Fort Vancouver, located just over the expansive Lower Columbia River in Washington (state number 37), was the headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s operations in the Pacific Northwest, it was the main supply depot and administrative center for dozens of posts from 1829 until 1849. Many American emigrants were supplied here until the Company left in 1860. Under the direction of Chief Factor John McLoughlin, Fort Vancouver played a critical role in the development of the Northwest.
We watched a movie in the Visitor Center that detailed life at the Fort in the mid 1800’s and also that this area was part of Lewis and Clark’s trail across the USA. There is a great Junior Ranger program online (www.nps.gov) that can be completed without going to a Visitor Center but involves reading up about some of Lewis and Clark’s historical journey. We’ll be completing it at some point but I wanted us to actually go on part of the trail and have an awareness of how challenging their travels were.
There was a great little museum in the Visitor Center that gave some initial answers to their Junior Ranger programs. The younger ones were also excited to discover a coloring table, which it was tough to pull them away from to actually go and look around the Fort!
A brief synopsis of the Fort: As the 19th century dawned, the United States and Great Britain were locked in a struggle for control of North America’s northern Pacific coast, a region rich in furs. By 1818 the two nations had agreed to share access to the Oregon Country, as they had come to call the region, until they could decide upon a boundary. Seven years later, in a bold move designed to anchor Britain’s claim to all of Oregon, the Hudson’s Bay Company, the giant fur trading organization, moved its Columbia Department headquarters from Fort George at the mouth of the Columbia to the newly established Fort Vancouver, 100 miles upstream. For the next two decades Fort Vancouver was directed by strong-willed, capable men who made it into the fur trade capital of the Pacific coast.
The entire Fort area was burned to the ground in the late 1800’s and is slowly being rebuilt by the NPS. They have done an amazing job; we were able to look in the Counting House, where employees would have worked 14 hour days, writing and reading by candlelight, passing the farming area on the way in. We looked around the Carpenter Shop and then onwards into the Bastion, which was Nathan’s favorite - he loves the cannons.
The Palisade surrounding the fort was expanded at least five times, by 1845 it enclosed an area 734 feet by 318 feet. Douglas fir posts about 15 feet high afforded privacy as well as protection from theft and attack. The British had great relations with the Indians in the area; they would frequently come to trade their furs, particularly for the ‘Fort Vancouver blanket’, apparently a much-coveted item. However, they were more fearful of an attack by the supposedly unruly and chaotic Americans in the area, particularly towards the end of their time at this location.
The kids really enjoyed the Trading Store and asked a lot of questions of the volunteer there. They were able to touch a number of different skins; the usefulness of the Fort became short-lived due to the waning interest in using beaver belts for hats back in GB. There were so many different trading items that the kids were able to handle: twisted tobacco, blocks of soap, beads, necklaces, thimbles (that the Indian women would put a hole through and add to their dresses – the more trinkets/beads you had, the higher up in the tribe you were), an interesting fire-starter kit with flint, strike and magnifying glass – Jake thought that one was cool.
We’d hoped to see the blacksmith in action, unfortunately he wasn’t around today. We did see some of the Rangers working on an archeological, blocked-off, area. Apparently it was previously dug about 40 years ago but methods have since been refined so they are re-looking at certain areas; such meticulous work and even when the rain began pouring down, they continued with what they were doing.
Another exciting area of interest for the kids was the privy. They couldn’t wait to run over to it and look inside. We were laughing that a number of people could sit on different ‘holes’ at the same time – social gathering place perhaps?! Nate, of course, sat himself on one of the ‘potties’ and requested a photo. I would hasten to add that these were not in use and only for show; we typically don’t make a habit of photographing our kids as they’re sitting on the loo! Dave was surprised how close they were to the other buildings; no doubt the stench was somewhat unpleasant.
We enjoyed this Park, the JR program was interesting and we gained a lot of new information.
On the way home, we stopped off at Urgent Care, this time I was the one who needed doctor advice. Unfortunately he diagnosed a sinus infection, on the plus side, negative strep test and antibiotics, so hopefully by the time I fly, I’ll be well on the way to feeling better.
States visited: 49!
visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800
Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)