Fort Vancouver is in “Oragun Country!”     

By Barry Murray

Part 1 of 5

The first thing you notice taking a step back into Pacific Northwest history, is the flag waving above the log palisade. It is a British Union Jack, with the initials HBC — which historical wags have suggested really stood for,“Here Before Christ.”

      In a sense, that was almost true. A ruthless monopoly, the Hudson’s Bay Company, a private corporation which controlled more of North America by charter than Great Britain itself. For over 100 years — HBC’s Prince Rupert’s Land— supported England’s claim to the ownership of the “Oragun Country,” a huge block of land that stretched from Mexican California, to Russian Alaska, and west from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, felt their entitlement had more validity than Napoleon selling “ownership” of something he had just acquired from the Spanish. After all, the English felt, they were the ones who introduced civilization as a formal flower garden that replaced a wild camas meadow.

      An American explorer was the first to enter the Oragun River, and named it for his ship, the Columbia. Lewis and Clark followed via an overland route exploring the Louisiana Purchase.

      Then the Astor family of New York established a fur trading post at Astoria, on the south side of the mouth of the “Great River of the West.” During the hostilities of the era a British naval officer, under a threat of bombardment by ship, purchased Fort Astoria. However he made a mistake in firing a symbolic canon shot as the American flag was lowered. The peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 ruled that the renamed Fort George was indeed a private enterprise, but that ownership of the territory taken by conquest —at least to the “civilized” world— reverted to both claims of the the United States and Great Britain.

      In 1825 Dr. John McLoughlin searched the Columbia River by canoe for a commercial site that had geographic consequences. He chose to be at the head of sailing ship navigation —100 miles from the sea— near a major river junction, to establish what was to become the HBC ‘corporate’ headquarters for the Columbia Region. This way, furs from twenty-five posts in the interior could be collected for shipment to England. McLoughlin also had a goal beyond being self-sustaining, of developing in an orderly progression, agricultural endeavors in the fertile Willamette Valley by permitting retired company employees, largely French-Canadians, that had a credit of 50 pounds on the books to establish farms on HBC land grants, countering the threat of American “squatters.”

      How the “Real Vancouver,” on the north shore of the Columbia River in Washington State ended up flying an American flag is an interesting story in governmental mismanagement and corporate infighting, instead of taking care of the business at hand.”

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