HISTORY OF THE SURVEY OF THE INTERNATIONAL BOUNDARY: 1857-1862
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Dedicated to the heritage and preservation of the Peace Arch and the International Park.
Summit of the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Georgia OREGON TREATY:
On June 15, 1846, the United States and Great Britain signed a treaty settling their dispute
over the Pacific Northwest. The land boundary was fixed at the astronomic 49th parallel of north latitude
from the crest of the Rocky Mountains westward to the Gulf of Georgia. The description
of the water boundary, however, was not well-defined and further friction
between the powers ensued over this part of the boundary.
APPOINTMENT OF WATER AND LAND BOUNDARY COMMISSIONS:
Although various suggestions were made by both powers to establish a
commission to survey and mark the boundary, no positive action was taken
until the president approved an act of Congress on August 11, 1856 that
provided for appointment of a Commissioner and a chief astronomer and
surveyor to work with similar British counterparts to survey and mark the land
and water boundary of the Pacific Northwest. On February 14, 1857, Archibald
Campbell was appointed as the U.S. Commissioner and Lieutenant John G.
Parke was appointed as the chief astronomer and surveyor for both water and
For the water portion of the boundary, Great Britain was represented by Captain
James G. Prevost as commissioner and Captain Henry Richards as second
Commissioner with additional duties of chief astronomer and surveyor. The
British appointed a special Commissioner, Colonel John S. Hawkins, and a chief
astronomer and surveyor, Captain Robert W. Haig, to work with Campbell and
Parke in surveying and marking the land portion of the boundary. The work of
the commissions came to an end on May 7, 1869, when the commissioners held
their last meetings in Washington.
THE WORK BEGINS: Campbell and the U.S. commission reached what would
be their base camp in Semiahmoo Bay in June 1857, and met with his British
counterparts for the water boundary, Captains Prevost and Richards, both of
the Royal Navy. They soon disagreed on which channel separated the mainland
and Vancouver Island. This disagreement escalated into what was called the
"Pig War" (over the shooting of a Hudson’s Bay Company pig by an American
settler) in the San Juan Islands and was not settled until 1872 by arbitrator
Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany.
WORKING TOGETHER BUT SEPARATE: Since Campbell could not
continue his survey of the water boundary, he decided to begin the land
survey instead of waiting for the British land contingent to arrive. The
Americans worked on their own from June 1857 until Hawkins and the Royal
Engineer’s arrival in June, 1858. The first meeting between the two
Commissioners in August 1858 at Semiahmoo immediately resulted in
disagreement. Hawkins wished to cut out the entire boundary and mark it
with iron monuments. Campbell disagreed because of cost, but did agreed
that the boundary shall be "marked where it crosses streams of any size,
permanent trails or any striking natural features." This marking consisted of
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