Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
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Volume I


History and location

A flagstaff had been a feature of Fort Vancouver since before the date of its dedication on the original site in 1825. Governor George Simpson recorded in his journal on March 19 of that year that he "Baptised" the post "by breaking a Bottle of Rum on the Flag Staff and repeating the following words in a loud voice, 'In behalf of the Honble Hudsons Bay Co. I hereby name this Establishment Fort Vancouver God Save King George the 4th.'" [1]

Undoubtedly a flagstaff was one of the first features to be erected at the new site when the fort was moved down onto the plain in 1829, but little is known about its appearance or location until 1841, when it was depicted in two sketches preserved among the records of the United States Exploring Expedition. [2] The two views agree in showing the pole as a simple, one-piece mast, but they leave some doubt as to its exact location.

One sketch, in Wilkes's Narrative, clearly shows the staff as being near the south palisade and close to the east end of the structure then serving as the Indian Trade Store (see plate LIII). In the other, found in a sketch book of Lieutenant Henry Eld, the pole occupies the same general position in the picture, but it seems to be shown farther to the east, perhaps even behind the Bachelors' Quarters (see plate IV). From what is known of the later location of the flagstaff, it would appear that the Wilkes sketch more accurately depicts the location.

What probably was this pole pictured in 1841 was blown down by a gale on the evening of September 14, 1844. [3] The sequel was recorded by Clerk Thomas Lowe in his journal entry for December 21 of that year. "This forenoon," he wrote, "all the men were mustered and with the assistance of the Cadboro's Crew succeeded in erecting a new Flag-staff 103 ft. in length, and in the same place as [the] last, within a few feet of the East end of the Fur Store." [4] Fortunately these informative words are supplemented by other evidence which permits the flagpole to be located with some precision.

Late in August, 1845, Lieutenant Warre and Vavasour of the British army reached Fort Vancouver on a secret reconnaissance mission. Before the end of that year Vavasour, a trained engineer, drew a plan of the post which present-day archeological excavations have demonstrated to be reasonably accurate. [5] This map shows a small circle, labelled "Flagstaff," situated near the south stockade wall about midway between the west and east ends.

As nearly as can be determined from the somewhat small scale of Vavasour's plan, the flagpole was situated about 22 or 23 feet north of the south stockade wall and about the same distance east of the southeast corner of the large warehouse labelled no. 8, "Stores," on the plan, "Summary Sheet, Archeological Excavations, Fort Vancouver National Monument" (see plate I). When one examines this same "Summary Sheet," however, it is noted that excavations revealed two lines of pickets, about nine feet apart, along the south wall. The wall shown on the Vavasour plan was clearly the inner wall, as is shown by the fact that the distance between the wall and building no. 8 as shown by Vavasour coincides almost exactly with the distance between the Summary Sheet's inner wall and building no. 8 as revealed by archeological excavations. This conclusion is supported by historical evidence and by stockade construction details. [6]

An interesting sidelight to this study of the flagpole's location is a hint as to why the staff may have been placed in that particular spot. If one measures the breadth of the fort as shown on the Vavasour plan, one observes that the flagpole was not quite midway between the west and east walls as the stockade was constituted late in 1845. But if one goes to the map, "Summary Sheet, Archeological Excavations," one finds that the site of the flagpole, if plotted at the spot described in the preceding paragraph, was almost exactly half way between the east and west walls (CF and HG) as they stood before the extensions of 1844 and 1845 were made. It seems possible, therefore, that the pole which fell down on September 14, 1844, had originally been positioned with a view to symmetry. The replacement flag-staff erected in its place was, as has been seen, merely put in the same location as its predecessor.

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003