Fort Vancouver
Cultural Landscape Report
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Schematic map of the western third of historic Fort Plain showing vegetation.

The physiographic features of Fort Plain, including vegetation, set the framework for the trading and agricultural activities that were introduced to the region by the Hudson's Bay Company. As development at Fort Vancouver proceded, native vegetation gave way to introduced vegetation in the form of cultivated fields, pastures, a garden, and an orchard. The expansive agricultural operations developed at Fort Vancouver represented the first large-scale agricultural establishment in the Pacific Northwest.

"Sketch of Fort Vancouver Plain, Representing the Line of Fire in September 1844". Agricultural development on Fort Plain. Fort Vancouver N.H.S. map file.

Native Vegetation


Before the establishment of Fort Vancouver, the natural landscape was a mosaic of prairies (plains), coniferous forests, streams, and lakes. Early visitors and Company employees often commented on the natural beauty of the country, noting the lush, dense forests with magnificent trees, carpets of wild flowers, extensive prairies with their groves and clumps of trees, lakes, and views of the Columbia River with snow-capped Mount Hood in the distance.

Fort Vancouver lies in the northern tip of the Willamette Valley vegetation community, part of the major vegetation zone "Interior Valleys of Western Oregon". [6] Historically, this area consisted of grasslands or prairies, Oregon oak savannahs, coniferous forests (mainly Douglas-fir), and riparian forests. A partial list of native plant species was developed from both contemporary plant community descriptions and historic references (see Appendix A).

As Fort Vancouver developed, the native vegetation was replaced by introduced species. On Fort Plain, the prairie and some forested areas were cleared for cultivated fields, livestock pastures, the garden, orchard, buildings, and roads. By 1844/46 little of the immediate fort site remained unmanipulated. Remimants of the natural landscape included the coniferous forest lying at the north edge of Fort Plain, which had probably been reduced along the perimeter by clearing for cultivated fields. On the west part of the plain, the forest edge and prairie north of Upper Mill Road consisted of individual specimens and clumps of Douglas-fir and Oregon oak trees. In 1833, Dr. William Tolmie, a HBC employee, described this prairie and the cemetery, noting that the cemetery was reached by traveling through "a pretty grove of young oaks & other trees", situated " a fertile upland meadow greatly beautified by wild flowers & trees in flower..."

Other native vegetation that remained after the site was developed included: individual trees or clumps of trees in Kanaka Village which were part of the oak savannah transition vegetation zone; several individual trees including five large Douglas-fir trees near the stockade along Lower Mill Road; and a band of riparian vegetation which bordered the Columbia River east of the river front development. William Tolmie described the river bank as "... a nice pebbly beach, well suited for bathing & edged with verdant trees & elegant wild flowers of various species."

As development progressed during the Hudson's Bay Company era and later during the Army's occupation, the remaining forests and prairies continued to be cleared for fields, buildings, roads, and timber, leaving few of the native plant communities intact.

Cultivated Fields


The Fort Vancouver farm, the first large-scale agricultural establishment in the Pacific Northwest, was created for economic and political reasons. In order for the Hudson's Bay Company fur-trading operations west of the Rockies to succeed, it was necessary to reduce the huge transportation expenses associated with importing food. Creating a self-subsistent operation was critical for supplying Fort Vancouver's needs, and the needs of outlying fur trading posts. As the farming operations expanded it was soon realized that in addition to fur trading, profits could be created through exporting surplus produce. Food exportation further diversified the Company's west coast operations. Politically, it was assumed Great Britain's claim to the territory would be enhanced by eventually attracting British immigrants through this agricultural development.

Agricultural activities began in 1825 with the planting of potatoes, beans, and peas, and slowly expanded to include a wide variety of grains and vegetables which covered extensive tracts of land. By 1846, the Fort Vancouver farm had 1420 acres under cultivation and was made up of several operating units which included Fort Plain, West Plain, Lower Plain, the Back Plains, and Mill Plain. At its height, a wide variety of crops were raised at Fort Vancouver farm including great quantities of wheat (the most important cash-barter crop), peas, barley, oats, buckwheat, some Indian corn, and potatoes. In addition, turnips, pumpkins, tares, and colewort were raised for livestock, and timothy and clover were raised for soil enrichment and livestock food. A list of crops cultivated on Fort Plain can be found in Appendix B.

As McLoughlin became aware of the limitations of the soil at Fort Vancouver, Cowlitz farm and Nisqually farm were established nearby. In addition, both Fort Langley on the Lower Fraser River, and Fort Colvile on the upper Snake, received their agricultural supplies from Fort Vancouver. The creation of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company in 1839 further expanded crop production by increasing the Company's commitment to agricultural exports. Throughout this agricultural expansion, Fort Vancouver remained the operational hub and main production post for all the Columbia Department's farming operations west of the Rockies; operations that were noted by one visitor as being conducted on a "stupendous" scale. After 1846 the farm began to decline, suffering from squatters, a reduced labor force, increased costs from territorial taxes and duties, and competition from crop production by settlers.

The first fields, planted in spring 1825, were located on the upper river terrace where the first stockade was built. An 1825 map of the Columbia River shows "potatoe grounds" located behind (north) of the Fort Vancouver stockade. It is not clear when the first crops were grown on Fort Plain. Some crops may have been planted there between 1825 and 1828 or planting may not have begun until 1828-29 when an increase in production was noted after the new stockade was constructed. However, by 1831, planting on Fort Plain was confirmed by an employee who noted, "On the east side of the Fort [1828-29 fort] there is a beautiful plain, great part of which is under cultivation. . .". By 1838, Fort Plain was reported to have 70 acres of good land, 178 acres of "poor shingly land" that never flooded, and 203 acres of good land subject the to flooding--at most a total of 457 acres of cultivable land.

The 1844 "Line of Fire Map", the 1844 Henry Peers map, and 1846 Covington maps provide some details about the type, acreage, and locations of crops cultivated ca. 1844-46 on Fort Plain. While there are discrepancies among these maps, they generally indicate that there were from 150 acres to 220 acres of land fenced and cultivated on Fort Plain at the height of the fort in ca. 1844/46.

In 1844, the stockade was surrounded by fields laid out to the northeast, south, and southeast. Across Upper Mill Road between the schoolhouses and the barn complex was a six acre field of tares planted as livestock food; adjacent to the stockade was a twenty acre clover field used as livestock food or as soil enrichment; a twenty-five acre barley field east of the clover field; and east of the barley, an eighteen to twenty acre cole seed (or rape) field, used as either a forage crop, a cover crop, or to produce rape oil. South of the stockade was a twenty acre potato field, and east of the potato field was a sixteen acre barley field. The 1844 Peers map also shows an irregularly shaped field of about forty acres in the southeast area of the plain (outside the current park boundaries); it is not known what was planted there.

1825 Map of the Columbia River showing the first stockade at Fort Vancouver. of map on file in the Washington State Historical Society Special Collections.

In addition to these fenced fields, documentation indicates that timothy and clover were planted as pasture for horses and cattle. On Fort Plain, this practice applied to the land between the cultivated fields and the Columbia River. The prairie north of the tare field and barn complex was probably also used as pasture and may have been planted with timothy and clover, or left in native grasses. Fences were used to enclose cultivated fields in order to keep livestock out during the growing season, and to contain them when manure was folded onto fallow land.

Administration of a farm of this scale required a great deal of knowledge and skill. The overall management of the farm was directed by Chief Factor McLoughlin, although as the farm expanded, London sent agricultural experts such as dairy operators, general farmers, and shepherds to assist with operations. Some information about farming methods exist in the historic literature and more detailed information can probably be obtained from the two books found in McLoughlin's library, Cattle Doctors, and John C. Loudon's Encyclopedia of Agriculture: Comprising the Theory and Practice of the Valuation, Transfer, Laying Out, Improvement, and Management of Landed Property. For example, in Loudon's Encyclopedia of Agriculture... under the heading "General Processes common to Farm Lands", the merits of crop rotation, "working of fallows, and the management of manures" are discussed. [8]

At Fort Vancouver, soil improvement was a major management concern, especially when it was realized that the soil, initially proclaimed as being exceedingly fertile, was found to be poor in many areas. Strategies to improve the soil mirrored those presented in Loudon's work including crop rotation, fertilizing with manure, and allowing fields to lie fallow. For example, in 1842, Chief Trader James Douglas, stationed at Fort Vancouver, recommended that the manager at Fort Nisqually sow the wheat field at the dairy with timothy and clover. Clover, timothy, and probably rye grass (listed on the 1831 seed list) were raised at Fort Vancouver, presumably both for soil enrichment and livestock forage.

Periodically fields were allowed to lie fallow for a year; the Back Plains fields rested for four years after a crop was harvested. In addition, fallow fields often had manure applied to them. James Douglas said that in addition to rotation, the farm methods at the post consisted of "...keeping the soil in good heart, by fallowing and manures, the latter operation being most commonly performed by folding the cattle upon the impoverished land." Cattle and sheep were apparently also penned at night on the fields at Fort Vancouver and Fort Nisqually to help the soil produce. At Cowlitz Farm, and probably at Fort Vancouver, Indians carted manure from the barns to the fields and also fertilized the land with "muck from the pig sties."

To maximize production, McLoughlin instituted several strategies including selective land use, in effect matching crops or uses with soil conditions and field locations. For example, land subject to annual flooding was taken out of cultivation completely, or planted with timothy and clover and used as livestock pasture. Land flooded only in unusually high water was occasionally replanted for a second late crop, after the water receded. Also, early in the farm's history, McLoughlin matched crops and soil fertility, determining that Indian corn required the best soils, followed by barley, wheat, and then oats or peas.

The planting process at Fort Vancouver consisted of plowing the soil, sowing the seed, and then using a harrow to cover the seeds. Plowing and sowing times depended on the weather and crop. Documentation indicates that plowing was commonly carried out all winter, except when frost was on the ground. Oats, peas, potatoes, barley and buckwheat, turnips, and fall wheat were sown in early spring. Potatoes were usually planted by hand in spring, at least once in June, and harvested in late fall for seed and post rations. Garden peas were planted in early spring harvested in May: field peas harvested in mid-summer. Fall crops at Fort Vancouver included some potatoes and winter wheat, while at Fort Nisqually, December and January plantings included timothy and clover, in addition to turnips and colewort for seed.

At least two cast iron plows drawn by oxen and horses were used in the 1840s. At Cowlitz farm, a "2 Wheel Plough" and a "big Norfolk Plough" were used, and at Fort Vancouver a new "draining plough" for light soils arrived in 1841. By 1843, a seed drill had been requisitioned by McLoughlin for sowing (probably for grains). Originally, sowing was likely done by hand, although since drills were available from agricultural warehouses in England by 1821, they may have been in use at the farm prior to 1843.

Harvesting grain at the farm was similar to practices common in the British Isles in the first half of the nineteenth century. The majority of the grain at Fort Vancouver was harvested in the summer and fall. Grains or hay crops were cut using hand-held scythes and reaping cradles that were attached to the scythe handle to catch and stack cut stalks. Sickles were also used for hand cutting grains or weeds. In 1836, McLoughlin inquired about the potential of ordering a new type of reaping machine discussed in Loudon's Encyclopedia of Agriculture..., but there is no indication it was sent to the post.

After cutting and binding the grain, the sheaves were stored in the barns until they could be threshed and winnowed. Until 1839 there were no granaries for storage, and improper storage in barns often led to a great deal of spoilage. Contributing to this problem was the limited labor supply which often delayed threshing until winter months when post activities slowed. Threshing methods progressed over the years at the farm. In 1829, threshing was done with horses, "in the circus", probably a wood or dirt treading floor in a barn. By 1834 a stationary, horse-powered threshing mill was used to operate a sweep or lever-type of power, with horses walking in a circle. By the early 1840s, portable threshing machines were in use and by 1844 the fort had two, four horse-powered machines imported from England, and one "country made" at Fort Vancouver.

After threshing, seeds from grains, peas, and grasses had to be cleaned by winnowing. Performed by hand initially, by 1844 fanning mills, a pair of "English Fanners" and another, "country made", were used to chaff dust and dirt away. Other crops such as peas, clover, flax, and timothy were also processed this way at Cowlitz and presumably at Fort Vancouver.

Farming tools, as noted above, were both imported and "country made". British suppliers included Bryan Corcoran & Co.; John Davis; Ransomes & Sims; Mary & Thomas Wedlake; and Evans & Lascelles (specifically for dairy implements). A list of agricultural tools used at Fort Vancouver can be found in Appendix C.

Livestock Pastures


Initially, livestock was raised at Fort Vancouver to supply the Company's posts and Columbia Department coastal vessels, with salted beef, pork, and dairy products. Over time, however, livestock operations grew to such a large-scale that it dominated the region's supply. In addition to raising cattle and hogs, raising horses was later instituted to support the large-scale farming and fur-trading needs. Due to the demands of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, sheep eventually became the most dominant livestock raised at Fort Vancouver and in the region. Cattle, hogs, horses, sheep, goats, and oxen were also raised at Fort Vancouver farm, although a majority of these operations were carried out in locations other than Fort Plain.

In 1825, horses and cattle were pastured on Fort Plain in the area below the fort, presumably roaming freely among any fenced cultivated fields that existed at the time. Hogs were also allowed to range freely on both the upper prairie or the plain below. By 1828, goats were kept at the farm, although it is not known where.

Between 1829 and 1846, as cattle, horses, and sheep numbers increased, most were moved to Lower Plain and Mill Plain. However, livestock was never completely absent from Fort Plain. Sporadic references during this period, note that livestock were located in the vicinity of the stockade and along the river. The location of a pasture in the vicinity of the stockade probably refers to the prairie north of Upper Mill Road. In 1838, it was noted that the land near the fort was not adapted for large-scale herding. However, documentation suggests it was used periodically because it was also noted that, when the only "tolerable pasture" near the river was flooded, the cattle were moved into the barns on Fort Plain, Mill Plain, and Lower Plain.

In the 1840s, the land along the river was sown with timothy and clover and used for pasturing cattle and horses. Dairy cattle, horses, and oxen, used for work at Fort Plain, were kept at the stable and ox-byre near the river front. In addition to roaming freely on the plain, cattle were sometimes penned on cultivated fields at night to manure soil and sometimes in movable pens on areas destined for cultivation.



A garden at Fort Vancouver probably dated back to as early as 1825, coinciding with the old stockade which existed between 1824 and 1828. During this period, garden seeds were supplied by a variety of sources including Gordon, Forsythe & Co.; the Horticultural Society of London; and individuals such as Lt. Aemilius Simpson who planted apple and grape seeds in 1827 (his story of how some grape and apple seeds arrived at the fort is one of several versions). References to "extensive gardens" leave no doubt to its existence, however, it is not known if it was located on the bluff near the old stockade, on Fort Plain near to where the new stockade would be built, or elsewhere on Fort Plain. Wherever the original garden was located, it appears that after the new stockade was constructed in 1829, a new garden was laid out directly behind it (north).

The new garden appears to have reached the height of its development ca. 1844 when it reached eight acres in size, and continued to be tended on some level until the HBC departed in 1860. Due to the overall decline in Fort Vancouver activities during later years, and the death of William Bruce, the garden's primary gardener, the intensity of planting in the garden and the care it received also declined between 1847 and 1860. By 1860, the garden, or "orchard" as it was called by then, had been reduced to four acres.

The general development of the size and location of the new garden is also unclear. References from the 1830s and 1840s offer only general descriptions, and no known extant plans or planting schemes have been discovered. Early descriptions offer some sense of its size and substance yet no maps or descriptions indicate its size until 1844. For example, in 1836 missionary Narcissa Whitman noted, "Every part [of the garden] is very neat and tastefully arranged fine walks, each side lined with strawberry vines. On the opposite end of the garden is a good Summer house covered with grape vines.". Also in 1836, missionary Henry Spalding wrote "We were soon conducted by the Doct. [doctor] to his Garden. . . where we did not expect to meet. . . such perfection in gardening. About 5 [five] acres laid out in good order, stored with almost every species of vegetables, fruit trees and flowers."

The original size of the garden may have coincided with the pre-1834 stockade size, approximately 320 feet, which then expanded along with the stockade, and reached its full development in 1844. The 1844 "Line of Fire Map" is the only map known to delineate both the size and some spatial organization to the garden. [9]

The 1844 fenced garden enclosed a large rectangular area approximately 570 by 625 feet (about eight acres) that was oriented east-west. It was located between the stockade and Upper Mill Road, and between the north gate road and a fence that extended about 140 feet beyond the west wall of the stockade. It was laid out in an irregular pattern of three by three rectangular beds enclosed by paths. Individual beds ranged in size from 85-140 feet long to 130-150 feet wide and were separated by paths twenty to thirty feet wide. In addition, two long narrow beds lay on the west and south sides of the garden: the south bed, adjacent to the stockade wall, was approximately five hundred feet long and fifty to sixty feet wide; and the other bed was approximately seventy to eighty feet wide and six hundred feet long and lay along the west boundary fence.

Structures in the garden included a summerhouse at the north end; four to five cold (or hot) frames on the east edge of the garden; and a well (based on preliminary archeological investigations, 1991) located near the south end of the garden. Although this layout provides some idea of the overall organization of the garden, due to the small scale of the drawing, it is likely that the 1844 "Line of Fire Map" excluded more detailed information, such as the location and character of paths and planting beds.

Richard Covington's 1855 sketch lends some detail to the larger grid pattern of the garden. For example, there are numerous deciduous trees, probably fruit trees, arranged in a regular pattern, and a large bed in the northwest corner of the garden, also depicted in the 1844 "Line of Fire Map", appears to contain a variety of trees, including several conifers, possibly Douglas-fir trees. The long north-south bed on the west edge of the garden appears to be densely planted with small trees, again, probably fruit trees. The east side of the garden contains fewer trees and there are more beds indicated than on the 1844 "Line of Fire Map".

sketch of Fort Vancouver, 1855
1855 illustration of the HBC Fort Vancouver and Camp Vancouver (U S. Army) by Richard Covington showing garden details. Fort Vancouver N.H.S. photo file.

In 1846, documentation indicates the garden was reduced when the west edge of the garden was aligned with the west stockade wall rather than extending beyond it (as in 1844). The size and location of the garden in 1846 would be maintained through the departure of the Company in 1860, although details of the layout and type of planting undertaken during this period is unknown. The 1860 Boundary Commission photo shows a number of fruit trees planted in a loose grid pattern along the northeast corner of the garden. It is not known when these trees were planted or what kind of fruit trees they were. [10] The 1854 army list of Company's improvements includes eighty fruit trees that appear to have been located mainly in the garden; perhaps these were the trees in the 1860 photo.

photo of Fort Vancouver, 1860
1860 British Boundary Commission photograph. Vi north from the northeast come of the HBC garden towards the U.S. Army's Camp Vancouver. Fort Vancouver N.H.S. photo.

Little is known about the gardening techniques employed in the garden. It is generally understood that Chief Factor McLoughlin ultimately oversaw, if not directly participated in, the design and care of the garden, but no details of his gardening expertise have been discovered to date. Books owned by McLoughlin, such as John Claudius Loudon's Encyclopedia of Agriculture, may offer some insight into common agricultural practices of the time. While McLoughlin appears to have been actively involved in the garden, the principal gardener, William Bruce, also played a major role in its development and care.

William Bruce, originally from Scotland, was listed as a laborer in 1826 for Fort Vancouver and was first mentioned as being the principal gardener there in 1833. He returned briefly to England in October of 1838 at the end of his first term, but "begged" McLoughlin to reemploy him. McLoughlin agreed but first sent Bruce to the gardens of Chiswick House, according to Charles Wilkes, "to get a little more knowledge of his duties". After spending a few days at Chiswick, Bruce set sail for Fort Vancouver, arriving in September of 1839, where he served as gardener until his death in 1849. Wilkes' comparisons of Fort Vancouver's garden to Chiswick, and plants sent to Fort Vancouver by Joseph Paxton, Chiswick's gardener, suggest a high level of expertise was employed in the development and maintenance of the garden. Chiswick was the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and at the time his garden, operated by the Horticultural Society of London, was one of the most important gardens in England. Joseph Paxton was a noted horticulturalist and publisher of two horticulture magazines.

Agricultural tools were both imported and "country made". British suppliers included Bryan Corcoran & Co.; John Davis; Ransomes & Sims; and Mary & Thomas Wedlake. The garden probably used similar tools to those used in other agricultural activities, presumably with the exception of tools used for large-scale grain cultivation. Agricultural tools listed in Company inventories and likely to have been used for the garden are listed in Appendix C.

The garden at Fort Vancouver served several purposes. First and foremost was creating a supply of fresh produce for the Company employees. Most of the produce was served at the mess table for officers, clerks, and selected guests, in addition to selected employees and visitors in the Big House kitchen. The second purpose of the garden was to serve as a social outing and pleasure ground where special guests were invited by Chief Factor McLoughlin to walk in the garden and sample the garden fares. Third, the garden provided a supply of plants for visitors planning to settle the region, seeds for local Indians to cultivate in gardens near their camps, and seeds and cuttings for generating more plants for the garden and orchard. Producing a ready supply of seeds and plants was essential for maintaining a self-reliant post and was critical to settlers who had no other local sources to draw upon during this time. In addition to collecting seeds and plants from the garden, a portion of the garden was set aside as a nursery. The location of the nursery is unknown.

There are numerous references to the types of plants (common names) grown at Fort Vancouver, however, detailed lists of plant varieties are limited. Fruit trees included pears, nectarines, apricots, cherries, plums, figs, lemons, oranges, citrons, and pomegranates. Vegetables included carrots, turnips, cabbage, potatoes, squashes, parsnips, cucumber, peas, tomatoes, and beets. Fruits and flowers included strawberries, gooseberries, musk and water melon, raspberries, currants, quinces, grapes, roses, and dahlias.

A list of plants grown in the garden based on visitor and Company employee descriptions and HBC records is provided in Appendix D. Documentation on plant varieties specifically grown at Fort Vancouver are limited, therefore, available seed lists purchased for the Columbia Department, in general, and for York Factory, have been included to lend some understanding of the probable vegetable, fruit, and flower species grown at Fort Vancouver.



The history of the orchard as a distinct unit (separate from the garden) is complicated because many of the records and descriptions of the orchard are intermixed with the history of the garden. This is due largely to the fact that the first fruit trees established at Fort Vancouver were planted in the garden (and continued to exist in the garden throughout its development), and most visitors did not distinguish between the garden and orchard in their observations. Fruit trees were first observed in 1828 by American fur trader Jedediah Smith who reported seeing a fine garden with small apple trees and vines, which suggests they were planted at least by spring of 1828, if not sooner. The date of his observation correlates well with the multiple variations of a story of a gentleman or gentlemen (Lt. Aemilius Simpson was the featured gentleman in several versions), who arrived from London carrying apple and grape seeds in a vest pocket, which were probably planted in 1827 at Fort Vancouver. The seeds were reportedly first planted in "little" boxes which were placed in the store (warehouse) and covered with glass until the trees were large enough to plant outside. [11]

Since the location of the garden referred to in 1828 is unknown, it is also not known if these apple trees were planted in or relocated to the 1828-29 stockade garden. Wherever their location, by 1829 it is known that three peach trees were planted in the 1828-29 stockade garden, and from that time on, a wide variety of fruit trees, including pear, apricot, cherry, plum, fig, lemon, orange, citron, and pomegranate trees, were observed in the garden. A list of fruit trees grown in the garden/orchard can be found in Appendix E.

The development of the orchard as a distinct feature, separate from the garden, can only be approximated from existing research. Documentation suggests the orchard became distinct from the garden between 1836 and 1839, although it was not until 1844, the date of the first map of the site, that the orchard, in relation to the garden, was illustrated for the first time.

The area planted with trees on the 1844 "Line of Fire Map" is approximately 380-400 by 600 feet, or 5.2 acres. This area extends from Upper Mill Road south to a line parallel to the stockade's north wall, and east from a point near the river road to the west edge of the garden (120' feet west of the bastion), and continues north back to Upper Mill Road. Some illustrations from the 1850s suggest the area south of the stockade may have been planted as an orchard in the 1850s. However, as of 1844, the orchard was confined to the area northwest of the stockade.

The orchard was enclosed by a fence that extended beyond the planted area. The fence extended west from the southwest corner of the stockade along Lower Mill Road to the river road where it continued north to Upper Mill Road, then east to the west edge of the garden.

As with the garden, and Fort Vancouver as a whole, after 1844/46 the orchard declined in size and upkeep. An extensive fire in September 1844 had a dramatic affect on the orchard, burning the north half of the orchard, the fence along Upper Mill Road, and the upper portion of the fence separating the garden and orchard. The fence was rebuilt but it appears that the trees were never replanted.

Detailed information about the orchard, such as tree spacing, the number of trees, and types of trees planted, is vague at best. The only mention of the number of trees was in 1841 when horticulturalist William D. Brackenridge observed four hundred to five hundred apple trees in bearing state. Some confusion arises because Brackenridge did not say these trees were specifically in the orchard, rather that he saw them when McLoughlin ". . . showed me round his gardens. . .". If these trees were confined just to the orchard which was approximately 380-400 by 600 feet, then in order for four hundred to five hundred trees to "fit", the trees would need to be spaced around twenty-two to twenty-four feet on center. The 1846/47 Stanley drawing shows a total of about fifty-two trees in the garden and part of the orchard. The only other specific reference to the number of trees was in 1854 when eighty fruit trees were listed by the U.S. Army as part of the HBC improvements. Research suggests these trees were planted in the garden and not the orchard.

Another approach to estimating the number of trees in the orchard, and the tree spacing is from 1850s illustrations that depict the orchard. While there were some discrepancies, the Covington, Sohon, and Hodges drawings suggested a spacing of about thirty feet on center. This spacing agrees with J.C. Loudon who also recommends in The Encyclopedia of Gardening... that standard trees should be planted thirty to forty feet on center. [12]

With a thirty foot spacing in the 380-400 by 600 foot orchard area, there would be a grid pattern of about fourteen trees along Upper Mill Road and about twenty trees running perpendicular to the road equaling approximately 280 trees. This does not equal the 400-500 apple trees noted by Brackenridge, if his observation was correct, but perhaps the other trees were in the garden.

sketch of Fort Vancouver, 1855
1855 illustration by Lt. H.C. Hodges (US. Army). View east from Kanaka Village towards the HBC stockade and US. Army Camp Vancouver. Fort Vancouver N.H.S. photo file.

The question of what types of fruit trees were in the orchard is also difficult to determine. While most references suggest the orchard was composed of apple trees, or at least a majority were apple trees, there is some indication that there were other fruit trees as well. For example, George Roberts' 1838 Thermometric Register for Fort Vancouver noted apple, pear, and peach trees but not any of the many other varieties of fruit trees known to be growing at Fort Vancouver at that time. It is possible that Roberts, who was in charge of the fort's "Outdoor Work", tended only the orchard and field crops, while others administered the garden (while William Bruce was in England). This might suggest that peaches and pears, in addition to apples, were found in the orchard.

There is also the question of whether the trees were seedlings or grafted, and if they were grated onto standard, semi-dwarf, or dwarf rootstock. Most sources agreed that the trees were seedlings and not grafted. For example, Brackenridge noted the apple trees were ". . . with the exception of a few approved varieties imported from England the whole stock has been raised from Seeds at Vancouver, and to my taste the majority were better adapted for baking than for a dessert. . . ." Likewise George Gibbs noted the apple trees were "natural and not grafted trees". Henry A. Tuzo, a HBC doctor at Fort Vancouver from 1853-1857, responded to a question of whether the orchard consisted of seedlings that were not as valuable as cultivated varieties, that he presumed "... there was no grafted fruit in the country at the time the orchard was laid out; the fruit was the best of its kind, but not so valuable as the cultivated varieties."

While the use of some dwarf trees during the historic period is possible, to date, only one reference to their use has been documented. John Dunn, a appostmaster at the fort from 1836-1838 noted that the apple trees at Fort Vancouver were dwarfs. It is not known if his description is based on personal observation or not, some of his accounts were based on the observations of others. If his report is accurate, the most likely source of dwarf rootstock in the 1830s was the Horticultural Society of London. To date, the only documented arrival of trees of any kind from the Horticultural Society was in 1839. In September, the gardener William Bruce brought back fruit trees from Chiswick "under glass", but this post-dates Dunn's stay and also does not indicate if the trees were grafted or grafted onto dwarf rootstock. [13] Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth may have been a source for grafted trees. In a 1847 letter, he noted improvements made in 1835 at Fort William on Sauvie Island as follows, "At this post we...planted wheat, corn, potatoes,...grafted & planted apples and other fruits...)." [14] However, the reference to grafted trees, still does not indicate what kind of rootstock (standard, semi-dwarf, or dwarf) was used.

A number of illustrations of Fort Vancouver provide the only other site-specific clues about the character and extent of the trees in the orchard. Based on the height of the trees depicted in the drawings, twelve to twenty-five feet, they appear to be standard or possibly semi-dwarf trees (dwarf trees usually only grow to a height of six to nine feet). [15] Finally, although dwarf fruit trees were common in England and Europe at the time, they were most often recommended for the garden, while standard trees were commonly recommended for the orchard. [16] Until further evidence related to the trees in the Fort Vancouver orchard is discovered, it is probable to assume that during the historic period 1829-1844/46, the majority of apple trees in the orchard, were standard size seedling trees.

Other Ornamental Plants

Other than the garden and the orchard, the only other references to areas planted with ornamental species at Fort Vancouver were the plants at Chief Factor McLoughlin's house. It was noted that the house had a piazza and ballustrade with grape and other vines growing on it, and small flower beds in front. The flower beds were presumably located inside the white picket fences in front of the house, on both sides of the entrance. In the 1860 Boundary Commission photo, grape vines are growing from the base of the house, climbing up the top railing and continuing up to the roof, supported by vertical poles along the front of the porch, and arched poles over the front entrance and at each end of the porch.

Vegetation Summary and Analysis

Vegetation is a critical component of the Fort Vancouver landscape because of the prominent role agricultural and subsistence activities played in the fort's success and influence in the Pacific Northwest. The cultivated fields, garden, orchard and livestock pastures were all significant landscape features.

Today there are no known vegetative remnants or features introduced by the Hudson's Bay Company, within the National Historic Site boundary. An interpretive orchard, planted in 1962, exists on the site of the historic garden. There is also an interpretive period garden located northeast of the stockade on the site of what was historically a cultivated field.

The only documented vegetation existing from the HBC period includes two Douglas-fir trees at the east end of the parade ground, and the apple tree in the city's Historic Apple Tree Park. Two large Oregon oak trees on the parade ground may date from the 1850s, and a pear tree located north of East Fifth Street appears to be an old variety, although its location does not correspond to the known development by the HBC.

While, to date, no other vegetation dating from the historic period exists in the park today, the landscape character of some areas surrounding the stockade is still indicative of the vegetation associated with the historic period. For example, during the HBC period, the undeveloped area north of Upper Mill Road consisted of Oregon oaks and Douglas-fir trees scattered across a natural prairie. Today, the Douglas-fir and Oregon oak trees scattered across the manicured lawn of the parade ground retain the general character of the historic period. Several of the trees on the parade ground date from early in Vancouver Barracks' history. Clumps of Oregon oaks that are spread across the Vancouver Barracks portion of the park, were also common in this area during the HBC and Vancouver Barracks periods as part of the oak savannah transition zone between the conifer forest and the plain. [17]

The vegetation along the river historically consisted of native riparian trees and shrubs. Today, the majority of the waterfront also consists of riparian vegetation, masses of black cottonwoods, willows, and alders. The open fields north of Highway 14 are similar to the open-space character of the pasture and fields of the HBC period. However, the overall visual character of the area lacks historic detail and diversity, due to the lack of crops and the associated grids and patterns created by fields and rows of crops. The structures and features associated with the Pearson Airpark development significantly impact the open character of the historic cultivated fields.

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Last Updated: 27-Oct-2003