On June 14, 2015, the Hands Across the Border Revival is held at the Peace Arch at the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Blaine (Whatcom County). It's a celebration of the return of the Hands Across the Border celebration, which had been abruptly cancelled after the 2012 event. Sunshine and smiles abound as the crowd celebrates the celebration's comeback.
How Could We Not Bring it Back?
The Peace Arch was built to commemorate 100 years of peace between Great Britain and the United States, but the theme of the annual Hands Across the Border celebration was to celebrate the historically peaceful and friendly relations between the United States and Canada. The celebration had been a popular draw since its 1937 inception, so it was a shock in February 2013 when the announcement came that it had been cancelled. It had been temporarily cancelled a few times before, but this time it was supposedly permanent. Organizers blamed rising costs and fading volunteer interest. Many thought Hands Across the Border would fade into memory as have many parades and celebrations which were popular in the twentieth century.
It didn't. Though it wasn't the celebration's sponsor, the United States Canada Peace Anniversary Association (USCPAA) had posted the initial cancellation notice online. So many people then contacted the association to ask what could be done that in 2014 the USCPAA surveyed 530 prior participants to gauge interest in reviving the celebration. The response was overwhelmingly positive. USCPAA founder Christina Alexander explained, "We saw how much people loved it and what it meant to them. OK, there's the historical component, but it really means so much more than that to people, especially the kids. How could we not bring it back"(interview).
Smiles and Songs
The USCPAA established a first-ever website for registration and a fee of $15 per person to cover costs. (Previously the celebration had been funded by donations and souvenir sales.) Eventually more than 1,600 registered. The event has long been a favorite of the boy and girl scouts from both the U.S. and Canada, and many of the registrants were scouts; one troop came from as far away as Arizona. Hundreds more unregistered visitors joined them at the Peace Arch on June 14, 2015.
The weather was perfect, the crowd happy, the grins the same as in years past as the procession paraded through the Peace Arch portal at the traditional 1 p.m. hour. Songs were sung, speeches spun, memories made. (And lots of scout patches swapped.) The ceremony was slightly abbreviated from recent years, and the nearby border crossings weren't closed as they had been during previous ceremonies. But these subtleties didn't matter. People were just glad to be there.
Spiritual and Ethereal
What is it about the Peace Arch and this celebration that has such an impact on people? A few quotes from the USCPAA survey tells it from a scout's view: "It was an excellent experience as a youth and I believe it helps to broaden horizons and open up your world view... It is important as a young person to see that people who you believe to be so much different from you really aren't that different at all," one wrote. Another added, "I loved getting to know new cultures, troops from far away, and visiting the border of another country. As an adult, I see how this experience shaped who I am" ("Help Reestablish…").
To some it's almost spiritual. The Peace Arch was dedicated by Sam Hill (1857-1931) in 1921, shortly after the 1918 American victory in the War to End All Wars (World War I). Hill -- and others -- dreamed of a perfect world peace following the war, and his arch is a symbol of that vision. History hasn't played out that way, and it won't. But if you walk through the portal and come out the other side or stand in the accompanying park and look out at the water and mountains stretching into forever you can almost believe that it will; it's an ethereal feeling, one that doesn't always lend itself to words.
by Phil Dougherty
June 25, 2015
Sources: "Hands Across the Border 94-Year Tradition Ends," News 1130 (Vancouver, BC) February 3, 2013, website accessed June 7, 2015 (http://www.news1130.com/2013/02/03/hands-across-the-border-94-year-tradition-ends/); Alyssa Pitcher, "Hands Across the Border to Return This Summer," The Northern Light (Blaine, WA), April 22, 2015, website accessed June 7, 2015 http://www.thenorthernlight.com/2015/04/22/hands-across-the-border-to-return-this-summer/); Tracy Holmes, "'Hands' Annual Tradition Up in Air," Peace Arch News (Surrey, BC), February 7, 2013, p. 3; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "The annual Peace Arch celebration returns on June 13, 2010" (by Phil Dougherty), http://wwwhistorylink.org (accessed June 7, 2015); "Help Reestablish Hands Across the Border," United States Canada Peace Anniversary Association website accessed June 7, 2015 (http://www.handsacrosstheborder.info/); Phil Dougherty interview of Christina Alexander, June 14, 2015, Blaine, Washington.