In 1938, communities along the Canada-USA border looked for special ways to celebrate a century of peace between two friendly nations.
Just 100 years prior – during a four-day period in November 1838 – British troops and local militia defeated an invasion force of 300 American “Hunters” and Canadian rebels. This victory, at the Battle of the Windmill, prevented the invaders from capturing Fort Wellington and, therefore, blocking travel along the St. Lawrence River which would have left Upper Canada open to invasion. It was the last battle fought along the Canada-USA border.
In the years surrounding 1938, some border communities inaugurated bridges, including Ivy Lea (near Gananoque) and Collins Landing (near Alexandria Bay, NY), newly connected by the Thousand Islands Bridge. It didn’t matter that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King were on hand for the opening ceremony on August 18, 1938. Accounts from the day confirm that two children, Elinor Firth (Brockville) and Robert Kernehan, (Plessis, NY) stole the show. Their photo, illustrating for many a peaceful bond in the dark days leading up to WW II, appeared in major newspapers in Canada and the United States.
The Town of Prescott and City of Ogdensburg chose to jointly organize the St. Lawrence International Peace Centennial, a week of festivities on both sides of the river. The June 30th – July 6th, 1938 celebration included a Canada-United States historical pageant, power boat races, an international marathon swim, a band festival, and athletic contests.
One interesting aspect of the Peace Centennial, was the participation of two Prescotts: Prescott, ON and Prescott, AZ.
The latter’s Mayor at the time, Mayor Timerhoff, was given the green light, in March 1938, to accept Mayor Horan’s invitation to send a delegation to greet the Canadian Prescott. Mayor Timerhoff’s local paper, the Prescott Evening Courier, referred to the occasion as “a century of peace between two countries which do not need a lot of fixed bayonets pointed at each other as is the case in so many other countries in Europe.” In the same issue of the Courier, European headlines were, unfortunately, ominous: “France Ready to Reinforce Defences on Spanish Frontier”, “England to Speed Rearming to Match Hitler’s Might”, “Hitler Formally Locks Yoke Around Neck of Austria”, and “Reich is New Peril to Duce”.
A total of 9 American Prescotts (located in Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin) were invited to join Canada’s Prescottonians during the week-long observance.
The celebration’s opening remarks stressed that the century of peace being marked was an example for the rest of the world. There were stirring words from the organizers and special guests. The Prescott Journal tells us that organizers included “movers and shakers” from Prescott and Ogdensburg: A.C. Casselman (MP); Mayor J. Horan; Chamber president James P. Doyle; publicity chairman Lorne F. Knight, and secretary Wm. Hogle (Journal editor)…From the U.S. side were Senator George Graham; U.S. Consulate Attaché, John Farr Simmons; Sen. Bethram Snell; (and) Assemblyman H. Allen Newell…”
Prescott, AZ was pleased to ask Mrs. Marion Jones, who had previously lived in Prescott, ON to represent them. It was decided to “arm” her with 500 souvenir copper ashtrays, 1,000 aerial photos of Prescott, AZ, and 1000 copies of a specially printed booklet for the occasion.
A less well conceived aspect of the centennial week involved a Peace Bell. The 235-lb bell, presented to the Prescott Chamber of Commerce by the International Nickel Company Ltd., was initially the highlight of the St. Lawrence International Peace Centennial. The bell was engraved as follows: “St. Lawrence International Peace Centennial, Canada-United States, Prescott, Ont. 1838. July 1, 1938. Presented by the International Nickel Co. of Canada Ltd.”
“When we were invited,” wrote Robert C. Stanley, President of International Nickel (1922-49), “to present a bell for installation in the “Peace Tower” which commemorates this important centennial in the relations of Canada and the United States, we decided to have it cast in Inconel, a special alloy containing 80% nickel and representing the latest advance in the long evolution of nickel alloys from the Chinese paktong (which first appeared in the 12th century). The principal quality of this Inconel is high resistance to corrosion.”
The “Peace Tower” was supposed to have been built along the newly established Peace Avenue, which had been etched out on the west side of Fort Wellington, joining King and Dibble streets. The roadway was eliminated during a 1950s renovation of the Fort.
For years – without a permanent spot – the Prescott Chamber stored the Peace Bell at the old Town Hall, until its demolition in 1962. It was then kept by the Prescott Legion before being placed in front of the Prescott Fire Station.