Blaine, Washington, May 1970
by Usor O’Toole
Being the first Canadian invasion of the United States since 1814 when Tecumseh’s warriors allied with Canadian Quebecois and United Empire Loyalist troops, with the help of the British navy, burned Washington DC to the ground. This was in retaliation for the Americans having burned and looted Toronto on the same day in 1813, inspiring some to suggest it should be declared a holiday on both sides of the border. (July 6th, I believe)
In 1970, at the height of the hippy-yippie revival, some hippy draft-dodger with a yen to see a demo at the Peace Arch on the day Canadians and Americans celebrated their 4000-mile undefended border, picked up a couple of Vancouver yippies hitching down Hastings Street in Vancouver BC. They invited him to a meeting at an old house in the East End. Several long-haired activists were sitting in a circle, discussing how to end war. The Viet Nam one, in particular.
The hippy drank his tea and suggested his idea. Invade the fuckers on Canada-US lovey-dovy day. Someone else asked when that would occur. He said it had just happened a couple months before. The activists looked at each other rather briefly, then one went to a phone and dialed the Seattle Liberation Front HQ, a similar house outside Seattle. Whoever got on the line agreed that another 10 months is too long to wait. They’d spread the word for the invasion to go the next week-end.
Word traveled quickly through the activist peace community. Nixon had just expanded the Viet Nam war into Cambodia to take the Ho Chi Minh trail that was supplying the Viet Cong. He knew he had to get his troops out, because the Democrats of that day had gained control of the US Congress, and had refused him funds to continue. And they didn’t ask him for a timetable to end the war. They gave him a timetable. (At the risk of offending Hillary, that Congress had balls).
The invading force that descended on the Peace Arch included at least 300 anarchists, yippies, war veterans, draft dodgers, religious activists, Canadian and American patriots, pacifists, Quakers, communists and socialists of every description and some of the most beautiful liberated women in the known universe. On marching into the town of Blain, they spotted a flag flying in front of the post office, climbed the pole and cut it down. This caused some American patriots to take note, especially a bunch of US Navy personnel on leave hanging out at the local pool hall.
After the capture of the flag, some of the invaders declared the invasion a victory and recommended the group head back to Canada. A bunch of guys from Portland and points south who were facing the US draft showed up, and also suggested a strategic retreat, which they joined. Quite a few American visitors decided to cross into Canada that day. Some are still here.
People streamed back across the border, with a Blain city policeman and a bunch of sailors and assorted town toughguys coming along behind the stragglers who, on looking back, began to hop to it.
Someone got the idea to close the gate at the peace arch. (It has little metal gates on the inside that are wired open). Some other people thought that would send a negative message. There was some argument between longhairs, as the more active disassembled the wires holding the gates to the walls of the arch. The Yank poolhall patriots saw the commotion and decided to intervene against both factions. One husky Canadian truck-driver with a guitar saw a fist coming in the direction of one of his friends, spun the guitar into the oncoming fist so hard the back popped right out with a crash like heavy-metal punk-rock. In the ensuing melee he managed to distribute several pieces of it among the yankees. But mostly it was raw knuckles against noses and eye-brows.
And someone did indeed say, “I didn’t know hippies could fight.”
The Blain cop waded into the melee when he saw some of his guys in trouble. And a crowd of maybe 200 longhairs was suddenly surrounding him. He got scared and pulled his club as he unsnapped the holster of his 357
A yippie standing next to the cop threw his arms in the air and backed away into the crowd, which dutifully made a path for his mop of curly hair, leaving a straight corridor between himself and the cop of perhaps 6 or 8 metres. He yelled “Baseball!”, wound up and threw an imaginary ball at the cop. The cop smiled an evil grin and swatted the air with his billyclub.
The yippie reached in his hip pocket and yanked out a paper, (you wouldn’t want to do that today), waved it in the air and announced he’d just got a message from the Mayor of Blain, USA, thanking us for coming and inviting us to visit again “for a shit and a shower.” I think he was embellishing a tourist brochure he’d grabbed at the Blain post office. The cop looked uncertain. The mayor was his boss.
The hippy pulled another paper from his pocket, announced, “I just got this telegram direct from the White House, from Richard Nixon in Washington DC. It says “Oink, oink, oink, oink, oink…”
About which time the highway patrol cruised onto the hill, using the incoming lane to park their cars in a row beside the US border station. About 20 strong, they formed a skirmish line, white helmets gleaming, thumping their big night-sticks into their gloves. They watched for a few minutes as the city cop rounded up his hooligans and suggested they might want to go home and leave it to the big guys.
As some ten or twenty guys on both sides settled down to nursing their bruises the patrolmen suddenly marched toward us about ten steps. They were still a good 40 metres away, but it was definitely time for another strategic retreat. As the yankees limped off the field back toward Blain, the invaders began to spread out across the Canadian side of the park. And the tight group of patrolmen suddenly didn’t have a target, as they had when we’d been bunched up by the arch.
As they pondered their next move, a train came around the curve on the ocean side of the park. The first cars were flat-decks with auto-carrier transport trailers on them, and a load of maybe 60 or 80 of Detroit’s finest cars, fresh off the assembly line. Economic imperialism and gas-hog commercialism all tied in with the war-profits industry.
Somebody yelled “Get the cars.” But there were already people picking up the nice smooth beach rocks lining the rail bed and hurling them. One guy with a heavy-duty sling shot was firing fist-sized rocks at the rate of one every five or ten seconds from so close to the tracks that ricochet’s from some of the other rockers were whistling past his head.
The train proceeded around the bend into Canada at a leisurely pace. And we prepared to retreat again. We were safe on the Canadian side of the park, and the Highway Patrol had apparently decided not to invade Canada. Now we were a problem for the Mounties, who were represented by two officers parked on a hillside above the flower garden, filming us with a long-lensed video camera. I often wonder where that film is today.
Then suddenly and inexplicably, the train lurched to a halt. Perhaps some American had got on a radio to the engineer and told him a band of anarchists were destroying his load. Better get back to the safety of the USA. He dutifully brought the whole load back through for a second round of rocks. And there were rockers on both sides of the track now.
I suspect the physical damage was some bigger than $50,000, even in 1969 dollars. But the damage to the American war effort in Viet Nam was severe. As we’ve learned from 9/11, Americans take actions against their home ground very seriously. The vast majority of Americans wouldn’t be allowed inside either the World Trade Centre or the Pentagon, yet they get all bent out of shape when either is attacked.
Fortunately, the government there has been given over to incompetent religious and greedy reactionaries who have managed to bungle even the actions of their very professional military. It doesn’t take long for a system based on exploitation to begin eating itself.
Experience from China, India, Persia, Egypt, Rome, Aztlan, Peru, among others, indicate the barbarians from the north always fulfill their historical duty to clean up the rotten decadent civilizations people create and become dependent upon. The Blain invasion will stand as an early important skirmish in that historical process.
History of Blaine, Washington
Blaine was officially conceived on May 20, 1890, and was named after James G. Blaine (1830–1893), who was a U.S. senator from the state of Maine, Secretary of State, and, in 1884, the unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate.
Blaine, Washington was first settled in the mid 1800’s by pioneers who established the town as a seaport for the west coast logging and fishing industries, and as a jumping off point for prospectors heading to British Columbia’s gold fields. In its heyday Blaine was home to over 10,000 people, twice today’s population. The World’s largest salmon cannery was operated by the Alaska Packer’s Association for decades in Blaine: the cannery site has been converted to a beautiful waterfront destination resort on Semiahmoo Spit. Several saw mills once operated on Blaine’s waterfront, and much of the lumber was transported from its wharves and docks to help rebuild San Francisco following the 1906 fire there. The forests were soon logged, but Blaine’s fishing industry remained strong and robust into the second half of the twentieth century. Into the 1970’s Blaine was home to hundreds of commercial purse seiners and gill netters plying the waters between Washington State and southeast Alaska. Blaine’s two large picturesque marinas are still home to hundreds of recreational sailboats and yachts, and a small fleet of determined local fishers provide visitors with dockside sale of delicious fresh salmon, crab and oysters. Nature lovers have always appreciated Blaine’s coastal location, its accessible bike and walking trails, and beautiful view of mountains and water. Birdwatchers across the continent have discovered the area’s treasure trove of migratory birds and waterfowl: Blaine’s Drayton Harbor, Semiahmoo Spit and Boundary Bay are ranked as Important Birding Areas by the Audubon Society.
International border intrigue has always been a part of Blaine’s ambiance. Smuggling became an underground industry there in 1919 with the passage of the Volstead Act banning liquor sale and use in the United States. Rum running and border jumping thrived along Blaine’s shared coastline with British Columbia, and continued until Prohibition was repealed in 1933 (coincidentally the US Congressional law which re-legalized alcohol is named the Blaine Act). In the 1990’s smuggling again reached a zenith as criminals in neighboring British Columbia became major exporters of high grade marihuana. Much more lenient Canadian drug laws provided a rich haven to thousands of large and small cannabis ‘grow operations’. As the production of the chemically powerful ‘BC Bud’ coalesced into competing groups of well networked criminal organizations across BC, a sometimes dangerous game of cat and mouse played out along Blaine’s border with Canada. Smugglers used every technique from backpacks to helicopter aerial drops to push tons of the marihuana crop into the US, while a growing phalanx of local, state and federal law enforcement sought ways to stem the tide. Smuggling of drugs, weapons, and money, and unfortunately human trafficking continues in the area. However, following the terrorist attacks of 2001, the addition of hundreds of federal agents and millions of dollars in enforcement technology have pushed more of the smuggling activity away from Blaine and into the rugged interior of Washington.
With its location at the intersection of an international border, a major interstate freeway, and the Pacific Ocean, Blaine is frequently in the news. In 1970 Blaine became the site of the first hostile invasion of the contiguous United States since Canadian/British forces burned the White House to the ground in 1814 during the War of 1812. In May 9, 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War, a group of people from Canada came to Peace Arch Park in Blaine to protest the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the National Guard’s shooting of students at two US universities. A group of the protesters (size estimates vary between 50 and 600) swarmed from Canada past US Customs and Immigration officers across the border into downtown Blaine, vandalizing storefronts, cars and a local memorial dedicated to Blaine men who had fought and died in earlier wars. They retreated back to the border after burning a U.S. flag and fighting with Blaine residents. Once back at the Peace Arch, the protesters vandalized the monument. This low point in international and local relations between the friendly neighboring countries and communities has never been repeated. The Peace Arch is occasionally still used as a focal point for peaceful demonstrations and debate, but the very vast majority of the millions of people who visit or pass by the Park each year remember it for its beauty and peaceful shoreline setting. Currently, a group of Blaine community members are soliciting support to formalize a sister-city relationship with Pugwash, Nova Scotia.
Today Blaine is a thriving yet tranquil community. It has changed much from its beginnings as a wild border town, yet its residents remain blessed by and very cognizant of its unique and beautiful setting at the northwest corner of the contiguous United States. An award winning K-12 school district, active businesses, a diverse citizenry and a local government committed to service all network to protect and improve Blaine’s beauty and livability as the city grows and charts its path into the twenty first century.