Established in 1824, Fort Vancouver was a trading post that served as the
headquarters of the
Company in their Columbia District, which covered an extensive geographic
range of 700,000 square miles stretching from Russian Alaska to Mexican
and from the Rocky Mountains to the Hawaiian Islands. Situated along the
north bank of the Columbia River, in present-day Vancouver,
it was named for Captain George Vancouver.
Hudson Bayís man, George Simpson was instrumental in establishing the
fort, and Dr. John McLoughlin became its first manager. McLoughlin, who
would later be hailed as the Father of Oregon, welcomed and helped new
settlers to the area.
However, the Hudson's Bay
Company was not happy about these actions because new
settlers interfered with the lucrative fur trade. He later left the
organization and founded Oregon City in the Willamette Valley.
engraving by Gustav Sohon, 1855.
This image available for photographic prints and downloads
The original post,
which was comprised of about 40 buildings, including homes, a school,
a library, a pharmacy, a chapel, a blacksmith, and a large
manufacturing facility, was surrounded by a 20 foot high palisade that
measured about 750 long and 450 wide. Outside its tall walls, the
large corporate monopoly also built additional housing, a shipyard,
hospital, distillery, tannery, sawmill, dairy, agricultural fields and
As the administrative
center and principal supply depot for the vast area, the fort served
as the hub of an extensive fur trading network utilizing two dozen
posts, six ships, and about 600 employees during peak seasons, most
whom worked in agricultural activities.
Fort Vancouver became a center of activity
and influence, supported by a multicultural village with inhabitants
from over 35 different ethnic and tribal groups. Though it was a
British establishment, the primary languages were Canadian French and
Chinook Jargon. It became one of the largest settlements
in the West during its time and served as the early end of the Oregon
Trail for American immigrants.
During the late 1840s and early 1850s,
slowing returns from trapping and growing numbers of settlers led to a
shift in focus from the fur brigades to land-based mercantile
opportunities. With this change came a shift in the village activity
and population. The numbers of Hawaiian employees increased, such that
by the 1850s the village became known as "Kanaka Town," or "Kanaka
Village," referring to the Hawaiian word for "person."
Not only was the village a living quarters
for the Company employees, but it also became the site of establishing
the U.S. Army as a permanent presence in the Pacific Northwest. In
May, 1849, the U.S. Army set up Camp Columbia on a rise 20 feet
above the trading post.
Though the Hudson's Bay Company assisted the soldiers by allowing them to use their sawmill for
cutting timber, the building of the post was very slow, due to the
California Gold Rush. Creating a scarcity of labor and supplies, high
prices, and numerous deserters, those who were left continued to toil
on, but construction was not complete until the spring of 1851. At
that time, the army post was renamed Columbia Barracks.
The traders and soldiers initially coexisted
amicably and the Army rented many of the village buildings as well as
hiring more locals. In the early 1850s, the Army built several new
buildings, including the Quartermaster Depot, and Captain Rufus Ingalls'
house, where Ulysses S. Grant lived from 1852 until 1853. The army post
was expanded to more than 10,000 acres and renamed Fort Vancouver Military
However, due to increasing pressure for land
by new settlers and declining returns from trapping, the relations between
the traders and soldiers deteriorated in the latter half of the 1850s.
Finally, in June, 1860 The Hudson's Bay Company withdrew its operations to Victoria B.C.