John and I enjoyed a few days exploring “The Other Vancouver”, which is Vancouver, Washington. Located about two hours south of Seattle along the I-5, this Vancouver sits along the Columbia River and was incorporated in 1857, 29 years before Vancouver, BC.
While planning our trip to the “other” Vancouver in Washington State we knew there was one attraction we absolutely could not miss, and that was Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. This old Hudson’s Bay Company fort sits just up from the north bank of the Columbia River, near where the Lewis and Clark Highway crosses the I-5 as it heads south into Oregon.
The fort was established in 1824 by the Hudson’s Bay Company:
The Oregon Country/Columbia District was shared between the British and Americans in the Treaty of 1818, but the treaty was to expire in 1828 and since Fort George stood on the south side of the Columbia River, it would likely be awarded to the United States in any boundary agreement. After the North West Company merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821, the HBC administrator George Simpson suggested the creation of Fort Vancouver on the northern bank of the Columbia, but that it serve as secondary post to a larger trade hub further north near the mouth of the Fraser River.
In 1843, in the face of increasing US settlement, HBC moved the base of Fort Vancouver’s operations over to Fort Camuson, which we know as Fort Victoria today as well as Fort Langley.
In 1846 the Treaty of Oregon was ratified, and Fort Vancouver became part of the Oregon Territory of the United States. The Treaty permitted HBC to continue to operate the Fort Vancouver site even after the boundary dispute was settled, but they eventually abandoned the post in 1860.
It’s fascinating to tour around an old fort in Washington state, very close to Oregon, and have such a British (and therefor early Canadian) feel to the history. We loved walking around spotting Hudson’s Bay blankets, reading about relationships with the local First Nations, and chatting with the blacksmith who showed us what goes into a tin Hudson’s Bay fire kit.
Fort Vancouver is only a shadow of what it once was but the general grounds of the National Historic Site also contain an old apple orchard, barracks (about a hundred years old), officer’s row (where you’ll find Grant House), and the Pearson Air Museum.
Fire destroyed the fort itself in 1866 but the wall has been rebuilt along with a few other structures.
Fort Vancouver was separated from the Army’s barracks and became a national monument in 1948. Congress expanded the protected area in 1966 and re-designated the site as a National Historic Site. For some years after its addition to the National Park System, the National Park Service was reluctant to begin reconstruction of the fort walls or buildings, preferring to manage it as an archaeological site as provided by its standing policies. However, in 1965, with the urging of the local community, Congress directed reconstruction to begin. All fort structures seen today are modern replicas, albeit carefully placed on the original locations.
Fort Vancouver is open to visitors almost every day of the year with expanded hours between March and November. Admission is only $3 and we were told to keep our receipt as it’s good for a full week. There are also many free sights to explore around the area, including the Land Bridge and the gardens at the front of the fort — but entering the fort is definitely worth the admission fee.
We spent about three hours out around Fort Vancouver on a sunny June morning, soaking up the local history, taking photos, and listening to Park Rangers explain to other visitors that “Hudson’s Bay Company is still around in Canada today.”
Independence Day at Fort Vancouver
I was hoping to publish this post a bit earlier in the season since Fort Vancouver is know for its 4th of July celebrations with fireworks (launched from the Pearson Airfield nearby). If you have time to get down there, there will be a parade, music, and many activities starting at 12:00pm and the fireworks show will begin at 10:05pm.