Peace, they say, begins between two people. If tea is included, so much the better.
In 1931, two nations sharing the world’s longest undefended border conceived a bold plan to promote peace. Canadian and American citizens envisioned an International Peace Park that would combine Glacier National Park with Waterton Lakes National Park.
My husband and I booked our visit there last fall, knowing we’d love the majestic scenery. Not to mention High Tea.
The First World War and the Great Depression had battered morale in both nations. People were wary of the future and weighed down by past horrors.
The proposed peace park would celebrate their linked national histories, and rich habitats, from glaciers to forests to prairies. No other protected area in the Rocky Mountain range would exhibit such diversity. Grizzly bears and wolves once hunted almost to extinction would have the chance to thrive again, the park eventually becoming one of the few places in North America to host all the native carnivores.
The new park would also model creative cooperation between nations. And it would draw the disheartened into the renewing beauty of wilderness.
One hundred members from Rotary clubs gathered on July 4, 1931, at the Prince of Wales Hotel, located along the U.S.-Canada border.
The historic hotel overlooks windswept Upper Waterton Lake, where gale-force winds are still common. Hotel staffers might have teasingly warned the guests, as they do today, of swinging chandeliers and whitecaps in the toilets.
Perhaps the Rotarians sipped tea. For the Americans who’d been chafing under Prohibition, beer was likely offered. Along with numerous toasts.
Attendees returned home, petitioned their governments, and one year later the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was dedicated.
Our visit in 2016 would coincide with the 100th anniversary of America’s National Parks. In spectacular terrain held sacred by the Blackfeet, Salish, and Kootenai tribes, we’d meet people committed to stewarding “all life, for all time.”
And, we’d take tea at the legendary Prince of Wales Hotel. I’d absorb history, geology, and wonder. Not to mention calories.
Before tea, we cruised up-lake on the historic flagship, M. V. International, a vessel in service since 1927.
We tied up at Goat Haunt Ranger Station, in the sheltered heart of the park, where the Peace Pavilion showcases the historic agreement.
Other exhibits explore park history, flora, and fauna. Photos and bios of past Nobel laureates adorn one wall. Sticky notes offer visitors space to pen their thoughts on fostering peace.
Faced with blank paper, my mind followed suit. But I thought about peace—and tea—on the cold, windy return trip.
The first tea party I remember involved one other person: my Uncle Dunkel.
He was a gentle, tormented veteran of the Korean War. Even so, Uncle Dunkel created a hush that held us. Every time. A poem I once wrote about him begins this way:
My best uncle came to tea like
a daddy longlegs, unfolding
his lanky frame in our corner nook. I
poured the tepid stream—
orange pop from a fist-sized pot. He
cradled his tiny, rose-sprigged cup,
That toy tea set still occupies its small wooden hutch in my office. Sometimes peace is a still life no one remembers to visit.
Suddenly, I wanted to toast those moments of peace, two people brought together, the small, delicate cups.
Sip and Nibble
Chilled from our boat ride, I hurried my husband into the dramatic hotel lobby.
Twenty-eight pillars of Douglas fir shouldered massive trusses, upholding 90 rooms, on five stories. Lit by a huge chandelier, the lobby was built with block and tackle and human muscle. Not so much as a nail marred the wood. Exacting mortise and tenon joints were reinforced with wooden pegs and iron braces.
Sunlit tables awaited, the backdrop a matchless vista.
Where else can you indulge in High Tea beside two-story windows framing pristine waters and mountains ranging down-lake in receding tiers, azure to palest blue?
A rosy waitress in a red plaid kilt served us:
• cranberry scones the size of a kneecap
• Saskatoon berry preserves
• smoked salmon finger sandwiches
• turkey/brie/vegetable wraps
• melt-on-the-tongue white cheddar cornbread
• apple cinnamon mini-muffins
• biscotti drenched in dark chocolate
• dense, rich brownies
We sipped Tea Forté with cream. Piquant South American gooseberries, big as ping-pong balls in their parchment-y husks, were offered to cleanse the palate between courses.
As we feasted, gulls wove aerial fractals over the glittering waters below. A saucer’s throw from our table, four Bighorn rams roamed the lawn.
So many pleasures. As poet Robert Service once said, a place “plumb full of hush.”
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is not (quite) perfect. Over time, both park and hotel have experienced closures due to recurring road problems, blizzards, forest fires, and war.
Sadly, a remodel removed the vivid friezes and pictographs created by area tribes, replacing them with wallpaper. Bedrooms retain dubious 1927 amenities. When did you last sleep beneath exposed pipes? Use a wall phone? Check into a spendy room with no shower or television?
Yet guests from sundry nations gather here, like the gal in the tank top with tattooed sleeves, the wiry European hikers, the flowerlike woman furled in a glorious sari, and the balding retiree, his Red Sox cap slung over one knee. All savor the view as well as the food.
And the local ranger still reads visitors this frayed clipping, folded into his wallet:
There is no area in America more replete with beauty
of the highest order than that comprised with these two
national parks . . . Tremendous glaciers of countless ages are encompassed, innumerable lakes, each a gem of its
kind . . . these are the describable features of this region.
But it has about it something indescribable. Perhaps
the imminent presence which broods over it and which is
universally felt may best be described as peace.
The Prince of Wales Hotel is open from Mid-May until late September.
Both parks have since been declared Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO, in the 1970s, and a World Heritage Site, in 1995 (1 of 500 in the world, and the only site consisting of adjoining parks in separate nations).
For more information, see High on a Windy Hill, by Ray Djuff, or visit the park website.
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Featured photo by Wilson Hui, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Laurie Klein, who writes about other National Parks in her poetry collection, Where the Sky Opens. Post photography by Laurie Klein. Used with permission.