Fort Vancouver, Washington


The Hudson’s Bay Company was established by English royal charter in 1670.  A remnant survives today, The Bay chain of Canadian department stores (owned by an American private equity firm), and therefore with some qualifications can lay claim to being the oldest commercial corporation in North America.  The core of their business was acquiring fur pelts from the North American frontier for European fashions.  Beaver fur was especially prized, to make a variety of felt hats such as the top hat.

In 1821, Hudson’s Bay Company absorbed the Montreal-based North West Company, which already had a larger presence in the territory around the Columbia River, and took over operations at Fort George (formerly Fort Astor of the American enterprise Pacific Fur Company).  Despite the 1818 treaty allowing both British and American activities in the region, the HBC feared land south of the river would fall to the Americans and decided to establish a new headquarters for their Columbia Division further upriver on the northern side, east of the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.  Other reasons for choosing the site included better access to the inland fur trade, and sufficient nearby farmland.

Thus, in 1825, Fort Vancouver was established.  The fort was named for Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver (1757–1798), who had explored much of the Pacific Coast of North America.  Canadian-born Dr. Jean-Baptiste (John) McLoughlin (1784–1857), who had transferred over from the former North West Company, was Chief Factor for the first twenty-two years (colonial trading posts were called factories).  During his tenure, he oversaw thirty-four outposts, twenty-four ports, six ships, and six hundred employees in a region spanning from the Rocky Mountains to the Hawaiian Islands and from southern Alaska to northern California.

The first palisade was about 320 feet square.  In 1829 it was moved about a mile west, and closer to the river.  By 1845 the palisade was expanded to 325 feet by 732 feet, containing twenty-five buildings.  The reconstruction that started in 1966 shows the larger palisade and about ten buildings.

Outside the main entrance is a relatively small representation of the original gardens and orchards, which once covered about eight acres outside the fort.

There is a scale model in the ranger station showing the fort as it was in 1845.