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.”

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