News Release

Public Archaeology Field School Searches for the Fort Vancouver Schoolhouses and Owyhee Church

A painting showing Fort Vancouver as it appeared circa 1845. It shows the rectangular wooden stockade with many brick and wood buildings inside. Beyond the fort to the south is the Columbia River running from the right to left side of the image.
In this painting by Richard Schlect, the schoolhouses built in 1844 can be seen in the center foreground. They are two two-story wooden buildings on the north side of what is now E 5th Street.

NPS Photo

Subscribe RSS Icon | What is RSS
News Release Date: June 13, 2022

Contact: Dr. Doug Wilson, (360) 921-5241

This summer, a team of students and professional archaeologists from Portland State University, Washington State University, and the National Park Service (NPS) are exploring the site of the Fort Vancouver school, where the children of fur trade families studied in the early 1800s. Archaeological excavations will take place from July 1 to July 30. Excavation sites will be located north of East 5th Street and inside the Fort Vancouver stockade. The public is invited to visit and talk with student and professional archaeologists during the excavation Tuesday through Saturday, 9 am to 3 pm.

"The former site of the Hudson's Bay Company's schoolhouses is one of the most important but little-known places in Fort Vancouver," said National Park Service Regional Archaeologist Dr. Doug Wilson. "Education at Fort Vancouver was progressive in some ways but also designed to 'civilize' children that came from mixed and Indigenous backgrounds."

This excavation is part of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site's Public Archaeology Field School Program, a long-running partnership between the NPS Regional Office, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, and local universities that allows students to learn archaeological field techniques in one of the most important sites in the Pacific Northwest. This year, while learning field and laboratory methods, field school students will rediscover places tied to the education of the Indigenous and Métis (Indigenous and European heritage) children of the fur trade.

One of the structures studied this summer also served as the "Owhyhee Church" for Native Hawaiian workers of the Hudson's Bay Company as well as being the location of the first (1838) Roman Catholic mass in the Pacific Northwest. Students and archaeologists will explore places tied to education and the religions that were dominant at Fort Vancouver during the early colonial era. Students will examine the belongings of past people associated with Fort Vancouver to re-examine the history of these important and contested colonial places.

"Many children attended the school here," said Portland State University Archaeologist and Field Director Katie Wynia. "Some of them had good experiences, and some did not. We are excited to share the stories of the school and its students and teachers with the public at this dig site. Visitors to the site will be able to see history as it is uncovered and learn about the science of archaeology."

The Fort Vancouver school formed part of the Hudson's Bay Company's colonial project to "civilize" and assimilate Native American and Métis children who were either children of fur trade families or orphaned as a result of disease epidemics. It represents the first boarding school for mixed and Indigenous children. Starting with John Ball, a Dartmouth alumnus who taught for a season in 1832, there were several schoolmasters of uneven quality. The schoolhouse structure, a repurposed kitchen, was also used by Native Hawaiian lay preacher William Kaulehelehe as both a residence and a place to teach other Hawaiians employed by the fur trade company. Click here to learn more about school at Fort Vancouver.

The field school will employ scientific methods to collect artifacts and data from the Schoolhouse/Owhyhee Church site and to locate the later New Schoolhouse sites. Washington State University archaeologist Dr. Colin Grier and his students are collecting information using Ground Penetrating Radar to guide the excavations. It is hoped that this project will shine a light on the history of education in the Pacific Northwest and address how objects of the past help us understand the present.

In addition to the archaeological excavation, ranger-led programs will share the story of the Fort Vancouver school with the public. Through the month of July, these walking tours will take place on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 10 am. Participants will walk through the fort with a park ranger while hearing stories of the teachers who taught here and their students. The tour will end at the dig site. Reservations are not required. Tours will begin inside the reconstructed Fort Vancouver, located at 1001 E 5th Street, Vancouver, WA 98661.

What: The 2022 Public Archaeology Field School at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Who: Hosted by the National Park Service with partners at Washington State University Vancouver and Portland State University.

Where: Inside the reconstructed Fort Vancouver and in the Great Meadow area north of E 5th Street.

When: July 1-30, 2022. The public is invited to visit the excavation Tuesday through Saturday, 9 am to 3 pm. Ranger-led tours will take place on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 10 am through the month of July.

Last updated: June 13, 2022

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

800 Hatheway Road, Bldg 722
Vancouver, WA 98661


360 816-6230

Contact Us