SAN JUAN ISLAND
The weather report was bad but a winter getaway called to celebrate our anniversary — a week early because everything was booked for our day which is Valentine’s Day. We decided to stay on the largest island in the town of Friday Harbor, the county seat of San Juan County made up of an archipelago of four lightly populated islands and a spray of others that adjoin those in Canada that continue up the Inside Passage. The hotel, Friday Harbor House, had a fireplace and we had books and a bottle of wine. Best of all our room overlooked the Washington State Ferry dock. We planned to settle in to watch rain, trading cabin fever at home for cabin fever on an island.
The forecaster was wrong. The morning came with more sun and, instead of sitting on our bottoms, we headed out to explore the island, one so peaceful and safety conscious even the animals wear masks.
Roche Harbor was the first destination. Now a luxury development with visitors arriving in yachts and seaplanes, the hotel built in 1883 as a home for the John McMillian family still welcomes visitors. The property was first quarried by the British to exploit limestone, a sedimentary rock composed mainly of skeletal fragments of marine organisms. It is processed for use in road surfaces and to manufacture concrete, mortar, glass and iron; and to neutralize acidity in soil used for agriculture. McMillian industrialized the site which operated from 1886 – 1956 when the site was sold for a resort. Lime kilns are still part of the scene.
Nearby is an outdoor sculpture garden which hosts an eclectic display of art. Very eclectic to say the least: a driftwood kangaroo placed near Northwest Native Art just one example.
But the major attraction of the island is the San Juan Island National Historical Park, the two sections, a monument to the possibility of peaceful dispute settlements.
In 1846 the Oregon Treaty established the 49th parallel as the boundary between Canada and the U.S. While both sides agreed that all of Vancouver Island would remain British, the treaty did not specify which channel the boundary should follow between the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, resulting in a boundary dispute. The escalating dispute led to the Pig War in 1859 when an American settler shot a trespassing prize boar owned by an employee of the Hudson Bay Company leading to a protracted diplomatic confrontation. It continued until the issue was weirdly placed in the hands of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany for arbitration in 1871. The border, through Haro Strait, was finally established in 1872. History does not reveal who got the sausage or bacon.
Here’s a short video that the describes the conflict and peaceful resolution. https://vimeo.com/103012997
As a side note: Two of the American military men involved later became renown for other reasons: Henry Roberts, later a general in the Civil War established Roberts Rules of Order, and George Pickett, Confederate leader of the deadly and decisive Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.
We began at English Camp where the British Flag is still raised and lowered every day. Lucky were the English who were quartered here with a sheltered harbor, an enlisted men’s vegetable garden bounded with clipped boxwood, gorgeous old trees dotting the camp. The British Government not far away on Vancouver Island took care of their men.
Next was a stop at the beautiful Lime Kiln State Park where we stopped to walk to the lighthouse and watch the container ships passing between our island and Vancouver Island through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Whales often are seen here but we weren’t lucky.
The American Camp and Cattle Point (location of a Hudson Bay Company Sheep Farm and 1935 lighthouse) are on the southeastern tip of the island and a complete contrast to the English Camp. The area is directly facing the Salish Sea and Strait where ocean waves roll in with great force carrying driftwood, and the winds bend the grass of the prairie that covers most of the site. Hikers with kids and dogs blew along the trails as the wind whistled. We could not see any structures from the actual camp except a large earthen redoubt.
It showered the evening before our departure, the first we’d seen, and in a hopeful sign, a glorious rainbow appeared over the ferry as if to signal a happy year ahead. A few days later the Pacific Northwest winter stormed back with a blizzard!
All photos copyright Judith Works
You two really got lucky with the weather. Great photos. I love the San Juans.
Gorgeous photos! Makes me want to visit!
What a great history lesson. And that rainbow, beautiful. You can never trust the weather around here. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you, Judith, for the beautiful photos and the great history lesson. Although I have many happy memories of Roche Harbor, your illuminating words filled in gaps in my storehouse of local history.
Behind the Story
Wonderful photos (as usual). I enjoyed reading the stories and facts about San Juan Island. I’m glad you had such good weather. And what a stroke of luck to be in the perfect spot to capture the rainbow.
My favorite spot on the island is Roche Harbor, partially because it brings back good memories. I was in Jr. High when my family sailed there on the 20-foot cabin cruiser my dad built. Then when I was in college, my sister and I rode our bikes from Friday Harbor and stayed at the Hotel de Haro.
Beautiful blue skies! Loved exploring San Juan Island many years ago and staying in one of Roche Harbor’s old rental houses on the resort grounds. The bar was hopping at night with people from their boats and yachts. The memorial in the woods across the road made the biggest impression.
Looks like a wonderful celebration for your golden anniversary!