Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
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Volume II


History and location

On August 8, 1845, Clerk Thomas Lowe noted in his journal: "Commenced building a new Office, in front of the belifry [sic]." By August 22 he was able to record: "Baron [Charles Diamare dit Baron, carpenter] and his men having finished preparing the wood for the New Office, he laid the foundation of it to day--38 ft. long x 32 broad, not far from the old one, and in a line with the Priests House." [1]

The belfry mentioned by Lowe was the new one erected on December 31, 1844. During the spring of 1973 the site of this belfry was excavated by a Volunteers-in-Parks team, and the base of the pole was found to be 32.5 feet south of the northern stockade wall, about 18 feet north of the New Office and about 15 feet west of the jail. [2] However, it is not necessary to know the precise location of the belfry in order to fix the site of the New Office; it is known through the Vavasour ground plan of 1845 (Plates VI and VII, vol. I) and through the results of archeological explorations conducted in 1950.

The New Office was built in the north central portion of the fort enclosure. In fact it straddled the site of the east stockade wall of the square 1829 fort. The north wall of the New Office was about fifty-one feet south of the northern palisade line. [3] The site of the New Office is now identified as Building No. 13 on the site plan of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Lowe's diary does not mention the date upon which the New Office was completed, but it is known to have been habitable by late December 1845. Seemingly it had been planned to move the accounting functions into the new building as soon as it was completed and then to tear down the Old Office, but that proposal had to be deferred when H. M. S. Modeste arrived off the post on November 29, 1845. Her captain, Commander the Honourable Thomas Baillie, was soon granted the New Office for a residence during his stay, as is shown by Lowe's journal entry for December 27. "Capt. Baillie," noted the clerk, "gave a dance in the New Office where he has lately taken up his shore quarters in the Fort." [4]

The British officer evidently made every effort to fit into the social life at the depot. Lowe's journal mentions a number of gatherings given by Baillie in the New Office. Of the dance given on December 27, Lowe said: "Most of the officers of the 'Modeste' were present, and we kept it up until midnight. It was rather a noisy affair. I sprained my ankle in dancing." [5]

Only about a week later Lowe recorded, "In the evening Capt. Baillie gave a Ball in his own House ashore at which we had most of the ladies of the Establishment and several of the Officers of the 'Modeste.' We kept it up until a late hour, after which there was a nice Supper, Songs, and a little more dancing." [6]

Four days later the clerk noted, "Capt. Baillie had a sort of play in his room to night got up by some of the sailors." [7] On February 4, 1846, the gallant captain was once again a host. "In the evening Capt. Baillie gave a Ball in his room, at which we all attended, and enjoyed ourselves much dancing having been kept up until two in the morning," Lowe reported. [8]

Such entries, of which only a few are reproduced here, serve to illustrate the uses to which the New Office was put during Captain Baillie's long sojourn at Fort Vancouver. His presence in the New Office may have been something of an inconvenience to the Company's officers at the depot. At least such an inference might be drawn from the remarks of Thomas Lowe in his journal entry for June 18, 1846. After noting the demolition of the Old Catholic Church that had adjoined the Old Office in the center of the fort enclosure, he wrote, "There now only remain [sic] the Office to break the full sweep of the Fort Yard. . . . As Capt. Baillie is residing in the building intended for the New Office, we cannot as yet move into it from the old one." [9]

As far as is known, the commander of the Modeste continued to occupy the New Office until close to the time the vessel took its departure on May 3, 1847. [10] Presumably the Company then moved all of the furniture, records, and equipment from the Old Office into the new one; and thereafter it was the New Office that was meant when "the office" was mentioned. The old structure soon disappeared from the scene.

The New Office continued to function as the countinghouse as long as the Company occupied Fort Vancouver. A witness who saw it in 1849 later testified that it was then in good condition, except for the foundation. [11] On June 15, 1860, the day after the Company vacated the post, a board of army officers found the office still in "tolerable repair" and thought it might be temporarily usable for military purposes. [12] The building was standing near the end of that month when a War Department order directing the local commander to halt all destruction of Hudson's Bay Company property was received, but how much longer it survived is not known. Surely the New Office had disappeared with the rest of the fort structures by 1865 or 1866. [13]

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003