Bridge Between 2 Nations

Canadian and American FlagsSpanning the miles. Reaching across the centuries. The United States and Canada – two countries that share the world’s longest undefended border – have stood as staunch allies in times of War and peace. On July 4, 2012, the establishment of the southernmost Binational Peace Garden in St. Marys (next to historic Oak Grove Cemetery) further united these two great nations.

The Binational Alliance and the Peace Garden Trail project were formed in 2000 in order to promote and expand cross-border tourism between Canada and the United States. One way in which this mandate is being carried out is through a series of Peace Gardens located throughout Canada and America.

St. Marys’ Binational Peace Garden Sister City is Fort Erie, Ontario (located directly across the Niagara River from Buffalo, New York).

One might wonder what two such seemingly disparate locations as St. Marys and Fort Erie have in common. But they are bound by mutual history, a world of water, and two nations united by the flow of tourists that cross the Peace Bridge (located in Fort Erie) between the United States and Canada. Annual tourism for the Peace Bridge translates to more than 6 million vehicles per year and $40 billion in tourism and trade. With St. Marys featured on the sign at the entrance to the Peace Bridge, those millions of tourists will now be introduced to Fort Erie’s Binational Peace Garden Sister City over a thousand miles away.

Roughly 22 million people visit the Niagara region (and the Peace Gardens) each year. “Visit Florida” (the state’s official tourism marketing agency) estimates that approximately 3.05 million Canadians visited Florida in 2010. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development Tourism Division, Canada is the #1 origin market and is #1 for visitor spending for international travelers to Georgia. In 2010, the Canadian Consulate reported that over 421,000 Canadians visited Georgia and spent an estimated $99 million while here. It’s forecast that Canada is to account for 31% of the projected international tourism growth through 2016. A few more Canada-Georgia facts:

  • 249,200 jobs in Georgia depend on Canada–U.S. trade
  • 156 Canadian-owned companies in Georgia employ 19,430 people
  • Georgia sells more goods to Canada than to any other country in the world
  • Total Canada–U.S. goods and services trade: $627 billion

But those are just numbers. Let’s pause to consider what has created this Sister City partnership.

Within St. Marys historic Oak Grove Cemetery is the final resting place of the Acadians who were driven by the British from Acadia (an area that encompassed Quebec and portions of the Maritime provinces). After years of sorrow, fear and loss, they found refuge in St. Marys in the late 1700s.

In 1812, the United States declared War on the British Empire. Fierce and bloody battles took place around the Great Lakes and the Niagara region. An American army under the command of General William Hull invaded Canada on July 12. Once on Canadian soil, Hull issued a proclamation ordering all British subjects to surrender, or “the horrors, and calamities of War will stalk before you.”

On July 17, British Rear Admiral George Cockburn recommended Washington as a prime target, because of the comparative ease of attack and “the greater political effect likely to result.” August 24, 1814: after defeating the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg, a British force occupied Washington D.C. and set fire to many public buildings. The facilities of the U.S. government, including the White House and U.S. Capitol, were largely destroyed.

Admiral Cockburn went on to wage further havoc—this time in a small and sleepy coastal town known as St. Marys. Held after the December 1814 signing of the Treaty of Ghent, the “Forgotten Battle of the War of 1812” began when Cockburn anchored off Cumberland Sound that same month. January 10, 1815 brought the arrival of HMS Dragon and by January 11, the British had landed in force to plan their attack.

On January 13, five days after General Jackson’s defeat of the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the British landed at Kings Bay Plantation and made their way north to Fort Point Peter, just minutes from St. Marys downtown waterfront. U.S. Captain Abraham Massias had left only 36 men to defend the fort, and the battle was over by late evening as Point Peter fell to Cockburn and his 1500 troops. The British forces proceeded on: ending their occupation only after looting downtown St. Marys and burning the fort to the ground.

After refusing to hand over more than $120,000 in currency and bonds, U.S. Major Archibald Clark, St. Marys customs collector, was imprisoned aboard the HMS Primrose, anchored in Cumberland Sound. Admiral Cockburn occupied Clark’s home on the main street of St. Marys until the British departure in 1815. Clark’s home still stands on Osborne Street, the oldest private residence in St. Marys, and the widow of one of Clark’s descendants still occupies the home.

The War of 1812 began in Canada and ended in St. Marys, Georgia, with the Battle of Point Peter. Add to that the history of the Acadians, our heritage and our path through time, and there’s powerful and compelling mutual history between St. Marys and Fort Erie.

Through the Binational Alliance, St. Marys is now listed on countless websites/social media/print publications (travel and 1812) and is being promoted by the 8,000 writers of the International Travel Writer’s Alliance. The St. Marys Peace Garden was profiled at Canada Blooms (North America’s largest Home and Garden week-long event) and garnered a great deal of attention from attendees.

Above all, the Peace Garden Trail celebrates 200 years of brotherhood between two nations—Canada and the United States. For two centuries they have stood shoulder to shoulder in times of War and peace. They have turned to one another when help was needed, celebrated their victories, mourned their losses, and shared a culture that is far more notable for its similarities than its differences. Together the United States and Canada have walked through history and emerged as allies and friends.

The St. Marys Binational Peace Garden dedication occurred on July 4, 2012, and included local, state and international dignitaries, Arlene White, the Executive Director of the Binational Alliance, Robert Pengelly, Consul, the Consulate General of Canada in Atlanta, Georgia, a Naval color guard, the unveiling of the commemorative signage, and musical performances. Both nations’ flags now fly proudly in the serene greenspace as a salute to lasting peace.

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Image: Provided by author
Alex Kearns

Alex Kearns

Alex writes for a variety of national and international publications. A relative newcomer to the United States, she co-founded her town's first environmental organization (The St. Marys EarthKeepers, Inc.). In turns bemused, confused, entranced, frustrated and delighted, she enjoys unravelling the eternal enigma that is the Deep South.