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The fur traders and the Hawaiians (1825)

After the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Hudson's Bay Company started actively trading fur with the Indians, and the Americans and English soon shared an intense rivalry over the fur trade.

In 1825 the Hudson's Bay Company established a trading post at Fort Vancouver and relocated its regional headquarters there. It was built with a double purpose – to serve as a trading post for the fur traders but also to establish Great Britain's claim on the Northwest Territory.

Fur traders working for the Hudson's Bay Company traveled an area of more than 700,000 square miles that stretched from Russian Alaska to Mexican California and from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Ships sailed from London around Cape Horn and then to Fort Vancouver via the Hawaiian Islands. Trappers crossing overland faced a journey of 2,000 miles that took three months.

The oldest non-native settlement
Today, the city of Vancouver incorporates the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, which is the oldest non-native settlement in the Pacific Northwest. Although primarily a fur-trading post, Fort Vancouver employed more people at agriculture than any other activity. It was a British establishment, but the primary languages spoken were French Canadian and Chinook.

At one point there was also a population of between 300 to 400 Hawaiians working at the fort. (One can only guess what they thought of the cold, wet winters.)

In the 1830s and 1840s, more and more American settlers started traveling the Oregon Trail. At the end of their journey, Fort Vancouver provided them with essential supplies to begin their new settlements.

The Hawaiians "run" Fort Vancouver

Through a deal with the Hawaiian king, the Hudson's Bay Company took on several hundred Hawaiians for three years as indentured servants. They worked as trappers, laborers, millers, sailors, gardeners, and cooks. In fact, they just about ran the place.

Along with the French Canadians, the Hawaiians lived in a tight-knit community called Kanaka Village, built just west of the fort and continuing down to the waterfront where Interstate 5 is now.
Many of the Hawaiians worked in the sawmill. Lumber was shipped to the islands, along with wheat, potatoes, flour, smoked salmon, and other trade goods. In fact, Honolulu and most of the other major towns in the Hawaiian Islands were built with lumber from the Columbia River and Puget Sound areas.

For more on Vancouver, see Why Esther Short slapped the French Canadian.

To read more about the Vancouver National Historic Reserve, go to www.nps.gov/fova/.

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