Fort Vancouver, constructed in 1821 as the headquarters for the Hudson Bay Company’s profitable Pacific Northwest operation, was a trading center, a community center, and a border marker dividing the British and American colonies. It was a large fort, with 20-foot high ramparts and 24 buildings, that overlooked the confluence of the Columbia and the Willamette Rivers.
The People of Fort Vancouver
Fort Vancouver boasted an international population comprised of mostly French-Canadiansas well as Métis and Kanaka Hawaiians. There were also English, Scots, Irish, and a variety of Indigenous peoples including Iroquois, Cree, Chinook, Nootka, and Chehalis that either lived in or frequently visited the fort.It was a fully functioning community, with all trades represented within its walls.
Life at Fort Vancouver
Among the replica log structures stands one building that is markedly different. Painted, decorated, and filled with all the comforts you’d find in well-established home, it offered superior living to the fort’s captain, his family, and important guests. The officers’ dinners were served on fine china with a variety of food arriving on ships and caught by trappers. A large, comprehensive garden located just outside the fort’s walls also provided produce and grains for the fort’s busy kitchens.
The officers’ dinners were served on fine china with a variety of food arriving on ships and caught by trappers. A large, comprehensive garden located just outside the fort’s walls also provided produce and grains for the fort’s busy kitchens.
Skilled craftsmen filled an important role at the fort. Seamstresses, blacksmiths, bakers, farmers, woodcraftsmen, and a school and chapel provided for the needs of the community.
The fort was also a resting and refueling place for the many people passing through the area. Trappers sold furs by the pound to the Hudson Bay Company and an onsite hospital and pharmacy became the only professional medical center in the area for many years and its doctors treated anyone in need who came to the fort. Settlers arriving in the Oregon Territory after month’s long journeys restocked their supplies and recuperated at the fort before going out to lay claim to their new homes.
Fort Vancouver played a significant role in North American history when, in 1845, it became the site of the signing of the historic Oregon Treaty of 1846. This established the 49thparallel border between the United States’ and Great Britain, one that still stands today as our international border with Canada. Captain Thomas Baille of the HMS Modeste led the negotiations and the room he stayed in during the event contains a few of his personal items.
Learning About the Past
Today, the fort is also a center of study. An archeological lab is located inside one of the log cabins, and live demonstrations, camps, and special events are regularly hosted on the fort’s grounds to give visitors a hands-on experience of life in a western fort.
What to Know Before You Go
Fort Vancouver is located on the north shore of the Columbia, west of I-5. It is part of the national park service and is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 9am-4pm during winter and 9am-5pm in summer. It’s closed during Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It’s Fourth of July fireworks show is one of the best you’ll find in Vancouver.