We Closed the Border, in a Canadian Way

By | March 1, 2022

When I attended the University of British Columbia, I helped organize a protest against the US testing of nuclear weapons in Amchitka, a tectonically unstable Alaskan island in the Pacific Ocean close enough to the fault lines to be of concern.

Photo from – Start: HOW TO THREAD THE ACADEMIC MAZE: pg 15 Published jointly by the Alma Mater Society and the Administration of the University of British Columbia.

Our fear was an earthquake and then a tsunami could be created by the tests that would impact the west coast of Canada. My job was to organize the protest placards for people to hold up.  Others organized buses, the speakers, and equipment (mikes, amplifiers, etc.) for the event.

Buses were staged from the university campus to take demonstrators to the border. There was limited access and parking at the site where we were going.

Between five and seven thousand of us gathered at Peace Arch Park to close the border between the US and Canada for a couple hours.

The Peace Arch had been built as a symbol of friendship and mutual respect between the two countries. We believed that friendship and respect was being betrayed.

It was a very Canadian demonstration – organized, polite, respectful, coordinated with the RCMP so they could divert traffic to a nearby truck border crossing to minimize the inconvenience of others. 

When our time was up, the RCMP officers came over and let us know that they would like to allow traffic through again. We complied; we are Canadian.  We filed people back onto the buses and away we went back to our campus.

We coordinated our efforts with students across the country and border closures happened at various points in the east as well.

It was not like the US financed truckers rally that recently closed the border in a few locations.  There was no intimidation, no thuggery, no violence, no shifting reasons for the action.

We stuck to our issue to make our point.  Everything was about that issue.

A group of people tried to cross the border from the US side to join our protest. They were physically tackled and wrestled to the ground by US authorities before they could get to the assembled crowd. That was definitely a good demonstration of the differences in cultures.

Speeches were made. Once we established our point of view, we got back on our buses and returned to campus feeling we had made our voices heard. The media picked up the story and reported it, maybe not as fairly as we would have wished.

There was no violence; no one got hurt – unless those trying to join from the US were injured by the US authorities.

My sign, “Stop My Ark’s Not Finished,” got picked up in photos of the event. I was sarcastic even then and making a point about the possible tsunami.

We were supported by Canadian student groups closing the Ambassador Bridge and the Peace Bridge in Sarnia. The Ambassador Bridge is a privately owned US bridge, to be replaced by the Gordie Howe International bridge now under construction. It was the target of the “truckers” convoy.

The Amchitka demonstration at the Peace Arch was the spark that led directly to the formation and rise of Greenpeace, the highly influential, international environmental activist organization. Greenpeace is still significant today. While it started in Vancouver, it is no longer local. It now operates in more than 50 countries.

One could say that Greenpeace was the real tidal wave the Amchitka bomb test released.

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