Monument to the San Juan Crisis

by John M. MacFarlane 2017

In August 1964 thirty Officer Cadets of the University Naval Training Division (UNTD) visited San Juan Island in Washington State as part of their sea training in a harbour craft. The visit took on an official character as the visit was combined with the placement of an historic commemorative plaque on behalf of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.

The Maritime Museum of British Columbia had arranged for an historic marker to be erected at the site of the new Washington State Historic Site commemorating the Boundary Dispute of 1860–1872. Colonel J.W.D. Symons (the Director of the Museum) and Commander Freddie Grubb RCN (the Museum’s Secretary) accompanied the plaque and made the formal presentation to the Washington State Parks.

The San Juan Crisis (as it has become known) was a potentially calamitous situation marking a low point in US–Canada relations. Of course it was not Canada at the time – it was British Columbia.

San Juan Island

The English Encampment of the occupying force. (Photo courtesy of Maritime Museum of British Columbia 4496)

San Juan Island

The Bastion as it was rebuilt. (Photo courtesy of Maritime Museum of British Columbia P1276l)

The Historic Park eventually was recognized as a United States National Historic Site and it is currently administered by the US Government.


The Royal Marine cemetery at Garrison Bay holding the remains of seven men who died during the twelve years of joint occupation of the island.

On the Northwest corner of San Juan Island is a small cemetery with a plaque that reads: "English Cemetery. In memory of seven members of the Royal Marines and one civilian who died here during Boundary Negotiations 1860-1872. Erected by the University Naval Training Divisions, Royal Canadian Navy for the Maritime Museum of BC. August 1964. The cemetery is still maintained on the island.

San Juan Island

The Canadian representative contingent of Officer Cadets from the University Naval Training Division (UNTD). The ceremony took place under the Garry Oaks. (Photo courtesy of Maritime Museum of British Columbia P1859)

San Juan Island

Participants in the ceremony from the USA and Canada gather for a group photograph. (Photo courtesy of Maritime Museum of British Columbia P2472b)

Bill Clearihew summed it up, "It all dates back to unresolved boundary issues after the War of 1812. American expansion in the west was achieved by an infiltration of traders, hunters and settlers, followed by a demand for American rights, then seizure by threat of war. When the Americans went to war with Mexico over the Old Southwest, the British thought it wise to agree to the 1846 Oregon Treaty. It gave the United States undisputed possession of the Pacific Northwest south of the 49th parallel. Rather than cutting off the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the boundary was to run through the middle of the channel separating Vancouver Island from the mainland, thence through the middle of the Juan de Fuca Strait to the Pacific. Unfortunately it was unclear which island channel was to be used – Haro Strait, nearest Vancouver Island or Rossario Strait, nearest the American mainland. Hence both countries claimed the San Juan Islands in the middle.

By 1859 there were 18 Americans living on San Juan. When one of them shot a pig owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, rather than submit to British legal authority, the American citizens requested military protection. Captain George E. Pickett (of Gettysburg fame) was sent with a company of 9th U.S. Infantry. The British responded with three warships. Finally cooler heads prevailed and determined not to involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig. General Winfield Scott (of War of 1812 fame), Commanding General of the U.S. Army, proposed a joint military occupation until a final settlement could be reached. Thus the Royal Marines set up a camp on Garrison Bay on the NW tip of the island and the Americans established their camp on the SE tip. The joint military occupation lasted for 12 years until a three man arbitration commission under Wilhelm I of Germany ruled in favour of the United States."

Campbell Rayner

UNTD Officer Cadets Michael Campbell and Michael Rayner display the plaque at Royal Roads before departing for San Juan Island.

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2017) Monument to the San Juan Crisis. 2017.

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