Movin On

December 6, 2009

With their trade monopoly secure, the men of the Hudson’s Bay Company maintained a cautious eye on the American’s who shared the low lands of the Columbia River as they started to flex their political muscle with slogans the likes of; “68 or die”.

The more aggressive were sending petitions off to Washington, egging on a war which once and for all would set in stone the northern boundary of the land they fondly referred to as the Oregon Territories.

About this same time the Baymen lost two of their trading ships on the sandbars situated at the mouth of the Columbia, and this latter event only amplified their need to look further north for a new west coast depot.

In 1842 George Simpson, Governor of the HBC in British North America ordered the establishment of a new fort, anxious to ensure their presence on Vancouver’s Island. There was a rumour drifting about that the 49th parallel would become the eventual international boundary, leaving Fort Vancouver a matter of history. It was the HBC belief that the San Juan Islands should form part of the British territories, regardless of the fact that they lay well below the 49th. Wishing to press the issue towards such a conclusion, focus was maintained on the southern tip of Vancouver’s Island.

At this time James Douglas was posted at Fort Vancouver so the directive fell on his shoulders to enforce. In March of 1842 Douglas followed his orders and made his way to the  norther shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, more specifically the southern extremedy of Vancouver’s Island.

You may note that the Island was referred to in the possessive. This is not in error, but rather the way it was spoken of in that day.

Douglas first stopped at Sooke Harbour but found it all but impossible to enter unless one had the benefit of a southwesterly wind at high tide. The entrance was not only enough to challenge the most seasoned sailor, but held little to no water at low tide.

Douglas next looked at what we now refer to as Esquimalt Harbour. While it offered excellent deep morage, ships were forced to anchor 130 ft off shore and it lacked the level arable land he deemed necessary for the longevity of a good depot.

Lastly he steered his ship through the dogs-leg of an entrance into what was refered to as Camosack (Victoria Harbour). The following is an exert from his report to head office:

July 1842 “According to your instructions, I embarked with a party of 5 men, in the Schooner Cadboro, at Fort Nisqually and proceeded with her, to the south end of ‘Vancouver’s Island’, visited the most promising points of the coast, and after a careful survey of its several ports and harbours, I made choice of a site for the proposed new establishment in the port of Camosack which appears to me decidedly the most advantageous situation for the purpose, within the Straits of Juan de Fuca. As a harbour it is equally safe and accessible and abundance of timber grows near it for home construction and exploration.”


The Final Two

December 4, 2009

As many nations pulled anchor for the last time, two trading companies remained and shortly thereafter began a war of economic strategy to see who would dominate the Pacific Northwest.

The two immediately locked horns and stood determined to go to any means necessary to reinforce their bid for a monopoly. They went as far as to destroy each other’s boats and forts. They tried to bribe the other company’s traders and if that didn’t work, they would out maneuver the other by offering above market value to the natives for their furs. Some of the men even resorted to violence which included murder to secure more furs.

The two companies remaining were the North West Trading Company (known as the Nor’wester’s) and our own Hudson’s Bay Company (known as the Baymen), the latter of which were actually newcomers to the Pacific Northwest.

The Hudson’s Bay Company had been entrenched in the region of Ontario that to this day supports their name since 1669. Not recognizing the potential of the west coast, they ignored the North West Trading Company as they set up posts throughout the Pacific Northwest and held the monopoly.

Having seen its beginning until 1783, the Nor’westers were a group of independent fur traders out of Montreal. Many were former coureurs de bois, unemployed after the seven-year war between the French and British, others were young men who came out from Scotland to join the fur trade. These men saw an opportunity to prosper and came together with a common interest to optimise the yet unsettled Pacific Northwest.

One of their earliest outposts was just upstream of the Pacific Ocean, in the location of Astoria, Washington, today, adjacent to and driven into the shores of the south bank of the Columbia River.

As time past, the Hudson’s Bay Company came to their senses and followed suit, establishing Fort Vancouver on the north bank of the Columbia some hundred miles upstream of the Pacific. This became the terminus for all trade that transpired west of the Rockies and from there, furs, salted venison and salmon and at times, gold, was shipped off to Britain or the Orient if deemed beneficial.

Fearing the ongoing struggle between the British and the Americans to call the region their own, the HBC took aggressive measures for all lands north of the Columbia River and wasted little time in establishing trading posts throughout what we now recognize as British Columbia and the Puget Sound.

Fort Nisqually was located deep in the San Juan Islands, Fort Langley, just upstream of the mouth of the mighty Fraser River, further upstream followed by Fort George, Fort Simpson, and numerous others.

By 1820 the officials of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Trading Company, came to the grim reality that all their profits and energies were being consumed fighting the other. The war was literally spiraling both companies into financial ruin, so in 1821 the HBC presented an offer to the men of the North West Trading Company at which time the two companies merged into the present-day HBC.

For the HBC, they had finally attained the monopoly they had long sought, that is until 1849.

Settlement Followed

September 20, 2009

It was a number of years before the Europeans actually took steps to formally settle the land on behalf of their respective country. Political posturing carried on between the Spanish and the British, with the Americans and Russians looking for an opportunity to inch their way into a foothold as well.

The first European to take up any form of residency, {albeit for only a short time,} was John MacKay, the assistant surgeon aboard Captain Henry Guise’s ship the Experiment.

Falling ill while anchored in Nootka in 1786, with what was referred to as “purple fever”, he volunteered to stay with Chief Maquinna at his winter camp in Tahsis, on the understanding that he would be picked up the following year as Guise returned.

John was Irish by birth and it may have been that factor alone that gave his the grist he needed to withstand the harsh winter and unfamiliar setting. Then again having curred Maquinna’s daughter Apenas of a “scabby disease,” also helped to gain the native’s respect.

Initially MacKay was well treated by Macquinna as he gradually regained his health. Supplied by Captain Guise with two goats, some seeds, a gun, plus ink and paper, he was instructed to record “every occurrence, however trivial, which might serve to throw any light on our hitherto confined knowledge of the manners, customs, religion and government of these people.

For some unexplained reason, another elderly Chief who resided in the camp, tore up his writing materials, leaving MacKay unable to complete his task. Nonetheless he entrenched himself in their way of life and was promised a wife by Maquinna. Fact is he was so well settled, that when Captain Hanna paid the area a visit in 1786, he declined an invitation to leave with them ahead of schedule.

In hindsight, MacKay should have taken that offer a wee bit more seriously.

MacKay allowed the natives to dismantle his musket, then he was unable to retrieve all the pieces. “Deprived of this powerful weapon of respect, I became less formidable, and less secure.” The goats left with him died during the inclement season for want of food.

More trouble arose when MacKay unwittingly stepped over the cradle of Maquinna’s child, thereby breaking a local taboo. MacKay was stripped of his clothes and beaten, obliging him to adopt the native mode of dress and filthiness of manners. When Maquinna’s infant died, MacKay was exiled from Maquinna’s lodge and banished from the camp for weeks to survive on his own. “It was impossible after this to recover the confidence and esteem of Mokquilla.”

When the village moved with the new season, MacKay was barely able to feed himself. He ate the seeds in his possession and came down with the “bloody flux which continued for near three weeks. After I regained my strength I was attacked with a putrid fever, which I cannot with any degree of certainty tell how long it lasted, being deprived of my senses, nor do I know in what manner the natives had treated me.” In the spring, still ostracized, he mainly had dealings with the women and children.

“My skill in medicine stood me in little stead. This profession too was in the hands of their women, whose knowledge of simples and herbs, was extensive.”

As MacKay was in residence, he witnessed a horrible massacre of about twelve captive men on the beach. “They did not actually devour their captives and slain enemies. They only washed their hands in their blood and tasted it. The dried hands (of the slain) were preserved as trophies and charms.”

The diseases in general which the natives died from arose from indigestion. The women were especially subject to complaints in the bowels, more so than the men and children and MacKay felt this may have been due to their lack of exercise.

“The animals they commonly took on their hunting parties were the bear, mousedeer, raccoon, and martin. The skin of which is next in estimation to that of the sea otter; the bear is harpooned and some times entrapped, which is done by placing a double row of stones about two feet high in a semicircular form with a cross bar in the centre, which falls on his neck when he pulls the bait that is made fast to it by a string, at which time they take the advantage to rush out in a body and soon dispatch him. The sea otter is exceedingly shy and confined to the water. It’s food is on fish; when it is wounded by an arrow his utmost endeavours are to free himself from it, while in the mean time the natives strike him with a harpoon before he goes down under the water.”

MacKay noted that “modesty of their women proceeds rather from a principal of the mind, than a fear of their husbands. It is an uncommon circumstance for girls to be naked before marriage.”

In time MacKay mastered the local language and became well acquainted with their temper and disposition. He made frequent incursions into the interior of the country and came to the conclusion that no part of it was the continent of America, but a chain of detached islands.

When the Imperial Eagle under Captain Charles Barkley’s command arrived in June of 1787, MacKay gladly agreed to serve as the Captain’s guide, translator and sales agent to help him acquire sea otter furs, in exchange for passage away from so uncomfortable a place.

On behalf of Barkley, he procured 700 prime skins and many more of inferior quality, worth a great fortune in the Orient.

As Barkley sailed south, he named Barkley Sound, Hornby Peak, Frances Island, Trevor Channel, Loudoun Channel, Cape Beale and Imperial Eagle Channel. In honour of the local chief, he also named Wickinninish Sound, now referred to as Clayoquot Sound. As his ship settled due to lack of wind, off the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on July 24, 1787, six of his party were killed by Indians who forced their way aboard his ship.

Depressed by this encounter, the Barkleys set sail for Canton and reached Macao in December. Formal trading proved successful with L10,000 for his backers. From their portion of the proceeds, the Barkleys bought an ornate bamboo chair that survived their journeys and can be seen in the Vancouver Centennial Museum today.

The first European woman to visit BC was eighteen-year-old Frances Barkley. She was also the first to sail openly as a woman, for beforehand it was considered bad luck and crews would refuse to sign on under such events.

As part of her circumnavigation of the globe, with her new twenty-six year old husband, Captain Charles William Barkley, she made a lasting impression on the Nootka natives, with her extraordinarily long, red-gold hair during their month long stay in June of 1787.

Legend has it that Frances hair saved the day when the Barkleys were captured by hostile South Sea natives. Curious women among their captors supposedly loosed her hair “which fell like a shower of gold,” whereupon the astonished onlookers presumed she must be divine and Frances successfully ordered their release.

She was the daughter of a Protestant Church Rector and the sister of Captain James Cook wife, so she probably came by the unusual spirit of adventure by marriage if for no other reason.

Barkley captained the Imperial Eagle so not much could be said about her partaking of the expedition. Either you wanted to sail with the ship or you didn’t. The choice was theirs.

As they stopped at the Sandwich Islands, Frances took aboard a maid-servant, Winee, who be came the first Hawaiian or “Kanaka” to reach what was to become British Columbia. She said with the Barkleys to Nootka Sound, then onto China, but in Macao she wanted to return to her native home. She was given passage aboard John Meares ship in the spring of 1788. Meares described her as being “in a deep decline.” Winee died en route on February 5, 1788 and her body was committed to the deep.

Fair Trade?

September 19, 2009

During Captain Cook’s third visit to the Pacific Northwest, he purchased twenty sea otter pelts from the Nootka natives. These he took to Canton with a desire to sell them for a profit as he was offered 300 Spanish dollars (or “pieces of eight”) for the lot, plus some silks. In turn he demanded $1,000 but eventually settled at $800.

Cook felt that he had done just fine by his endeavour, until that is he stopped in at Macao and learned that a single prime skin had sold there for 120 Spanish dollars and yet another for 300 Spanish dollars, the latter of which had been procured from the same natives in exchange for a broken belt buckle of all things.

It was soon revealed that skins were nearly double the value in Canton as they were in Kamchatka and that one sea otter pelt was worth then beaver pelts.

The modern economy of British Columbia, while based on exploitation of natural resources and was not always premised on harmonious relations. Thinking it a practical joke, Captain James Hanna of the 60-ton Sea Otter and his crew of 20 men, set a charge of gun powder under Chief Maquinna’s chair. In retaliation, one of the Indians stole a chisel. Matters turned from bad to worse at this point seeing 20 Indians killed during the ensuing confrontation. Regardless of the discontent, Hanna’s men collected 560 sea otter pelts and sold them for a fortune in China.

From these revelations arose the fur trade that put the Pacific Northwest on the commercial map.

Numerous companies were created to optimise the new industry. The Bengal Fur Company was formed in January of 1786 by a group of merchants headed by a J.H. Cox, supposedly with the approval of the East India Company and the Governor-General of India. There was the Richard Cadman Etches & Company as well.

At times it was difficult to tell what ship represented which country. In the case of the Mercury under the command of John Henry Cox, the ship was so named as it left Britain, but as it reached the Pacific, Cox changed the name to Gustavus III and hoisted the Swedish flag.

In time the captains looked further afield for riches that did not take the form of an animal pelt. Nathaniel Portlock was the first to describe coal outcrops near Port Graham, Alaska, in 1785.

Mapping Before GPS

September 12, 2009

Up to this point in time, international interest in the Pacific Northwest was investigative at its best. The Spanish, Americans and British each found wisdom in their pursuit of ownership, but other than a few forays of diplomacy, nothing concrete had been done to clarify their understanding of what they land held in the way of harbours, waterways, minerals and potential sites for major settlement.

All this changed in 1790 when Manuel Quimper was accorded two months to survey the largely uncharted northern and southern shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This he did with a British fur-trading ship the Princess Royal, which was earlier confiscated by the Spanish and renamed Princess Real. Quimper in fact became the first European to see Mount Baker. He “christened” it “La Gran Montagna Carmelita” because it reminded him of the flowing white robes of the Carmelites. It was renamed by Captain George Vancouver two years later after Lieutenant Joseph Baker who was the first to spot the snow-capped mountain from his ship the Discovery.

After charting Clayoquot Sound, Quimper anchored outside Sooke Inlet, which he called Puerta de Revillagigedo, on June 18, 1790. He traded copper for sea otter skins, recorded the harvesting and trading of camas bulbs and witnessed three canoe burials. Here Quimper observed approximately 500 Indians who dressed somewhat differently from Indians on the western edge of Vancouver Island. Their cloaks included “the hair of sea otters and seals, and gull and duck feathers. Their hats are not of pyramidal form but like those the Chinese wear in Macao.

Quimper reached San Juan Bay and Royal Roads, then crossed Juan de Fuca Strait to the San Juan Islands where he mapped two Dungeness villages and claimed them for Spain on July 4, 1790. He charted Port Discovery and Neah Bay then set sail for Nootka Sound on July 18 discovering Esquimalt Harbour on route.

Before leaving Esquimalt, he claimed the present-day site of the city of Victoria for Spain.

In April of 1792, Captain Vancouver entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca and retraced Quimper’s discovery. There he surveyed the mainland coast, reaching the site of the city that now bears his name. In June of that same year he met two Spanish vessels under the control of Captains Galiano and Valdes, off Point Grey in Vancouver harbour, giving rise to the name Spanish Banks. Vancouver continued with his meticulous survey of the West Coast through the summers of 1793 and 1794, wintering in the Sandwich Islands.

Many geographical features were named by the various captains who plied the waters during those early times, as fate would have it, some names remained, others were changed by those who followed. For obvious reasons, there was minimal communication between the captains and/or their countries, so names just came and went with each new captain that arrived to the area.

Captain George Dixon is credited with naming the Queen Charlotte Islands after his ship the Queen Charlotte, which in turn adopted the name of the wife of King George III. Dixon also named Port Mulgrave and Norfolk Bay. Dixon Entrance at the north end of the Queen Charlotte’s was named in his honour.

Captain Robert Gray was the first American to circumnavigate the globe and also the first to ascend the mouth of the waterway on May 11, 1792, which bares the name of his his ship, Columbia Rediva.
Five months later, Captain George Vancouver sent two smaller boats up the Columbia River for a distance of 100 miles, charting the route as he went.
The importance of this work, led to the settlement of both Fort Astoria by the Northwest Trading Company and Fort Vancouver by the Hudson Bay Company, whereupon the river became the primary trading route for what became known as the Oregon Territories.

All the while captains were sailing up and down the coast of the Pacific Northwest, doing their best to uncover the mysteries that lay within each nook and cranny, a separate trek was being made overland under the direction of the North West Company of traders.
Alexander Mackenzie was sent on a mission to survey the Athabasca River, its headwaters and its outlet.
In 1793 Mackenzie made his way across the continent with nine men, one dog and a single canoe. With the essential help of Indian guides, he navigated up the Peace River, crossed the Rocky Mountains and then made his way down the Fraser River to the point of the present day Williams Lake. From there he traversed the Chilcotin along the oolichan “grease trail” used by First Nations, traders, reaching the mouth of the Bella Coola River on North Bentinck Arm. It wasn’t until he had paddled down Dean Channel that he realized he had found the Pacific. There in vermilion paint he left a message on a rock in Elcho Harbour.
Many Americans believed that the better known Lewis and Clark expedition were first to reach the Pacific overland but they did not complete their feat until twelve years later.

The British Remain

September 6, 2009

Bruno de Hezeta y Dudagoitia was the second European to make contact with the Indians of the present-day British Columbia and this he did off the southern tip of Vancouver Island in 1775.

On Aug. 17, 1775, he thought for sure he had located the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as he recorded within his journal, “These currents and seething of the waters have led me to believe that it may be the mouth of some great river or some passage to another sea,” but it was only the Columbia River.

Hezeta soon gained the dubious distinction of being the first to bring smallpox to the Pacific Northwest, which led to the edification of approximately 11,000, or 30% of the Puget Sound tribes during the 1770’s.

The natives of the Pacific Northwest didn’t need such carelessness to cause them grief, they had sufficient natural disasters to place their health at risk. The Squamish tribe spoke of a dreadful misfortune when, “One salmon season, the fish were found to be covered with running sores and blotches, which rendered them unfit for food. But as a people who depended largely upon these salmon for their winter’s food supply, there were obliged to catch and cure them as best they could, and store them away for food. They put off eating them until no other food was available, and then began a terrible time of sickness and distress. A dreadful skin disease, loathsome to look upon, broke out upon all alike. None were spared. Men, women and children were sickened, taking the disease and dying in agony by the hundreds, so that when the spring arrived and fresh food was procurable, there was scarcely a person left of all their numbers to gather it. Camp after camp, village after village, was left desolate. The remains of which, can be found today in the old camp sites or midden-heaps, over which the forest has been growing for so many generations.”

By the time Hezeta reached the Olympic Peninsula, his crew had been beset by scurvy or some unknown disease. He stopped nonetheless near present-day Point Grenville, where some of Quadra’s men were killed by natives when they went ashore for water at an earlier date.

Quadra had led a similar expedition and noted in his journal on July of 1775, that his crew encountered violent resistance on the Washington coast when seven Spanish / Mexican sailors were massacred by more than 200 Indians, at a place they called Punta de lox Martines, now believed to be Port Grenville.

Also stricken with scurvy, Quadra and his crew pressed on as far north as the 58th parallel. North of Sitka he found a crudely constructed shelter where they erected the first Spanish cross on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Surprised not to find Russians in occupation of the land, he formally declared the land sovereign to Carlos III, King of Spain and the West Indies. He performed a similar ceremony on August 18, 1775, at Salisbury Sound, Alaska.

It was a full three years later, in 1778, that Captain James Cook arrived at Nootka Sound to take possession of “territories useful” to England. The race for occupation was on, but neither the Spanish nor the English knew of the others endeavours, so they proceeded on doing what they felt would be preemptive.

It was later noted that Nootka was not an Indian word but rather one that Captain Cook created as he misinterpreted the words of the local natives on his first visit. Dropping anchor in Resolution Cove, Cook and his men watched as the natives approached, calling out, “Itchme nutka! Itchme nutka!”, or ‘go around.’ They were urging Cook to sail his two ships around Bligh Island to an anchorage nearer their village. Cook assumed they were introducing themselves as the Nootka. We have since learned that the true name is Yuquot, which means ‘for this.’

On May 5, 1789, Esteban Jose Martinez dropped anchor in Friendly Cove, Nootka Island, with two Spanish gun-ships and a contingent of 76 soldiers, with orders to establish a Spanish presence by constructing a fort.

From the outset, he was disgruntled to find two American ships at anchor nearby, the Columbia under the direction of John Kendrick and the Lady Washington, under Robert Gray. Even more distressing was the presence of the Iphigenia Nubiana, a trading vessel under the command of Captain William Douglas.

Within days, two British ships, the North West America and the Argonaut arrived under the command of Captain James Colnett, the latter two with a force of Chinese labourers and instructions to build a British fort.

Martinez took exception to this further intrusion and arrested Colnett, seizing his two ships and sparking what became known as the “Nootka Incident.”

Colnett wrote of the event some nine years later. “On my coming into his {Martinez} cabin, he said he wished to see my papers; on my presenting them to him, he just glanced his eyes over them, and although he did not understand a word of the language in which they were written, declared they were forged, and threw them disdainfully on the table, saying at the same time, I should not sail until he pleased. On my making some remonstrances at his breach of faith, and his forgetfulness of that word and honour which he had pledged to me, he arose in an apparent anger, and went out.

“I now saw, but too late, the duplicity of this Spaniard , and was conversing with the interpreter on the subject, when having my back towards the cabin door, I by chance cast my eyes on a looking-glass, and saw an armed party rushing behind me. I instantly put my hand to my hanger, but before I had time to place myself in a posture of defence, a violent blow brought me to the ground. I was then ordered into the stocks, and closely confined; after which, they seized my ship and cargo, imprisoned my officers and put my men in irons.

“They sent their boats likewise to sea and seized the sloop Princess Royal, and brought her into port, for trading on the coast. It may not be amiss to observe the Spaniards consider it contrary to treaty, and are extremely jealous, if any European power trades in those seas, but this cannot justify Don Martinez, who, not content with securing me and my people, carried me from ship to ship, like a criminal, rove halter to the yard-arm, and frequently threatened me with instant death, by hanging me as a pirate.”

The event led to a serious diplomatic exchange between London and Madrid. It was not until Oct. 28, 1790, that Spain and England signed the first Nootka Convention providing for the mutual territorial rights and access to the area. Each country named commissioners to oversee the loose terms of the truce. For Spain it was Captain Godega Quadra, for England it was Captain George Vancouver. The two coexisted together at Nootka Island exchanging diplomatic and cordial discourse through interpreters for the following four months.

Quadra spoke of his established relationship with the Mowachaht Chief Maquinna, the man who originally granted his verbal consent to the Spanish to occupy his land.

While Maquinna summered in the region of Nootka Island, his nation’s winter home was thirty miles to the north at the head of Tahsis Inlet. It was noted that Maquinna had an armoury of 14 muskets and that he had four windows installed in his longhouse. Later, it was pointed out that the windows had been a gift of the American John Kendrick.

It appeared however that Kendrick was generous to a fault. Records show that he purchased a piece of land from Maquinna in exchange for “ten guns and a little powder.”
Kendrick built a small cabin on that piece of land and spent the winter there, living with the natives. He was constantly giving them gifts and entertaining them with fireworks. He spoke their language and wore their clothes and adapted himself to their customs.
Captain Robert Morris of the Empress of China arrived shortly after Kendrick and wrote that Kendrick had been “perverse in the idea of teaching the savaged the handling of firearms — a lesson that could be harmful to all humanity. He gave Maquinna a swivel gun, and furnished him with power and a considerable portion of shot, which {the Indians} just finished using on the unhappy sailors of Captains Brown and Baker.”

Captain Vancouver was introduced to Maquinna’s favourite wife, who at the time was about twenty years of age, he wrote that of her as “whose attractive figure did not surprise us any less than the sentinel and the muskets. If after a lengthy voyage one could judge beauty with accuracy, we would dare say that this vivacious girl exceeds in beauty the heroines of the novel, as they are pictured to us by the magic of poetry.” Presents were given to all four of Maquinna’s wives and he would guess the tribes population to be about 4,000.

“The character of Maquinna is difficult to decipher. His personality seems simultaneously fierce, suspicious and intrepid. The natural tenancy of his inclinations is probably much disturbed on one hand by the desire of the Europeans to cultivate his friendship, the treasure he has accumulated in a few years of trade and the obvious discord between the Europeans, themselves. He was uncertain as to their attempts to obtain a monopoly of the fur trade; on the one hand, the weakness of his own forces and the skirmishes they have suffered, the usefulness of the trade, and the too frequent presence of European ships in these parts. 

“As for the use of their land, there was no formal cession and no part of it was donated or sold.” Quadra wrote, “I constantly treat Maquinna as a friend, singling him out among all with the clearest demonstrations of esteem. He always occupies a place of honour at my table and I take myself the trouble to serve him.”

This much impressed Captain Vancouver. “I could not help observing, with a mixture of surprise and pleasure how much the Spaniards had succeeded in gaining the good opinion and confidence of the people, together with the very orderly behaviour, so conspicuously evident in their conduct towards the Spaniards on all occasions.”

Vancouver was uncertain of the Spaniard’s practice to trade guns for children who were slaves. The Spaniards would ostensibly baptize them and in doing so save them from alleged cannibalism. “There was one among them whom the sailors called Primo. He told us that he had been destined to be a victim and to be eaten by Chief Maquinna together with many others, and that this custom was practiced with the younger prisoners of war, as well as in the ceremonies which were used in such a detestable and horrible sacrifice.
One of the priests with Martinez reported, “Maquinna ate the little boys among the enemies who had the misfortune to fall prisoner. For this purpose he tried to fatten them up first, and then when they were ready, got them all together in a circle (he did this eight days before our people left that waterway), put himself in the middle with an instrument in hand and, looking at all the miserables with furious visage, decided which one was to serve as dish for his inhumane meal. Then, advancing upon the unhappy victim with his voracious appetite, he opened its abdomen at one blow, cut off the arms, and commenced devouring the innocents raw flesh, bloodying himself as he satiated his barbarous appetite.”
They practiced polygamy and in birth, “as soon as they throw off the afterbirth, they run into the sea and swim with great resolution. If a son is born, the father will enclose himself with his son in their lodge, seeing neither the sun nor the waves, being fearful of gravely offending Qua-utz, who would leave both him and his son without life in punishment of his sin. Names are changed according to one’s age, and in the matter each new one is solemnized with greater luxury and magnificence than the first.”

Captain Cook drew a fair comparison between the Kanaka natives of the Sandwich Islands and that of the Nootka nations. In watching the Kanaka women coming offshore in canoes, “it was not possible to keep the latter out of the ship and no women I ever met with were more ready to bestow their favours. When any one of us sees a handsome girl in a canoe that he has a mind to, upon waving his hand to her she immediately jumps overboard and swims to the ship, where we receive her in our arms like another Venus just rising form the waves; both men and women come on board the ship in great numbers and during the whole time of trafficking with them it is nothing but one scene of noise and confusion on board the ships and all round them.”

As for the Nootka women, “the organized sale of sex to Europeans seems to have come about through adaptation not imposition. When Europeans proposed a trade in sex with women, slavery provided Nuu-chah-nulth elites with a class of sex workers who were outside Nuu-chah-nulth social rules of sexual modesty, and whose work would only re-affirm existing wealth relationships.”

It was recorded that sailors first scrubbed many of the women brought onto the ships prior to having sex. “In general in their dealings with us they acted in a fair part tho’ they made no scruple of stealing when the opportunity offered; but upon being detected they would immediately return whatever they had taken and laugh in our faces, as they considered it as a piece of dexterity that did them credit rather than dishonor.”

Maquinna was no fool, for he used the Europeans to assert his own superiority among rival chiefs. Notwithstanding, their occupation was not without incident.

Shortly after Martinez had seized the two British ships, Callicum, the son-in-law of Maquinna, took umbrage with the Spanish treatment of the English, whereupon he paddled out to the Spanish vessel, and engaged in an unintelligible shouting match with Martinez. Martinez tried to shoot Callicum but his gun failed. Regretfully another Spanish soldier standing nearby, finished the job killing Callicum. The killing “was a black cloud that hung over the Spanish for the remaining five years of their presence.”

Subsequent conventions were signed by the British and Spanish in 1793, 1794 and finally in 1795, the last of which led to the Spanish dismantling their Fort on March 23, 1795 marking the end of Spanish dominance on the West Coast of Canada.

Upon leaving Nootka Sound, Martinez took with him several young Indians for whom he had bartered their ownership. Christened with Spanish names, they became pawns in an emerging propaganda campaign by Spanish priests to convince Spanish authorities to commit more funds for missionary conversion of heathen souls.

With gratitude for all that he had done, the naming of Vancouver Island appeared to be an appropriate acknowledgement.

International Posturing

September 3, 2009

Juan Perez was the first verifiable European contact with British Columbia’s indigenous people. A Spaniard by birth, he grew to prominence as an enlisted navy officer at a Spanish base in San Blas, Mexico.

Commanding the Santiago, Juan Perez embarked San Blas with 88 officers and men, plus 24 passengers, many of whom were bound for Monterey. As they reached the outskirts of Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island on August 7, 1774, they attempted to take ashore a 14-foot cross made by the ship’s carpenters, but was prevented from doing so because of the heavy winds.

As the winds abated, a single canoe ventured towards the Santiago. Father Juan Crespi, a fifty-three year old priest of the Franciscan order and possible the oldest man on board, recorded the following: “While it (canoe) was still distant from the vessel, we heard the people in it singing, and by the intonation we knew they were pagans, for it was the same sung (sic) at dances of pagans from San Diego to Monterey. They were eight men and a boy. Seven of them were paddling; the other, who was advanced in years, was upright and making dancing movements. Throwing several feathers into the sea, they made a turn about the ship.” As a second and third canoe arrived, Crespi noted that one had a harpoon with an iron head “and it looked like that of a boarding-pike.”

This added to their confidence that the natives had prior contact with other cultures that produced iron. He added, “Some had pieces of iron and copper and pieces of knives.” He further noted that they could hear a “mournful crying out” from the shore. 

Perez learned that first sight of the ship filled the natives with terror, and even now they testify that they were seized with fright from the moment they saw on the horizon the giant “machine” which little by little approached their coast. They believed that Qua-utz [the creator] was coming to make a second visit and were fearful that it was in order to punish the misdeeds of the people. As many as were able to hide themselves in the mountains, others closed themselves up in their lodges, and the most daring took their canoes out to examine more closely the huge mass that had come out of the ocean. They approached it timorously, without sufficient courage to go aboard, until after a while, attracted by the friendly signs by which the Spanish crew called them, they boarded the ship and inspected with wonder all the new and extraordinary objects that were presented to them. They received a number of gifts and in return gave the captain some otter skins.”

Perez traded with the local natives, at which a number of silver spoons were allegedly pilfered. Four years later, Captain James Cook recorded seeing two spoons hanging about the necks of natives as ornaments, in the Nootka area. To validate Cooks suspicion that he had been preceded by the Spanish, he purchased the two spoons as evidence.

It was the practice of the Spanish government to confiscate the journals prepared during these voyages upon  their return home, with the belief that if the knowledge they had procured were to find its way into the hands of other countries, they would lose their opportunity to secure this new land for the King of Spain.

When Captain Cook arrived he noted the importance of music within their culture. “The greatest number of the canoes remained in a cluster around us till ten O’clock, and as they had no arms, and appeared very friendly, we did not care how long they staid to entertain themselves, and perhaps us: a man repeated a few words in tune, and regulated the meaning by beating against the canoe sides, after which they all joined in a song, that was by no means unpleasant to the ear.

“A young man with a remarkable soft effeminate voice afterward sung by himself, but he ended so suddenly and unexpectedly, which being accompanied by a peculiar gesture, made us all laugh, and he finding that we were not ill pleased repeated his song several times.

“As they were now very attentive and quiet in list’ning to their diversions, we judg’d they might like our musick, and we ordered the Fife and drum to play a tune; these were the only people we had seen that ever paid the smallest attention to those or any of our musical instruments, if we except the drum, and that only I suppose from its noise and resemblance to their own drums; they observed the profoundest silence, and we were sorry that the dark hindered our seeing the effect of this musick on their countenances. Not to be outdone in politeness they gave us another song, and we then entertained them with French horns, to which they were equally attentive, but gave us no more songs in return and soon after went away, excepting a few boats that kept paddling around us all that night which was a very cold one.”

While all this may seem trivial in the course of events, the race for occupying the Pacific Northwest was starting to heat up.

Take a Number

September 1, 2009

There came a time when the sheer number of ships plying the waters of the Pacific Northwest gave cause to the native communities to adopt mixed feelings.

Some of the earliest were Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo in 1542, Sir Francis Drake 1579, who sailed the Golden Hind “to the very end of the world”, exposing the California coast as he searched for the northwest passage back to England. As a result he gave this country its first European-based name — Nova Albion, [New England]. There was also Lorenzo Moldanado who reported that he had sailed across the top of Canada, to the Pacific in 1588. There was the Portuguese navigator Joao de Gama in 1590, followed by John Nicol and Ebenezer Johnson.

Many sailors died due to foul conditions. Typhus and dysentery were the shore diseases of Europe and in the tropics the seaman got malaria, yellow fever, hookworm and typhus. Lice and fleas were taken for granted, and the lice carried typhus. Venereal diseases were considered an occupational ailment of sailors and in the 18th century, treatment was ineffective. Syphilis and gonorrhea were widespread. If a sailor was found guilty of killing another, he was often tied to the victim and thrown overboard. If the paralyzing cold didn’t get them, an form of complaint was met with block and chains, the lash or other such form of harsh discipline.

One such occasion was reported within Sven Waxell’s journal of a 1731 expedition. He was the second-in-command to Vitus Bering but the latter was stricken with scurvy early on in the voyage, so Waxell assumed command. He wrote, “By now so many of our people were ill that I had, so to speak, no one to steer the ship. Our sails, too, had worn so thin that I expected them to fly off at any moment. When it came to a man’s turn at the helm, he was dragged to it by two other of the invalids who were still able to walk a little, and set down at the wheel. There he had to sit and steer as well as he could, and when he could sit no more, he had to be replaced by another in no better case than he . . . Our ship was like a piece of dead wood, with none to direct it. We had to drift hither and thither at the whim of the wind and waves.” With 12 crew members already dead, a group decision was made on November 4, 1741, to try anchoring near some land they sighted, presuming they had reached Kamchatka on the Russian (Alaskan) Peninsula. Their ship was unable to properly anchor due to the harsh conditions of wind and surf and was gradually torn asunder as the death toll mounted. The blue foxes on Bering Island ate the hands and feet of the dead before they could be buried. “Men were continually dying. Our plight was so wretched that the dead had to lie for a considerable time among the living, for there was none able to drag the corpses away, nor were those who lived capable of moving away from the dead.”

John Meares, an Englishmen, sailed the Nootka from Calcutta in March of 1786, reaching the Aleutian Islands in the summer, where they spent a desperate winter in Prince Williams Sound, seeing 23 of his men die. To aid in some basic creature comforts, on of his officers traded an ax and a small quantity of beads for a young female captive.

Mears ship was stranded in the ice and his men continued to die all through the winter. By spring of 1787, 30 of his crew had scurvy. The ship’s surgeon and pilot had died and were buried ashore within ice chasms. The ill-equipped expedition was rescued by the rival trader Captain George Dixon on May 19 aboard the ship Queen Charlotte.

Mears made a return voyage to the Pacific Northwest in January of 1788 with 50 men under Portuguese colours to avoid British East India Company and South Sea Company trade restrictions.

Large syndicates were already forming to assume control of the trade and insure they received their fair share of the profits. Besides the two mentioned, there was the Associated Merchants of London and India, the King George’s Sound Company and then the Americans and Spanish had their own consortium’s.

Often times what little food they could carry, spoiled leaving them nothing more than salted fish and biscuits upon which to survive. It is well recorded how the ship captains and officers would feast on the best of what there was, leaving the rancid spoils for the lesser crew. Mutinies were not uncommon and for the most part, they were warranted. Nonetheless the decision cost the perpetrators their lives as they returned home.

While these early merchants offered trade and a whole lot of trinkets, they also left the local community unnerved as to where the white man’s demands may lead to next.

There were many men who made their way to this region prior to 1800 and fifty of those recorded their experiences. These included Captain Vancouver, Scientists Mozino and Menzies and the gentlemanly Bodega y Quadra. There was the scholar Malaspina, and the first Frenchman, La Perouse followed by a fellow countryman, Francois Peron.

Let us not forget Captain James Cook who was well written in 1784, John Rickman who published his travelogue in 1781, the German Heinrich Zimmerman in 1781, William Ellis in 1782 and the remarkable American adventurer, John Ledyard [Marco Polo of the United States] in 1783.

Let’s also acknowledge the fact that the Spaniard, Juan Perez, actually reached British Columbia well prior to Cook. Perez made contact with the blue-eyed Haida at the north end of the Queen Charlotte Islands on July 18, 1774 and his voyage yielded the first crude map of the coastline.

He wrote of the Haida, “They were of robust stature, cheerful in appearance, with beautiful eyes and handsome faces. The hair consisted of a queue, although some simply had it tied up. They have beards in the manner of the Chinese; they are white in color, and many of them have blue eyes. The women are good looking; they have the lower lip perforated in which incision is inserted an object that is a different size depending on whether [the wearer] is young or old; it appeared that only the married ones had them. Both sexes exhibited docility and agreeableness; the women were dressed in pelt tunics fitted to the body, with bracelets of copper or iron, and rings of the same metals.”

There was Capt. Charles Barkley in 1787, after whom Barkley Sound was named and Captain John T. Walbran. Fact is, most of these men have left their names affixed to some geographical landmark. Others include John Meares, James Hanna, Ebenezer Dorr, Bernard Magee, J. Aisley Brown and Thomas Manby.

Documents of early voyages are being brought forward still today from out of Spain, Russia and China for translation.

As a point to ponder, did you know that the individual, Juan de Fuca, was actually a Greek named Apostolos Valerianos? Did you know also that much of the literary fictional work; “Gulliver’s Travels”, by Jonathan Swift, was based upon the 1592 findings of William Dampier, as he documented his voyage and discovery of the west coast of British Columbia.

Not White nor Brown

August 31, 2009

Many of us were taught in the early grades that Captain Cook and Vancouver were the principals who brought knowledge of the Pacific Northwest to the European/Asian continent, but this simply isn’t so.

The first records of discovery are affixed to a number of journals penned by  a Chinese navigator during the Sun Dynasty of 420 – 479 A.D. Hui Shen wrote of discovering a land of giants, who were covered in hair and the latitude he recorded coincides nicely with the region of the Pacific Northwest.

Fact is, early Chinese mariners used a magnetic needle and navigation by the stars prior to the birth of Christianity. Spaniards in the Gulf of California reported seeing large Chinese junks at anchor in 1544.

Eunice Harrison, wife of an early British Columbia judge, wrote in her journals of a trip she had taken with her husband into the interior of the province. During an encounter with the natives of Kispiox, near Hazelton, she was shown a ancient disk, actually sixty-four of them in all.

They were very ancient Chinese and engraved with ideograph designs. On one side there were eight diagrams from the Book of changes’ with the names in ancient Chinese characters. On the other side; “The Heaven is round while the earth is square.” Then follow six musical rules and nine mathematical formulas in between, with the following as an order rather than an invocation: “Wherever the God of Charms goes, all evil spirits shall disappear.” This being a charm of the Taoists.

The natives exchanged folklore that had been passed down from generation to generation which suggested the men who brought these disks to their country were believed by the natives to be blood-brothers and it is hard to argue that there was definitely a likeness to those same physical Asian characteristics that was dissimilar to the natives on the lower coast.

Photos of these discs are within the BC Archives, so the origin of the tale must have some truth, however more recent opinions would suggest that they were of A.D. 1500 to 1600. There too is Chilkat Tlingit mask which uses Chinese temple coins for eyes.

White Eyes

August 30, 2009

When the first white man came to the west coast in their tall sailing ships, they saw minimal value in what lay beneath the waters or what was hidden deep inland from the rugged shoreline, all that concerned them was acquiring as many precious pelts as the natives were willing to part with, in exchange for a few sticks of tobacco, a handful of buttons, blankets and sufficient alcohol to incapacitate their reasoning.

But in time competition for trade among the Spanish, Americans, British and Russians turned into a push for ownership and the race was on to establish a permanent foothold along the west coast of this land they called New Caledonia. The first to establish a settlement would win the race.

Before long the British set a machine in motion that would pillage the land of its tall trees, harvest the sea of it rich bounty of cod and salmon and squander all that was seen of  little value to those still residing on European soil.

The Native communities watched helplessly as the white man forced them aside with their big bore cannons, tore into their traditional hunting grounds and slaughtered the wild life that had fed them for centuries before. Where the native fished freely, the whiteman established regulations which governed the time and quantity that they were allowed to harvest. Where the native once planted his potatoes, the white man planted fences and aggressively stood guard against trespass.

In exchange for peace the white man offered the natives domination and the British rule of law, neither of which they understood. The white man put before the elders of each community a piece of paper with strange marks on it and in exchange for their own mark, the natives received blankets, strange coins and even more control. Little did they fully comprehend that they had given away their freedom along with their land.

The once resourceful native, quickly became reliant to handouts and every other vice that held the white-man captive to the other.

So many travisties took place, for so many centuries and all in the name of expanding the British Empire.