Blaine is a sweet seaside village steeped in Salish Sea history. The border community is on the shores of Drayton Harbor, with proximity to Washington’s San Juan Islands and Point Roberts and British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and Sunshine Coast. Because of its strategic location, vessels of all types have been going to and from the Blaine area for centuries.
Canoes carved from huge western red cedar logs carried indigenous people along these shores to their fishing grounds and villages. With few roads to travel by land, early settlers depended on boats for moving goods and people. In the late 19th century, a fleet of steamboats known as the Mosquito Fleet delivered mail and supplies to Blaine and other coastal communities.
The town was also a jumping off point for those seeking their fortune during the 1858 Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. The E Street Wharf was built in 1886 from logs cleared from land surrounding E Street (now known as Marine Drive). Today, this area is what we know as Blaine Harbor, home to a state-of-the-art marina.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Blaine became one of the busiest harbors in the Northwest. Steam ships and schooners crowded the harbor, waiting to take goods to market. The lumber and shingle mills that helped rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake lined Blaine’s shore.
For nearly 80 years, the Alaska Packers Association operated a salmon cannery on Semiahmoo Spit, a long thin strip of land reaching out into Drayton Harbor. The cannery was a regional hub for the industry and is now the site of the Alaska Packers Association Cannery Museum, which tells the story of the Northwest fish trade.
Today, Blaine Harbor remains an active fishing hub. Come summer, the commercial fleet swells to more than 100 boats that haul in a bounty of salmon, Dungeness crabs, and oysters, which support several seafood companies. Blaine embodies the best of small-town charm with a Main Street lined with flower baskets hanging from lamp posts, and it is a must-stop the next time you’re in the area.
Drayton Harbor is a shallow body of water in the lower curved shoreline of Semiahmoo Bay. The US-Canada border slices through the middle of Semiahmoo Bay, which takes its name from indigenous term for half-moon.
We approach the Drayton Harbor entrance by staying offshore, consulting a detailed chart and passing between the entrance markers. At the tip of Semiahmoo Spit stands the iconic water tower, a remnant of Alaska Packers Association Cannery. Keeping an eye on the depth sounder, we follow the channel to the marina entrance to port, entering through an opening in the piling breakwater, and follow the signs to the 800-foot guest moorage dock in the middle of the marina. Blaine Harbor is the northernmost marina on the West Coast of the U.S.
The harbor is home for 500 pleasure boats and a fleet of commercial fishing vessels. The marina offers plenty of amenities for boaters from either side of the border, the Peace Arch at the 49th parallel is within sight, as are the Canadian Gulf Islands and the waterfront community of White Rock, B.C.
Visit the Arch
A short walk from town is the 67-foot-high Peace Arch, which straddles a tiny portion of the 3,000-mile U.S.-Canadian boundary, in Peace Arch International Park. The arch was constructed in 1921 to commemorate the centennial of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. The Treaty of Ghent ended the war of 1812 between the U.S and Great Britain, a conflict waged in North America that involved Canadians as well as Americans and British.
Made of concrete and reinforced steel, the Peace Arch is said to be one of the first structures in North America constructed to be earthquake proof. The Peace Arch International Park covers 40 acres and the southern side of the park is maintained by Washington State Parks and the north by British Columbia Provincial Parks. The gardens are bejeweled in color with more than 200 perennials and 35,000 annual species planted each year. Over 500,000 visitors tour the park annually. It’s one of a few landmarks in the world listed on the Register of Historic Places in two countries.
Walk in the Park
Across the road from the marina is Blaine Marina Park. The park is a birdwatcher’s haven, with ample opportunities to sight a significant number of avian species in the vast tidelands. The park includes a sculpture of orcas, a children’s playground, an amphitheater, grassy areas, picnic sites, a view of the international border crossing, and access to the beach.
A path winds through the park to the Blaine Public Pier, a popular spot for anglers to cast their lines and patiently wait for a bite. During crab season, folks line up to toss their traps over the side in hopes of Dungeness crab for dinner. Returning to the marina along the south boardwalk, we pass the local commercial fishing fleet and seafood businesses where fishermen sell their fresh catch.
Even as a border town, Blaine has managed to maintain a sense of genuine community and preserve a Victorian-era feel with period lamp posts and colorful hanging flower baskets. The downtown district is only four blocks from the marina. Before arriving downtown, we pass the abandoned Blaine railroad station, an artifact of the early 20th century that provides a sense of what life was like back then. While the eclectic downtown is quiet compared to other border towns, Peace Portal Drive boasts Veterans Memorial Park, a visitor center, amphitheater, parklets, gift and specialty shops, bookstores, boutiques, espresso bars, pubs, and many ethnic restaurants. A nice discovery is Edaleen Dairy with its scream-worthy ice cream; there is also a bakery, a selection of cafes and coffee shops.
Take a Ride
Drayton Harbor Maritime, a local non-profit organization, has a mission to keep maritime history afloat. In 1995, this group of volunteers restored the historic Plover ferry, built in 1944 to carry cannery workers from Blaine Harbor to Semiahmoo Spit and dry docked in 1981. Thanks to their efforts, she is back on the water today ferrying passengers along her original route.
Plover now carries visitors between Blaine Harbor and Semiahmoo on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. A one-mile path from the Semiahmoo Marina leads to the Alaska Packers Association Cannery Museum housed in an original cannery building. The museum includes machinery from the local fishing industry, a full-scale model fish trap, an original sailboat used in Bristol Bay, and historic photos. For more information, visit draytonharbormaritime.com.
Time Your Visit
Blaine knows how to celebrate life and history in a small-town way. June through October, local vendors set up on the H Street Plaza on Saturdays for the weekly Gardener’s Market. The community’s old-fashioned Fourth of July festival is one of the largest in the county with a parade, street vendors, car show, live entertainment, and extravagant fireworks. The first weekend in August, Blaine celebrates its maritime heritage with the all-out Drayton Harbor Days Festival. The weekend is filled with activities for the whole crew. Other events include Wings Over Water Pacific NW Birding Festival (March), Hands Across the Border (June), Blaine Harbor Music Festival (July), Tall Ships (July), and the Peace Arch Park International Concert Series (August).