The Young Engagé School at Fort Vancouver

Students in the Young Engage School interpret the fur trade to the public at a special event.

NPS Photo by Troy Wayrynen


A Brief History of the Young Engagé School at Fort Vancouver

Within the fur trade world of the 19th century, education – either at a school or through an apprenticeship – was crucial for advancement. At the frontier outpost of Fort Vancouver, education for young people was highly encouraged. At one time, it was recorded that 60 students were attending school at the fort, 40 of whom were boys.

In the morning girls and boys attended school together in the building known as the Owyhee Church, then separated in the afternoons. During the morning session, young men learned to read, to write the ornate copperplate script of the time, and studied subjects such as geography, botany, math, and music. Afterward, they worked in the fields, gardens, or trades workshops, while girls were instructed in handwork as would have been common at a Dame School. Young men learned skills on the job from tradesmen or engagé, the contracted employees of the company.

Both sons and daughters of trappers accompanied their parents on brigade, the months-long trapping expeditions. Young men assisted with trapping and repairing equipment, while young women helped clean pelts, make clothing, and cook for the camp.

The students of the school at Fort Vancouver were the children of Hudson’s Bay Company employees stationed throughout the region. They came from a diversity of cultural backgrounds, often sharing a single language of Chinook Wawa for ease of communication. Despite this barrier, the Fort Vancouver school flourished for a number of years, until disagreements over religious instruction and the departure of Chief Factor John McLoughlin weakened its support. Eventually the school closed, as students began to board at other area schools that had been established in the meantime.

Following this time honored tradition, our volunteer training program for young men has been named the Young Engagé School. The curriculum, taught by Youth Compass Circle instructors and several Fort Vancouver Trades Guild members, includes many of the skills that were included here historically. Interpretive skills are also taught.

The Young Engagé School Today

Each class year has a maximum number of 16 students. The class is divided into several small groups which rotate through varied subjects over the course of the program. The classes include fur trade topics such as carpentry, cooking, clerking, voyageur life as well as interpretation skills.

A mid-morning snack and lunch of historic food types will be prepared in the Fort Vancouver kitchen, and all meals will be taken together on site. Those with food allergies are encouraged to bring their own period appropriate meals. All activities are be closely supervised by Youth Compass Circle leaders, Advanced Youth Interpreters, and National Park Service staff. Adult aides wishing to participate in the school program are required to attend orientation and safety classes before the school year begins.

The aim of the present day Fort Vancouver Engagé School does not concentrate on academics and has these goals:
  • Instruct students on skills that were required for Hudson’s Bay employees as would have been needed in the 19th Century.
  • Instruct volunteers in 19th century behavior
  • Begin training in historic reenactment and basic interpretation (public speaking/information sharing)
  • Offer practical experience in cultural demonstrations, program, and events.
  • Require safe practices while volunteering at Fort Vancouver.
Student participants in the Fort Vancouver Engagé School must be at least 10 years of age on January 1 of the year they begin the program. First year classes are held on the first Saturday of the month from January through May. The classes begin promptly at 9:30 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m.
There is a $135 fee per student. Materials for the student’s use will be provided in the class kit they receive on the first day of school. Students are expected to be responsible for the items provided in their kits, and bring them to class every day. Lost objects are not replaced.

To learn more about the program and find out if you are a candidate, visit the Application Information page.

Curriculum of the Young Engagé School

Taught by National Park Service employees and Volunteers-in-Parks (VIPs) and assisted by Adult Aides, the curriculum of the Young Engagé School includes many skills practiced historically, as well as contemporary training in public history, public speaking and what it means to be a National Park Service volunteer who helps the public connect to the history and resources of the site.

Topics covered include:

  • Introduction to the National Park Service
  • History of Fort Vancouver, the Hudson's Bay Company's Village, and the families who lived there
  • Public speaking and historic site interpretation
  • Life of an engage at Fort Vancouver, including voyageurs, tradesmen, and trappers
  • Hudson's Bay Company clerks and their duties
  • Navigation and surveying
  • The fur trade and the operations of the HBC's Fur Store
  • Nineteenth century carpentry
  • Hearth cooking and the Fort Vancouver Kitchen
  • Fur brigades and encampments
  • Safety at a public site

Last updated: October 12, 2019

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800 Hatheway Road, Bldg 722
Vancouver, WA 98661


360 816-6230

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