Part 2 - Emporium of the NW

This is part 2 of an eight part series, by Dr. Edward and Alice Beechert, exploring the Hawaiian history of Fort Vancouver.

Part 2: Fort Vancouver - Emporium of the Northwest

The Astoria location proved to be unsatisfactory for HBC operations. A more suitable location was needed which would provide the agricultural resources needed to sustain the extensive network of fur traders. The move upstream some 100 miles to the fertile plain of Vancouver was undertaken in 1825. For the provision of supplies, Fort Vancouver was eminently qualified.

Dr. John McLoughlin, the newly appointed Director of the Northwest Hudson’s Bay Company set about establishing Fort Vancouver as the chief supply center for the regional operation. By 1828, the farm “reaped 4,000 bushels of potatoes, 1,300 of wheat, 1,000 of barley, 400 of corn, 300 of peas, and 100 of oats, and in the spring of 1829 they tended 200 pigs, 153 cattle [not including calves], and 50 goats.” By 1829, 200 hogs and an Hawaiian swineherd kept the Fort supplied with pork.

The Hudson’s Bay company annually sent out from Fort Vancouver two well-equipped hunting and trapping parties, usually numbering between fifty and one hundred men and women. Food supplies and trade goods were sent from Fort Vancouver to smaller posts. Furs traded by the Indians at each post, or trapped by HBC employees, were sent to Fort Vancouver by regularly scheduled canoe, boat, and horse brigades and loaded onto company ships and transported to London. Much of the labor at each stage of this process was performed by Kanakas.

In addition to agriculture and the fur trade, McLoughlin established a sawmill upstream from the Fort and by 1828 lumber and smoked salmon were being exported on a regular basis to Honolulu. HBC ships sailed between Hawaii and the Columbia River on an average of twice
a year. Kanakas provided the labor force at the sawmill, perhaps the same loggers who had cleared the Sandwich Island’s sandalwood forests for the maritime fur traders.

In March 1835, James Douglas recorded in his journal that the mill “works twelve saws and cuts about 3500 feet of inch boards during the twenty-four hours.” By 1837, the mill employed ten yoke of oxen and twenty-eight men and large stocks of lumber were dried at the mill for export. The Kanakas were a cheap yet skilled source of labor. They were paid between ten and nineteen pounds a year, plus food, largely smoked salmon and sea biscuits. [The smoked salmon quickly became a staple in the Island diet as lomo lomi salmon]. In 1840, one visitor wrote that “the Islanders are felling the pines and dragging them to the mill. using oxen and horses, sets of hands are plying two gangs of saws by night and day, nine hundred thousand feet per annum are constantly being shipped to foreign ports.” Lumber, salmon and wheat rapidly became the principal economic activities of Fort Vancouver.

By 1849 the Hawaiian population exceeded that of the French Canadians due to the declining importance of furs and the rising export business of Fort Vancouver’s agricultural production and the consequent larger use of Hawaiian servants.
To learn more about the connection between Fort Vancouver and the Hawaiian Islands, click on one of the links below to connect to the next section of the eight part series written by Dr. Edward and Alice Beechert, historians specializing in Hawaiian history.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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