Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
NPS Logo
Volume I


History and location

After Fort Vancouver was moved down onto the plain in the spring of 1829, a new bakery was constructed as soon as the erection of the more essential buildings -- such as warehouses to protect the trade goods and fur returns -- would permit. Clerk John Warren Lease noted in his journal on November 26 of the same year: "Men building a Tempo[rary] Baker House." [1]

How long this "temporary" bakery served is not evident, but there is no doubt that Chief Factor John McLoughlin soon desired to replace it. As visiting Samuel Parker observed late in 1835, the fort bakery not only had to supply the bread for daily use at the post but also sea biscuit for the Company's vessels in the Pacific and for the forts on the Northwest Coast. In this task, he reported, two or three men were in "constant employment." [2]

Evidently the first bakery was not equal to meeting the demands placed upon it, for about the end of 1833 McLoughlin included in the indent or requisition for Outfit 1837 of the Colombia Department an item for "1M Bricks for Bakers Oven." His anxiety can be judged from the fact that on added requisition, dated at York Factory on Hudson Bay on July 16, 1834, contained the following request: "If this gets to hand before the departure [from London] of the vessel to be dispatched to the Columbia with the Outfit 1836 it is requested that the following articles taken from the accompanying requisition [Outfit 1837] be shipped in her viz. -- 1M Bricks for Bakers Oven. [3]

No record has yet been found as to when these thousand bricks were received or, indeed, whether they were received at all. Seemingly, they did arrive, however, and were used to construct the bakery which is shown as building No. 7 on the Emmons ground plan of 1841 (plate III). Since this structure is situated in the extreme northeast corner of the "doubled-in-size" fort, it must have been erected after the stockade was expanded to the east in 1834-1839.

Excavations conducted by National Park Service archeologists at the site of this second bakery during the spring of 1971 revealed masonry remains of "a large oven complex," bricks from a "collapsed chimney," and "large masses of ex-situ brick and wood" believed to have originated in the bake shop and been distributed when the Army cleared the site following the departure of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1860. [4]

This second bakery, probably built during the period of 1837-1839, evidently also failed to meet the growing needs of the Columbia Department for sea biscuit and other breadstuffs. By September, 1844, the construction of a third bake house was well under way.

On September 17, Clerk Thomas Lowe noted in his journal the arrival of a barge from "the Falls," the site of the present Oregon City. The next day he made clear the import of this seemingly routine event. "The Barge," he wrote, "had 5000 Bricks on board which have been made in the Willamette, and are the first which have come here yet." [5]

There can be no doubt that these bricks were intended for the third bakery, which was then already under construction. The Line of Fire Map, showing conditions about September 24, 1844, depicts a building extending through the northern portion of the east stockade wall (see plate V). This clearly was the structure labeled "Bake House" on the Vavasour ground plan of late 1845 (see plate VI). Thus the main outlines of the building were evident by the time the bricks for the ovens arrived.

Once the bricks were on hand, the work proceeded rapidly. By October 15, 1844, Lowe could record: "The New Bake House is also nearly completed." [6] The move into the new structure must have followed shortly thereafter, and the old bakery probably was then converted into a "harness shop" or "saddler's shop" as it was also called. [7]

Practically nothing is known about the work carried on in the third bakery. Presumably former clerk George B. Roberts was thinking of this building when years later he recalled that four bakers were employed at Fort Vancouver. [8] Dr. H. A. Tuzo, who arrived at the post in November, 1853, to take up his duties as physician, recalled that the bakery contained two "superior fire-brick ovens" and could bake for from 200 to 300 men. [9] He did not, however, actually say that the bakery was operating in 1853.

When the third bakery was completed late in 1844, it was under the immediate supervision of the fort's baker, Joseph Petrain. He was a French Canadian from Sorel Parish who had appeared on the Fort Vancouver rolls as a middleman (ordinary voyageur) during Outfit 1837 (mid-1837 to mid-1838). By Outfit 1842 he was still a middleman at the same rate of £17 per year, but the next year he was listed as "Middle & Baker" at £20 per annum. From this fact it is evident that he was acting as an assistant to Bazil Poirer, who had long been the depot baker. Poirer died on or about June 30, 1844, and Petrain succeeded him as baker. His salary was raised to £25 during Outfit 1846, but this remuneration was not sufficient to assure his loyalty after news of the gold discovery at Sutter's mill reached Oregon. Following his name on the roll for Outfit 1848 appear the words, "Gone to California, wages to 1 March '49." [10]

Petrain was succeeded as baker by Joseph Raymond, a native of Canada. He evidently was a man of less venturesome spirit, since a salary of £25 held him until Outfit 1852, when he was listed as a laborer at Chinook Point. No one seems to have been formally engaged as baker at Fort Vancouver during that year, and the records from that time until the post was abandoned in 1860 do not indicate that any person classified specifically as a baker was employed. [11] It is quite possible that the bakery was shut down or that its operations were severely curtailed about 1852, by which time Fort Vancouver was functioning as the depot for a much reduced district.

The bakery continued to stand until at least 1860 although its outlines may have changed somewhat over the years. [12] On June 15, 1860, a board of Army officers examined the abandoned structures of the Hudson's Bay Company's former depot and reported the "Bake house" to be "in a ruinous condition." Even the materials, said the board, were of no monetary value. [13]

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>
Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003