Kids of Fort Vancouver: Eloisa McLoughlin & Cecilia Douglas

A young woman holding a fan stands on the veranda of the Chief Factor's House.

Photo: Christopher Communications

Eloisa McLoughlin

Eloisa McLoughlin was born on February 13, 1817. Her first home was at Fort William, a fort owned by the North West Company. Her father, John McLoughlin, worked for the North West Company as a doctor and clerk. Her mother was named Marguerite. Her parents were not officially married, but lived together and agreed to take care of their family together. Fort William was an important fur trading fort, located along the Kaministiquia River, near Lake Superior. Native Americans from the Ojibwe tribe lived near the fort. Eloisa's mother's family was Ojibwe.

Eloisa was from a big family. When she was born, Eloisa had three older stepsisters, a stepbrother, an older sister, and an older brother. She also had another older stepbrother she had never met. When she was four years old, her younger brother, David, was born.

When Eloisa was seven years old, her life changed in a big way! In 1821, the North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company, another fur trading company. The Hudson's Bay Company decided to send Eloisa's father to establish Fort Vancouver, a new fort in the Pacific Northwest. At Fort William, Eloisa had to say goodbye to her brother, John Jr., who was going to be sent to school in Canada. It would be a long time before she would see him again. She also said goodbye to her older stepsisters and stepbrother, and to her older sister, Eliza, who would also stay behind to attend school.

Getting to the Northwest was hard work. Without airplanes, trains, or cars, Eloisa, her parents, and little brother David had to walk and ride in boats down rivers to get here.

"We came over the mountain and down the river in boats."
- Eloisa McLoughlin

In the winter of 1825, Eloisa watched as Fort Vancouver was built. She would call Fort Vancouver her home for the rest of her childhood. Eloisa's father was the Chief Factor of Fort Vancouver. He was in charge of the entire fort. She and her family were the highest-ranking family at the fort, and lived inside the Chief Factor's House. They didn't live there alone, though - they shared the house with the family of James Douglas, another high-ranking Hudson's Bay Company officer.

At Fort Vancouver, Eloisa grew up around many different kinds of people. Many of the people who lived and worked at the fort were Native Americans from many different tribes and nations. Hawaiians also came from the Hawaiian Islands to work at Fort Vancouver. These workers were fur trappers and traders, and they also worked as carpenters, blacksmiths, and farmers. Most of these workers didn't live inside the fort, where Eloisa lived. They lived in cabins in a village near the fort.

"Vancouver has pretty large open fields. We had oats, barley, corn and potatoes and everything."
- Eloisa McLoughlin

One person Eloisa met when she was young was a gentleman who visited the fort with apple seeds. Her father helped to plant the seeds, and they began to grow into apple trees.

"They kept [the apple tree seedlings in] little boxes in the store somewhere they could not be touched and put glass over them. I do not know how long they were there. By and by my father came to me and said, 'Now come and see we are going to have some apples.' The little things were just coming out. They were all green and by and by we got apples."
- Eloisa McLoughlin

Dr. McLoughlin was very protective of the first apple tree at Fort Vancouver. Eloisa had never had apples before. In the first year after they planted it, the tree only grew one apple. When it was ripe, it was picked, then cut up into small slices to many people could have a taste. Eloisa remembered it as "a great treat for everybody." Over time, Dr. McLoughlin's apple orchards grew many apples.

Every day, Eloisa and everyone else living at the fort would wake up at 5 o'clock in the morning, when a bell at the fort would ring. They would have breakfast at 8 o'clock, lunch at noon, and dinner after 6 in the evening. In the Chief Factor's House, men ate in a big Mess Hall, or dining room, and the women and children ate in a separate room.

During the days, Eloisa's mother taught her to sew and do beadwork. Eloisa and her mother sometimes helped make clothing for people who lived inside the fort. When Eloisa was 15 years old, the first official teacher arrived at Fort Vancouver and a school was created. Along with other children at the fort, Eloisa learned reading, writing, math, and had lessons about the Bible. Eloisa also learned to recite poems and passages from books. When an American missionary named Narcissa Whitman visited the fort, Dr. McLoughlin asked her to teach Eloisa to sing.

When Eloisa was a girl, Americans began crossing the Oregon Trail to settle in the Pacific Northwest. Eloisa watched as her father gave the settlers help, first aid, and sold them supplies. Later, Eloisa remembered one large American family that came to Fort Vancouver. The family included children, who were sick. Dr. McLoughlin let them stay at Fort Vancouver as long as they needed and, when they were all well again, gave them a boat to travel to Oregon City.

Eloisa lived at Fort Vancouver until shortly after she was married in 1838.

Eloisa shared the Chief Factor's House with her parents and her little brother, David. But the Chief Factor's House was also home to the Douglas family. Read on to learn about one of the girls in the Douglas family: Cecilia!
A smiling girl wearing an 1840s style dress. Her hair is in two braids.

NPS Photo / Junelle Lawry

Cecilia Douglas

Cecilia Douglas was born in October, 1834, at Fort Vancouver. Her father was James Douglas, the fort's Chief Trader. Her mother was named Amelia. They lived in the Chief Factor's House at the fort, alongside the McLoughlin family.

Without modern hospitals and medicines, life could be very difficult for children in the 1800s. Five of Cecilia's brothers and sisters died very young, before Cecilia had a chance to get to know them. However, Cecilia was close with her three younger sisters: Jane, Agnes, and Alice. All four girls were born at Fort Vancouver.

Like Eloisa McLoughlin's parents, Cecilia's parents were not officially married when she was born. When she was three years old, Cecilia's parents had a wedding and were married by a reverend from the Church of England. In 1839, Cecilia's father became a Chief Factor. When Dr. John McLoughlin was away from the fort, Cecilia's father was in charge.

Cecilia's mother did not like living at Fort Vancouver much. Amelia Douglas was born at Norway House, a Hudson's Bay Company fort in Manitoba, Canada. Amelia was the daughter of a Hudson's Bay Company officer and a Native American woman from the Cree nation. She preferred Cree food over European-style food, and preferred the colder weather of her homeland over the warm summers in Vancouver. Cecilia's mother was often sick with 'fever and ague,' also known as malaria, which was a sickness that was common at Fort Vancouver. Cecilia spoke English, but she probably spoke the Cree language with her mother.

At the Chief Factor's House, Cecilia and her sisters shared a bedroom. They had beds that folded up against the wall, which gave them room to play. For her eleventh birthday, Cecilia and her friends celebrated with a card party and a special supper in the loft of the Chief Factor's House.

In 1849, after Vancouver had become part of the United States, Cecilia's father decided to move to Canada. She and her family went with him, and they lived in Victoria, British Columbia.

Part of a series of articles titled Kids at Fort Vancouver.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Last updated: August 14, 2020