became the president of several rail lines owned by James Hill.

Sam Hill

Samuel Hill, Harvard graduate, world traveler, road builder, created the International Peace Arch and an elaborate tourist center that we now know as Peace Portal Golf Course. The son of Quaker parents Nathan Bronson Hill and Eliza L. Mendenhall, he was born May 13, 1857 at Deep River North Carolina. He was raised and spent his early years in Minneapolis.

In 1888 Samuel married Jim Hill's daughter Mary "Mamie" Francis Hill (1868–1947) and fathered two children Mary (1889–1941), and James (1893–1975). Between the year of his marriage and the turn of the century, Samuel spent little time with his wife and children, except on those occasions when the family traveled to and through Europe on business–pleasure trips.

In 1900 Samuel left Great Northern amid a dispute over his family and in–law relationships. His interests shifted from rails to roads. In 1901 he became the first president of Washington State Good Roads Association. He was also the president of Seattle Gas and Electric Company. Sam and his family moved from St. Paul to Seattle in 1901. However, Mamie, unhappy with her marriage and claiming the change of climate affected her health, returned to St. Paul in 1903.

In 1904, Samuel was appointed to the Washington State Committee to study roads. In 1908, he founded the Washington Good Roads Association. He became president of the Pacific Highway Association in 1910.

His involvement in road building and his personal dedication to promoting peace throughout the world was the flux that resulted in the Peace Arch and Peace Portal Golf Course.

The Peace Arch

It was at one of his business meetings with good friend Alfred Todd (a former Victoria City Mayor), that the idea for the peace arch first took shape. In 1917, Todd and his wife Ada went on a motoring trip down to Mexico. The roads were terrible. Todd was determined to work for better ones, and that brought him into contact with Sam Hill of the "Washington Good Roads Association". Todd was president of the Pacific Highway Association, to promote construction of a paved highway extending from Vancouver to Tijuana, Mexico. It was Todd who suggested that at the point where that highway crossed the Canada/U.S. border, a monument to peace should be erected. Enthusiasm for the Arch was immediate. Hill and Todd talked of raising money throughout Canada and the U.S. for a monument to symbolize the enduring peace between two nations. However, it was Samuel Hill who conceived and visualized the monument and he promoted the financial cost and superintended its design and construction.

The Arch is officially dedicated

The Arch was constructed to commemorate the centennial (1814–1914) of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent ending the war of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain. The Arch's design was donated by H.W. Corbett of London, England, an internationally known architect. Construction began under an international force of volunteers in 1920. The Arch was officially dedicated on September 6, 1921.

The Arch was built before the Peace Park was created. In the picture above, the St. Leonard Hotel, and private residences on the Canadian site can be seen in the background.

Looking south toward the Peace Arch

Looking south toward the Peace Arch the large white building is the St. Leonard Hotel. The small building to the right of Coast Meridian Road is the Canadian Customs Office. The blur of a train can be seen behind it and the cannery at Blaine above it.

Border celebrations

The Peace Arch and its associated 40 acre park have been the focus of annual across the border celebrations. This picture taken by Jack Berry around June 1960 and shows Brownies and other organizations exchanging flags with their American counterparts. The old Canadian Ensign is flying. The red maple leaf flag was adopted in 1965.

The 26 acre park built around the Peace Arch currently provides beautiful landscaping, picnic shelters, playgrounds, and restrooms. It was initiated, in 1930, by the State of Washington. School children from both sides of the border collected their dimes, nickels and pennies to help purchase privately-owned property for park use. In 1938 with 15 acres assembled, which later increased to 23 acres, the British Columbia government began the construction and landscaping. The Park around the Arch became one of the outstanding beauty spots in the Pacific North West. It is jointly maintained by Washington State and the Province of British Columbia. Peace Arch Park is the only landscaped park in the province.

Arch at Pacific Highway

Did you know that the first peace arch was erected over Pacific Highway in 1915? It was constructed of logs. A copper plaque with the inscription: "Erected by the Vancouver Automobile Club in commemoration of the Peace Centenary 5 July 1915" was affixed to it. As time went by another Peace Arch was erected one mile to the west, after that the original arch was less important. Over the years the logs rotted away and the arch was remove and burned. Nobody thought to save the plaque. In 1964, a customs officer out for a walk saw a piece of metal poking out the ground. Being a bit of a scrounger he unearthed it and saw that it had an inscription on it. Taking it home he cleaned it up so it was readable and saw the above inscription and thought that it might have some historical significance. The Vancouver Automobile Association was contacted and Horace Plimley who had been in the cavalcade when the original arch was dedicated in 1915 offered to have the plaque restored and mounted, and with the Department of Public Works permission, have it placed on the south lawn of the Pacific Highway Customs Port of entry. In 1965 a cavalcade of vintage automobiles bearing Horace Plimley and club members drove down from Vancouver and rededicated the little monument. When the old Tudor style Pacific Highway Customs House was torn down to make way for a more modern building, the plaque was turned over the Surrey Museum.

A personal recollection: provided by Jack Berry.

Peace Portal Golf Course

Samuel Hill, aware that the Pacific Highway would soon be paved from Bellingham to the Peace Arch, was eyeing the possibilities for enlarging and improving the park on both sides of the border. The fall of 1925 saw him investing in Canadian lots abutting the Peace Arch. The assembled land eventually included about 160 acres. Prohibition existed in the United States and Sam envisioned a resort where Americans could drive north over the newly cemented highway, or arrive via the Great Northern Railway, or by water into Drayton Harbour at Blaine. Visitors would arrive at a resort just across the border where serving liquor was legal, fine dining available, a swimming beach close by, and an 18–hole golf course.

The Semiahmoo Club was the official name for this new resort. The name of the company developing the property was the Old English Restaurants Company, Ltd., Douglas, B.C.

The plan was to build Semiahmoo Club; a resort comprising a clubhouse style restaurant, overnight accommodations and an 18–hole golf course.

Aerial photo was taken in 1930

This aerial photo was taken in 1930. It shows the Peace Arch before the park was developed. Both the 1909 and 1929 Douglas Customs Houses are visible. Sam Hill's Semiahmoo Club and the beginnings of the Peace Portal Golf Course are visible. This is one of four aerial photographs Jack Berry acquired from the Air Survey Division, Survey and Mapping Branch, Department of Lands and Forest on March 3, 1960. The road running north-south is Coast Meridian Road (160th Street).

At Semiahmoo, Mr. Hill is building a resort of the highest type for the accommodation of everybody who wishes to stop there and obtain food and enjoy the surrounding and the beautiful view overlooking Semiahmoo Bay in the shadow of the Peace Arch.
There are four main entrances to the Semiahmoo club, totaling sixty–six feet in width. On either side of these entrances there are two imposing gate portals of concrete and brick facing the 200 foot boulevard. A building housing the information booth faces the boulevard where information will he given and souvenirs sold. Parking space will be provided for 4,000 cars. Two solid concrete comfort stations are under construction that will be provided with shower bather and toilets. An 18–hole golf course will be provided as an attraction for devotees of that popular pastime.
There are two dining rooms, each 200 feet long and thirty feet wide, which will seat 1,000 diners at one time. These long dining rooms can be made into a series of private dining rooms, each 8X10 in size. Space will be available for dancing for which music will be provided.
Mr. Hill's private residence is also on the grounds and there is where he and his cousin Edgar Hill reside when they are there.

aerial photo was taken in 1930

Semiahmoo Club opened in 1927. The food and beverage operation opened quickly, but the golf course construction began with the clearing and grading of the land. In September of 1929 nine holes were opened for play. By 1931, the resort–styled clubhouse was thriving and 18 holes were nearing completion. In January 1931, Sam Hill fell ill with intestinal influenza. Sam died on February 6, 1931, at age 74, in Portland, Oregon. He bequeathed his interest in the Old English Restaurants to his cousin Edgar Hill.

auto camp

The original building is shown on the right. The building on the left was constructed just before prohibition ended in 1933. This building (the one on the left) stood virtually empty for many years, and was demolished in 1946. The complex was referred to as an "auto camp".

Business was thriving at the time of the official opening as prohibition was still in effect. A second building (on the left) was constructed just as prohibition ended in 1933 and Americans were once more free to be served liquor in their own country. The food and beverage operation declined as a result. The second building stood virtually empty for many years, and was demolished in 1946 without realizing its planned potential.

Administrative building

To the south of the Golf Course Building was the service and administrative building. This building provided the services necessary for such a remote resort.

The main building is of stucco construction and Spanish type, 80x120 feet. A commodious office is on the roof of this building that overlooks the entire property. The main building or service building as it is called, includes the following: cold storage room where ice is made electrically, beef is aged, and butter, eggs, and perishables are kept; the bakery room, where everything in the bakery line can be bought on the cash and carry style. It can be taken to the open space in the auto camp park if tourists desire to prepare their own meals in the open. Prices will be very modest and no one will be deprived of the privilege of taking advantage of all the facilities afforded. There is a grocery room, 20x30, containing a stock of grocery supplies for tourist; a dish-washing room, 20x30, with all the latest equipment for quickly handling dishes and receptacles are provided; a vegetable room forty feet square, where all kinds of vegetables will be kept cool is another feature. The rotisserie, or roasting room, is another feature, where meats are turned and barbecued. The safe deposit vaults for storage of valuables is in the center of a large room which resembles the safety deposit vaults in the city bank.

Aerial photo was taken in 1940

This aerial photo was taken in 1940. It shows the Peace Arch Park was being developed. Peace Portal Golf Course is visible and extends north from the Park to Campbell River Road (8th Ave). To the east of the course small individual holdings are seen. The abandoned rail bed of the New Westminster Southern Railway is also visible from where it crosses the Border and crosses Campbell River Road at Pacific Highway.

Club House

Edgar along with his new business partner Howard Merrill, followed through with Sam's vision. On Good Friday, March 23, 1932 the course was officially opened to the public and formally renamed Peace Portal Golf Club. Only 12 holes were playable, but the remaining six were to be opened before the summer.

Howard Merrill

Howard Merrill is pictured on the first tee. Howard was ambidextrous. He carried a right hand set of woods and a left hand set of irons and would alternate throughout a round.

He was the co-owner, and former general manager of the club. He lived on the course just off King George Highway with his wife Maude, and two adopted daughters Bee and Elizabeth.

Howard continued as general manager until in the mid 1950s when his health began to fail he shifted many duties to Frank Swaffer who would now oversee club operations.

Edgar along with his new business partner Howard Merrill, followed through with Sam's vision. On Good Friday, March 23, 1932 the course was officially opened to the public and formally renamed Peace Portal Golf Club. Only 12 holes were playable, but the remaining six were to be opened before the summer.

Peace Portal Club House

This photo of the Peace Portal Club House was taken from the first fairway. The large dining hall is on the right, the Pro Shop in the center and the bar and locker rooms on the left. This picture was taken in the 1950s.

Club house Club house

Club Members and Caddies
Club Members and Caddies

Aerial photo was taken in 1949

This aerial photo was taken in 1949. This is how the area appeared before the Federal Government expropriated part of Peace Portal Golf Course property to allow for the expansion of the Customs and Immigration facility.

In Dec. 1947, the Federal Government released plans to expropriate land from Peace Portal to build a new customs and immigration office and upgrade the border crossing. The King George Highway was the main access to Peace Portal Golf Club. The restructuring and expropriation took 2.4 acres from Peace Portal's property line bringing the old clubhouse closer to the highway.

Peace Portal Golf Club

This picture was taken by Jack Berry from the Canada Customs compound. Just the fence and a road separated Peace Portal Golf Club from the compound.

In 1959 the Deas Island Tunnel was opened and highway 99 was completed by 1964. With traffic congestion on the freeway leading to the Douglas Border Crossing the only public entrance into Peace Portal was hampered. Since the clubhouse facilities were more than 50 years old the decision was made to build at a new location on 4th Avenue.

Aerial photo was taken in 1964

This aerial photo was taken in 1964. It shows the new Canada Customs and Immigration buildings and Peace Portal Golf Course clubhouse. Just a fence and roadway separated the clubhouse from the Custom's compound. Highway congestion, and limited parking resulted in the Golf Club's decision to demolish these buildings and build a new facility on 4th Avenue.

A new smaller clubhouse with new entrance (off 172nd Street and 4th Avenue) was built with a full lounge, outdoor patio, offices, cafe–styled restaurant, men's and ladies' locker rooms and a Pro Shop. The original course was maintained but the numbering system was changed to reflect the new first tee location.

Course layout Lake on Peace Portal

In 2003 Peace Portal Golf Course celebrated its 75th anniversary. The course generally follows the original design by golf course architect, Francis (Frank) L. James. The course is noted for its mature trees, it tight fairways, its hilly terrain, and the number of water hazards crossed. Peace Portal is one o the most heavily booked courses in Greater Vancouver. It remains the legacy of Samuel Hill.

For more in depth reference please refer to the following Web sites or Publications:
A museum dedicated to Sam Hill and his daughter Mary
The Peace Arch Park
Peace Portal Golf Course

Peace Portal 75th Anniversary publication - Elaine Morrison. Peace Portal Golf Course: 75th Anniversary
Fraser Printers Ltd. Cloverdale, BC 2003

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