By Mark Swenson
If it weren’t for some significant historical events in June from years past, Point Roberts would be a very different place. Let’s take a look at this month in Point Roberts history.
Our little community would be known as Punta Cepeda had the British not put up a show of force in our local waters against the Spanish in the late eighteenth century. George Vancouver’s expedition, which renamed Point Roberts to its current moniker was part of this power struggle by the big colonial powers of the day. Its legacy leaves places like San Juan Islands, Haro Strait and Saturna Island in our viewshed. We’re celebrating the bicentennial of Spain relinquishing its claims to this area, including Point Roberts, in 1819.
The 49th parallel was designated as the U.S.-Canadian border in 1846, but it took 13 years to get engineers out to Point Roberts to physically mark the border on the land. They completed this work 160 years ago this month. After June 15, many engineers left Point Roberts and headed to San Juan Island to help in the Pig War. An American settler shot a British pig rummaging in his garden on June 15, 1859, spiking tensions which were already escalating in our backyard. Today we call it the Pig War, the only casualty being the pig which died 160 years ago this month.
June 15 is also the anniversary of a large group of Icelanders settling at Point Roberts. This is the 125th anniversary of their 1894 arrival from Victoria, which was in a recession. They quickly became pillars of the community, holding key positions in the community and giving Point Roberts an Icelandic identity; within a decade, Icelanders would comprise half the populace.
This is the also 125th anniversary of the long history of the Alaska Packers Association at Point Roberts. Edmund Wadham sold his one-year-old salmon cannery at Lily Point to the Alaska Packers Association in 1894. The A.P.A. would operate and expand it for another 23 years, in addition to owning over a dozen fish traps just offshore. The cannery provided jobs and bought many supplies from local residents. Today, pilings from the cannery still stand on the beach at Lily Point and, of course, one of the major roads in our community still bears its name.
Point Roberts’ remote location meant in the early days most people came to Point Roberts by boat. That changed in 1919 when a road first reached Point Roberts. This is the centennial of land access to the Point as well as our first border “station,” which was nothing more than a tent draped across a downed tree. A border crossing with Canada meant steady growth in Point Roberts, particularly in Maple Beach. This is also the centennial of the opening of Glenfield Lodge, which brought the European style of boarding, with meals included, to Maple Beach. Offering camping and afternoon tea in summer and hunting in winter, Glenfield Lodge helped to usher in 100 years of summer fun at Boundary Bay.
Finally, this is the 40th anniversary of the filming of Huck Finn and Friends in Maple Beach, where the Whalen farmhouse was set in Hannibal, Missouri. Filming of the 26 episodes of the popular West German TV series was in full swing this month in 1979.
(These stories, a historical timeline and much more are found in the book Point Roberts Backstory: Tales, Trails and Trivia from an American Exclave by Mark Swenson. Order a copy at pointrobertsbackstory.com.)