was a 19th century fur trading
outpost along the Columbia River
that served as the
headquarters of the Hudson's Bay
in the company's Columbia
(which covered the northern half of the region known
to Americans as the Oregon Country
Captain George Vancouver, the fort
was located on the northern bank of the Columbia River in present-day Vancouver,
Washington, near Portland, Oregon.
Today, a full-scale replica of the fort,
with internal buildings, has been constructed and is open to the
public as Fort Vancouver National Historic
Fort Vancouver in 1845
The outpost was established in 1824. At that time, the
region known as the Columbia
District to the British, and increasingly as the Oregon Country to Americans, was jointly
occupied by the United
States and Britain; a situation
agreed to in the Anglo-American Convention of
British interests were represented by the Hudson's Bay Company
, which had
exclusive trading rights to most of the land that is now Western Canada
. To protect their
interests north of the Columbia
River, they sought to set up a headquarters somewhere along the
northern bank that would secure the area and act as the hub for
their fur trading in the Pacific
Northwest; replacing Fort George (Fort Astoria) in that capacity as it was on the river's south
bank and not as convenient to the inland trade.
Hudson's Bay Company Flag
Sir George Simpson
was instrumental in establishing the fort, and Dr. John McLoughlin
was its first Chief Factor
(manager); a position he held for
nearly 22 years. James
spent nineteen years in Fort Vancouver; serving as
until 1834 when he
was promoted to Chief Trader of the post.
would later be hailed as the Father of Oregon.
Against the Company's wishes he provided substantial aid and
assistance to westbound Americans settlers in the territory.
the company in 1846 to found Oregon City in the Willamette
When Simpson chose the fort's location; the Columbia River was the
boundary between British and U.S. interests. The
site he selected, on the opposite side of the Columbia River from
the mouth of the Willamette River
was flat and had easy access to the Columbia, yet was just outside
the flood plain.
The site was also picked because of the access to fertile farmland.
Simpson wanted the fort to be self-sufficient, as food was costly
to ship. In time Fort Vancouver produced a surplus of food, some of
which was used to provision other HBC posts and some of which was
exported for sale in Hawaii, Russian Alaska, and other markets. The
area around the fort was commonly known as "La Jolie Prairie" (the
pretty prairie) or Belle Vue Point ("beautiful vista").
was supplied by ships from the Pacific and by the overland York Factory Express trade route, which
evolved from an earlier express brigade used by the North West Company between Fort George (originally Fort Astoria, founded in 1811 by
John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company), at the mouth of
the Columbia River, to Fort
William on Lake
The modern reconstruction, showing the
outer palisade and the single corner tower
Following the forced merger of the North West Company and the
Hudson's Bay Company in 1821; the British Parliament imposed the
laws of Upper Canada
subjects in the Columbia District
and Rupert's Land
and gave the
authority to enforce the laws to the Hudson's Bay Company. John
McLoughlin, as chief factor of Fort Vancouver, applied the law to
British subjects, kept peace with the natives and sought to
maintain law and order amongst American settlers as well.
Route of the HBC York Factory Express,
1820s to 1840s.
Modern political boundaries shown.
By 1825, there were usually two York Factory Express brigades, each
setting out from opposite ends of the route. Each spring, one left
from Fort Vancouver and the other from York Factory on Hudson
They passed each other in the middle of the
continent. Each brigade consisted of about forty to seventy five
men and two to five specially made bateaux
Compared to other travellers of the time, they travelled quickly—an
1839 report cites the travel time as three months and ten
days—almost 26 miles (40 km) per day on average. These men
carried supplies in and furs out by boat, horseback and as back
packs for the forts and trading posts along the route. They also
carried status reports for supplies needed, furs traded, etc., to
and from Dr. John McLoughlin and the other fort managers along the
The practice of using bateaux
(boats) was adopted because
birch bark canoes
had proved too dangerous on the rivers of the Pacific Northwest. In
1820, Joe McKay of the HBC described the Columbia District
as "made from quarter-inch pine board, and are
thirty-two feet long, and six and a half feet wide in midships,
with both ends sharp, and without a keel—worked, according to the
circumstances of the navigation, with paddles, or with oars."
Indians along the way were often paid in trade goods to help them
portage around falls and unnavigable rapids.
to east, Fort Vancouver to York Factory, the express route ran as
follows: up the Columbia River past the posts of Fort Nez
Colvile to Boat Encampment (today under Kinbasket Lake), then over Athabasca Pass to Jasper House, down the Athabasca
River to Fort
overland to Fort
down the North Saskatchewan
River and Saskatchewan River
Winnipeg and via
House on the Nelson River.
Finally the brigade would travel down the
to York Factory on Hudson
The trade goods, supplies and mail which were moved overland in
this manner, were brought into Fort Vancouver and York Factory by
ship every year (they tried to maintain one year's extra supplies
to avoid disastrous ship wrecks, etc.). The furs they had traded
for blankets, tobacco and manufactured goods were shipped back on
the supply ships. Furs from Fort Vancouver were often being
shipped to China where they
were traded for Chinese goods before returning to England, with the furs from York Factory being sold in London in an annual
This continued until 1846, when the land on which
the fort was located changed from British to American
The fort was substantial. The palisades
that protected it were long, wide and about high. Inside there were
40 buildings, including housing, warehouses, a school, a library, a
pharmacy, a chapel, a blacksmith, plus a large manufacturing
facility. Outside the rampart
was additional housing, as well as fields, gardens, fruit orchards,
a shipyard, a distillery, a tannery, a sawmill, and a dairy. The
residential village, populated by employees, their families, and
others, was known as Kanaka Village
because of the many Hawaiians in company employ who lived there.
Fort Vancouver was by far the largest settlement of non-natives
west of the Great Plains at this time. The populace of the fort and
the surrounding area were mostly French-Canadians
; there were also English, Scots, Irish,
Hawaiians and a large variety of Native Americans including
common language spoken at the fort was Canadian French
. However trading and
relations with the surrounding community were done in Chinook Jargon
, a pidgin
of Chinook, Nootka, Chehalis,
English, French, Hawaiian and other elements. Company records and
official journals were kept in English, however, and English was
used at the head table.
Cots in the medical area of the
The fort was the center of activity in the Pacific Northwest.
year, ships and supplies from London arrived,
directly via the Pacific
Ocean, and overland via Hudson Bay.
trade goods were exchanged for the furs. Fort Vancouver was
the nexus for the fur trade on the Pacific Coast and its influence
reached from the Rocky Mountains to the Hawaiian Islands, and from Alaska into
Over time, Fort Vancouver diversified its economic activity and
began exporting agricultural foodstuffs from HBC farms, along with
salmon, lumber, and other products. It developed markets for these exports in
Russian Alaska, Hawaii, and Mexican California. The HBC opened agencies in Sitka, Honolulu, and Yerba Buena (San Francisco) to facilitate such trade. online at Google Books
At its pinnacle, Fort Vancouver
watched over 34 outposts, 24 ports, six ships, and 600
Map of the Oregon Country "jointly
occupied" by the US and Britain.
The influence of HBC's Columbia Department Headquarters at
Fort Vancouver extended from Russian Alaska to Mexican
The Hudson's Bay Company, which controlled the fur trade in much of
what Americans styled the Oregon
, had previously discouraged settlement because it
interfered with the lucrative fur trade. By 1838, however, American
settlers were coming across the Rocky
and their numbers increased each subsequent year.
from St. Louis,
Missouri and followed a fairly straight, but difficult,
route called the Oregon Trail.
For many settlers the fort became the last stop on the Oregon Trail
where they could get supplies before starting their
Belatedly realizing that settlement would eventually decide the
, Simpson established
the Puget Sound
around 1840 as a subsidiary of the
Hudson's Bay Company. The purpose of the company was ostensibly to
promote settlement by British subjects of land on the Pacific coast
of North America. Company operations were centered at Fort
Washington, where the company developed dairy, livestock and
Sir George Simpson
then instructed Alexander
to organize and lead a party of Red River Colony
settlers over the Rockies
into the Columbia District
settle on the HBC farms. Ross, fearing he was getting too old for
such an arduous journey, selected James Sinclair for the
In 1841, James Sinclair
guided a large party of nearly 200 settlers from the Red River
Colony west in an attempt to retain the Columbia District for
Britain. The British trappers, traders and settlers
followed the Red River north, then crossed Lake Winnipeg and followed the Saskatchewan River system to Fort Edmonton, then southwest. They crossed over the
Continental divide of the
Rocky Mountains via Sinclair Pass (near present day Radium Hot Springs) then down the Kootenay
River and Columbia River to Fort Vancouver.
was longer than the Oregon Trail
followed by the Americans, but easier. When the Sinclair settlers
arrived, McLoughlin was slow to settle them on Pugets Sound Agricultural
farms. Instead he encouraged them to settle in the
, with the
American settlers, where they could get free land.
During the Great Migration of
an estimated 700 to 1,000 American settlers arrived via
the Oregon Trail.
In 1846, McLoughlin resigned from service with the Hudson's Bay
Company for a homestead of his own. He founded Oregon City in the Willamette Valley.
That same year,
the Oregon Treaty
set the US–Canadian
border at the 49th parallel
, and Fort Vancouver was now within American territory.
the treaty ensured that the Hudson's Bay Company could continue to
operate and had free access to navigate the Strait of
Juan de Fuca, Puget
Sound, and the Columbia, company operations were
effectively stifled by the treaty and became unprofitable and were
soon closed down.
Fort Vancouver in 1859
In 1849, the U.S. Army set up the Columbia Barracks (later
Barracks) on a rise 20 feet (6 m) above the trading post,
fronting 1,200 yards (1100 m) on the river with buildings on a line
2,000 yards (1800 m) from the water.
While the Hudson's Bay Company continued to operate out of Fort
Vancouver, every year saw less and less fur trade and more and more
settlers and U.S. Army warfare against the HBC's former customer
base. During this time the Indian Wars
were happening in the west and famous military men such as Ulysses S. Grant
, Philip Henry Sheridan
, and George Crook
were stationed at the fort at
various times. Finally, on June 14
, the Hudson's Bay Company abandoned Fort Vancouver
and moved its operations north of the border. The U.S. Army
immediately renamed the combined location Fort
, changing the name again to Fort
. They used it for quarters and storage, with its
local population fluctuating seasonally, with the lowest strength
being 50 people in 1861. During the American Civil War
, detachments of the
Washington Territory Infantry Volunteers
were stationed here.
In 1866, most of the fort burned down in a large fire.
Fort Vancouver was rebuilt, with a layout that included two
double-story barracks on opposite sides of the parade ground, each
with a kitchen and mess room to the rear.
Seven log and four frame buildings served as officer's quarters.
The post remained in active service, being expanded for World War I
into Vancouver Barracks. In the
interwar years, the 5th Infantry Brigade was based there and from
1936 to 1938, it was commanded by future Army Chief of Staff
George C. Marshall
. Its final use was in World War II
when Vancouver Barracks was used
as a staging area for the Seattle Port of Embarkation
this time, the post included 3,019 acres
), and had billeting space for 250
officers and 7,295 enlisted persons. It was finally closed in 1946.
A plan was put together to preserve the location.
Because of its significance in United States history, Fort
Vancouver was declared a U.S.
National Monument on June 19, 1948, and redesignated
as Fort Vancouver National Historic
Site on June 30, 1961.
This was taken a step further in 1996 when
a 366-acre (1.48 km2
) area around the fort,
including Kanaka Village, the Columbia Barracks and the bank of the
river, was established as the Vancouver National Historic Reserve
maintained by the National Park
. It is possible to tour the fort. It is also the site
of a large fireworks
display, said to be
the largest 4th of
display west of the Mississippi River
, lasting for 31 minutes
and featuring 5,440 shells in 2008.
An earth-covered pedestrian land bridge was built over the Lewis and Clark Highway
, as part
of the Confluence Project
2007. It connects the site with the Columbia River.