Asian American History at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Since the early years of the fur trade in the Northwest, there have been ties between Vancouver and Asia. In the 19th and 20th centuries, immigrants from China and Japan were part of the growing communities in Vancouver, Washington, and neighboring Portland, Oregon, and played important roles at Vancouver Barracks.

In the 19th century, sweet pickled ginger and tea was brought from China to Fort Vancouver, carried across the Pacific Ocean on tall ships. The Spode dishes that were used by everyone from the fort's Chief Factor to laborers living in the nearby employee village may have been made in England, but bore patterns that were inspired by Asian art.

Later, after the fort was abandoned by its British inhabitants and the area became the U.S. Army's Vancouver Barracks, teawares made in Japan were used by the post's officers, and Chinese immigrants worked at the barracks, often as cooks. In the 1880s, ten Chinese immigrants worked at Vancouver Barracks. In 1886, soldiers from Vancouver Barracks under the command of Brigadier General John Gibbon were dispatched to Seattle to protect Chinese immigrants who were under attack from racist and xenophobic mobs. Asian Americans also served as soldiers at Vancouver Barracks, like Private Kensichi Hayashi, a Japanese-American soldier who served in the 28th Spruce Squadron at the post during World War I.

Below, find stories from Asian Americans who visited, lived in, or worked at Fort Vancouver and Vancouver Barracks.

  • A stone monument with carvings of three men and writing in Japanese.
    Japanese Castaways

    In the early 1830s, three castaway Japanese sailors arrived at the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Vancouver.

  • Black and white photo of a Chinese American woman wearing aviator's goggles and cap.
    Leah Hing

    Leah Hing was the first Chinese American woman to earn a pilot's license.

  • Black and white photo of an Asian American man holding a camera.
    Louis Lee

    Louis Lee was the official photographer of the Vancouver Kaiser Shipyards during World War II.

  • A Chinese man in traditional clothing poses for a black and white photo.
    Chinese Workers

    In the 1880s, Chinese men worked in the homes along Officers' Row at Vancouver Barracks.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Last updated: June 1, 2023