• Image of the reconstructed stockade at Fort Vancouver and Pearson Air Museum looking northeast from the Land Bridge.

    Fort Vancouver

    National Historic Site OR,WA

Historic Weapons Programs

Demonstrations on Memorial Day, Labor Day, and select summer weekends.
Image of musket

Small arms, such as this musket, are frequently fired in demonstration at the fort.

NPS Photo

The muskets, rifles, and cannons brought by the various groups of Euro-Americans that came to the Pacific Northwest in the 19th century were essential to the success of their settlement.

The small arms were important trade items for the Hudson Bay Company as well as a must for individual survival for both the fur traders as well as the soldiers that came later.

The cannons were a way to show the power of the either the Company or the Army. Cannons were symbols of power and control and were an essential part of the armament of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the United States Army.

Image of cannons near Chief Factors House

The HBC's power was represented by two 18-pounder cannons positioned in front of the Chief Factor's House.

NPS Photo

Their primary use for the HBC was on board the various company ships, which plied the coastal trade and made the long voyage to England.

Cannons were not just for actual attack or defense but were also employed as visual reminders of the power of the HBC. An example of this use is seen in front of the Chief Factor’s House at Fort Vancouver.

The two 18-pounder cannons which stood in front of the residence were not functional cannon but were placed there to impress visitors of the power of the Company.

The cannons of the Hudson Bay Company were mounted on either naval or garrison carriages which have small iron or wooden “trucks” (wheels).

Image of the mountain howitzer firing

Staff and volunteers fire the mountain howitzer during a program at the park's historic Parade Ground.

NPS Photo

The U. S. Army used field carriages, with large, spoke wagon wheels, to mount their cannons as these were more easily moved over land.

A common cannon at Vancouver Barracks was the 12-pound Mountain Howitzer. The 1841 Mountain Howitzer was first adopted by the United States Army in the early 1840’s. It was the smallest artillery piece to see widespread use by the Army in the Mexican War (1846 - 48), the Civil War (1861 - 65) and the Indian Wars (1840’s – 1880’s).

The howitzer’s relative light weight (700 lbs.) made it suitable for use with fast moving cavalry units. With the use of the pack carriage this artillery piece could be dismounted and packed onto three mules or horses for use by infantry units in rough mountainous terrain.

Image of staff members leading a program

Bill DeBerry (l) and Doug Halsey (r) are the park's two certified historic weapons program coordinators.

NPS Photo

Members of the park staff receive regular training and certification on the safe and proper ways to load, clean, and fire the muskets, rifles, and cannons which would have been common here. In turn, they train a group of volunteers to serve as demonstrators for the Historic Weapons programs.

At Fort Vancouver, the National Park Service conducts regular demonstrations of cannon and musket firing (blanks) throughout the summer months. Each demonstration also includes detailed information on the type of equipment used and how it fit into the larger story of the site.

For more information on the site's Historic Weapons Programs, contact the Visitor Center Information Desk at 360-816-6230 or one of the park's certified historic weapons program coordinators. Mike Twist can be reached at 360-816-6246, Cassie Anderson can be reached at 360-816-6247, and Aaron Ochoa can be reached at 360-816-6233.

Dig deeper...

  • To read a study about the armament used in the fort's Bastion, click here.
  • To read other historical studies, click here.

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