Vigilis a tribute to Blaine’s early days

Published on Thu, Oct 19, 2006 by Jan Hrutfiord

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Vigil is a tribute to Blaine’s early days

By Jan Hrutfiord

?Blaine’s existence depended upon ships. The first visitors came here by sailing ship – explorers from Spain and England, starting with Drake in 1579, and the legendary Juan de Fuca in 1592, to find new lands to claim for their countries, and furs and other valuable cargoes to trade for. In 1778, Captain Cook sailed to the north coast of America. In 1792 Captain Vancouver (who earlier sailed with Cook) named Drayton Harbor, Mt. Baker, and Birch Bay, while having maps made of this area.

Then in 1858, the surveyors came, and camped on Semiahmoo spit while they were marking the 49th parallel border between Point Roberts and the Cascade Crest.

The settlers came by ship to claim homes and farms and businesses. They first set up a town on Semiahmoo spit, and soon a second town was formed across the bay. The first salmon packing plant was started for barreled salmon in 1863 at Semiahmoo. There were no docks, those who wanted to come here had to get off the ship and row or wade ashore. There were 20 settlers at Semiahmoo during that time.

The old steam stern wheeler ferry H.B. Libby brought most of the first pioneers to Semiahmoo and Blaine in the 1870s. Due to the dense forests, settlers had to live near the shores of Drayton Harbor, Birch Bay and Dakota and California creeks. Travel was by rowboat or ships. In 1871, the first school was formed on California Creek, serving children from the border to Custer. The students had to walk or row to get there.
The first industries in the Blaine area were fishing, logging, and farming. In 1884 the town of Concord was formed across the bay from Semiahmoo and was soon renamed Blaine. Docks were extended out across the tide flats to deeper water so ships could come in and serve the new businesses along the shoreline. New businesses included lumber and shingle mills, and salmon and crab canneries.

In 1888 a bridge over California Creek was completed, allowing travel by stage from Whatcom to New Westminster.

The world’s largest fish cannery was built on Semiahmoo spit in 1898, built by the newly formed Alaska Packers Association, on the site of the Drysdale Cannery, built in 1892. Workers came from near and far – Chinese immigrants from California and Oregon, American Indians from local tribes, settlers’ families from Blaine, to work in the cannery, and to fish the seas for the abundant salmon runs. There were fish traps built along Birch Point and Point Roberts, with tender boats to collect the harvest and bring it back to the cannery. The Star Fleet, a fleet of big sailing ships, was built and served the APA canneries from Alaska to California.

In 1890 the first trains came to Blaine, and in 1910 the Great Northern Rail Road tracks were laid in their present location along the shoreline of Drayton Harbor.

In 1905, the Drayton Harbor Company planted oysters in Drayton Harbor. The Semiahmoo Lighthouse was built to warn ships away from the sand bar off of Semiahmoo Spit.

In 1934 salmon traps were outlawed, and the salmon harvest was then caught by boats using nets. Blaine’s harbor was improved to house the local fishing fleet. Fishers went farther away in their efforts to catch salmon - Bristol Bay fishermen were fishing for salmon out of little sailing ships, and the catch was taken to APA canneries and others, in Alaska and Washington.

Other fishermen went out for bottom fish, fishing the coasts of Washington and Alaska. Their families stayed behind to keep up their homes, raise the children, tend the livestock, and run the businesses of Blaine.

The harbor at Blaine has been enlarged and improved several times, resulting in the safe and modern harbor which we have today. There are still several fish plants in operation at the Blaine Harbor site.
Local fishing boats dock here in Blaine harbor, and the fishermen go to far fishing grounds to catch salmon, cod, halibut, crab, and other fish. Their women are still here to take care of raising the children, and caring for the home and local businesses while their husbands, fathers and brothers are away at sea.

These mothers, grandmothers and children still form a Vigil, watching and waiting for the return of the ships from the far seas.