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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: