From furs to frivolity, city boasts firsts

Fort Vancouver, birthplace of the Oregon Country, is where the outpost of the British Empire was established to obtain furs.

The Hudson’s Bay Co. was represented by Gov. Simpson who broke a bottle of rum on the flag staff on March 19, 1825. As he did, he proclaimed in a loud voice, “In behalf on the Honorable Hudson’s Bay Company, I hereby name this establishment Fort Vancouver. God save King George the fourth.” Thus, the settlement received its name, and the white man’s history of the Pacific Northwest began.

Although the Hudson’s Bay Co. and its leader Dr. John McLoughlin were primarily interested in the fur trade, they started farming activities with gardens, fruit orchards and cattle. Within a few years, settlers, missionaries, adventurers, writers, botantists and the curious made their way to Fort Vancouver and the surrounding areas. They came by boat (mostly canoes) and on foot, by horseback and by wagon train seeking a new life or to escape unhappy situations.

To many, the Oregon Country was the end of the rainbow where fish and game were abundant as was good land for farming. The Hudson’s Bay Co. did not exactly want American settlers in “their” territory, but McLoughlin was a compassionate man and gave help and comfort to those in need.

Many famous names passed through the fort – missionaries to convert “the heathen,” educators, writers – all were given a glimpse of a new life at the fort. David Douglas was a welcome visitor – and today we have the Douglas fir named after him.

Many of the trappers and even a few of the company employees were Catholics, so the company invited a priest to come to the fort. A Canadian, Bishop Blanchet came, and eventually established the first Catholic cathedral in the Pacific Northwest.

Mention is made of Mount St. Helens erupting and writers noted the falling ash in Fort Vancouver. This mountain continued to erupt from time to time for a number of years and it wasn’t until 1857 that it again went to sleep.

Religious groups came to settle and traces of their settlements can be found today. There was a great diversity in the missionaries attitudes toweards the Indians and the settlers. Some were kind and good – others mean-spirited and spiteful.

Eventuallly the question came up of whether the “Oregon Country” would be a part of Canada and the British Empire or America. It was a difficult period – religious groups, settlers, traders all had different ideas and opinions, and there was also an element of lawlessness that added to the turmoil.

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