Monday, September 19, 2011


Pig War boundaries - from Wikepedia
It’s not that unusual for livestock to escape their enclosures whether it is for the greener grass on the other side of the fence, or for males to seek female company. But 150 years ago a roaming pig that broke into a garden nearly caused a war between nations, and gave the Gulf Islands a bit of colourful history.
In 1846 the Oregon Treaty divided the unclaimed land in this region between the United States and Britain. Everything below the 49th parallel was to be American, and everything above it British Canada. Vancouver Island, which dips below the 49th parallel, was kept intact and separate from the American mainland by the Treaty stating that the border would be along the middle of the channel. However, the wording created uncertainty because there are actually two channels – Haro and Rosario - separating Vancouver Island from the U.S., each running on either side of San Juan Island before merging into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As a result, both nations claimed San Juan Island.
In the early 1850’s, the Hudson’s Bay Company brought 1,369 sheep, seed for crops and farm animals including Berkshire pigs to establish a farm on San Juan Island. The sheep thrived there and their numbers swelled to over 4,000. The pigs also found plentiful food, occasionally in the gardens of the American settlers who also came to the island to establish farms. It wasn’t long before one particular British pig was shot and killed for rooting up and eating an American settler’s potatoes. The pig belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company, who called for the arrest of the American who killed the pig. The American settlers called for military protection by the US military, and the HBC called for the British to come and protect their interests. The American troops set up camp, and the governor of British Columbia, James Douglas, ordered three war ships to San Juan Island to scare them away with orders to not shoot unless shot at. Even though much smaller in numbers, the American force would not budge.
American President James Buchanan was shocked that an international crisis had erupted over a dead pig. He sent his Commanding General to negotiate, and both nations agreed to joint military occupation. Each established a small camp at either end of the island while the issue of sovereignty was determined. True to form, the British camp was lovely, complete with formal gardens and tea parties. During the next twelve years, the British and American military camps behaved in a very civilized manner, each visiting each other’s camps to celebrate their respective national holidays. They enjoyed various sports competitions. It has been said that the biggest threat to peace on the island during that time period was the large amounts of alcohol available.
The standoff was concluded twelve years later, when the issue was referred to and resolved by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. He formed a commission that decided in favour of the United States, and San Juan Island is now exclusively American.
The Pig War is commemorated in San Juan Island National Historical Park. Today the Union Jack still flies above the "British Camp", being raised and lowered daily by park rangers, making it one of the very few places without diplomatic status where US government employees regularly hoist the flag of another country. Each year the event is celebrated with re-enactments in full costume and picnics at the British Camp and American Camp site.
In recent years on Pender Island a “Pig War” was started when a previous local Trust committee was going to ban pigs from small acreages. The Farmer’s Institute and supporters fought back and won the right to have pigs. It is rumored – in true Gulf Island form – that the owner of the killed San Juan Island pig fled to Pender Island, and his descendants live there today. In any case, pig farming is viewed by many as either an enjoyable livestock enterprise or a messy, smelly form of farming better left in someone else’s back yard.

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