4th is history worth celebrating

Events will shine light on Civil War era and how Americans coped

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



What a difference 150 years makes.

Firing Up the Fourth

Independence Day at Fort Vancouver:

Hours: Gates open at 8 a.m., close after the fireworks display.

Events: Five entertainment zones with musical acts, games and demonstrations begin at noon; vendors open at noon; Fred Meyer’s Patriotic Parade starts at 4 p.m.; fireworks launch at 10:05 p.m.

Admission: Children 12 and under, free; adults and children over age 13, $5 in advance (at http://fortvan.org), $7 day of show.

Transportation: C-Tran will run shuttles to the event every 15 minutes from the north side of the Westfield Vancouver Mall, 8700 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., with return service available after the fireworks show. Paid parking will be available to the east and west of Fort Vancouver National Site. Downtown metered parking is free. Bicycles can be stored at monitored bike parking at the event.

More information:http://www.fortvan.org/fourth or call 360-992-1808.

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Felida Children’s Parade:

Hours: Parade, 10:45 to 11:45 a.m., followed by free picnic lunch, exhibits and games until 2:30 p.m.

Location: Parade lineup will be at Felida Park at the Northwest 127th Avenue gate.

Admission: Free.

More information:http://bit.ly/mc1yDt or call 360-573-4030.

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Ridgefield 4th of July Celebration:

Hours: Events start at 7 a.m., close after the 10 p.m. fireworks display.

Events: Pancake breakfast at Ridgefield Community Center, 210 N. Main Ave., 7-10 a.m.; fun runs at North Main Avenue and Simons Street starting at 8 a.m.; pet and kid pre-parade begins at 10 a.m. at the corner of Pioneer Street and Main Avenue; Fourth of July Parade starts at 11 a.m. at North Fourth Avenue and Division; chicken and salmon barbecue noon-3:30 p.m. at Abram’s Park; Kids Day noon-6 p.m. at Refuge Overlook Park; Coaster Derby 2-4 p.m. at Fifth Avenue and Simon; street dance at South Main Avenue 6-10 p.m.; fireworks, 10 p.m. to close.

Admission: Free, except for the fun runs, which are $20-$30 for the 10k, $15-$25 for the 5k.

More information:website or call 360-887-0329.

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Camas-Washougal Riverside Concert Series:

Hours: 6-10:30 p.m.

Location: Port of Camas-Washougal Marina Park.

Events: Concert by King Brothers Band with food and other vendors 6-10 p.m.; fireworks display from a barge on the Columbia River at 10 p.m.

Admission: Free.

More information:website or call 360-835-2196.

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Yacolt Rendezvous July 4th:

Hours: 10 a.m. to dusk.

Events: Parade at Railroad Avenue at 10 a.m.; vendors and kid village from noon to 7 p.m. at the Little League fields; couch races, 2 p.m. at Christy Street; lawnmower races at 3 p.m. at the Little League fields; fireworks at dusk.

Admission: Free.

More information:website or email YacoltEvents@gmail.com.

Fort Vancouver Celebration by the numbers

Fort Vancouver Celebration by the numbers

25: Length in minutes of the fireworks show.

7,126: Individual fireworks shots.

1,000-plus: Pounds of explosives used in this year’s and last year’s displays.

450: Height in feet of fireworks in 2010 and 2011.

1,000: Height in feet of fireworks prior to 2009, when the display was canceled due to budget problems.

20,000-plus: Paid adult admissions in 2010.

15,000-plus: Free admissions for children under age 13 in 2010.

50,000-60,000: Typical attendance prior to 2009.

1855: Year of Vancouver’s first Fourth of July celebration.

1962: Year the Fort Vancouver fireworks display began.

Fireworks, multiple music acts and a host of activities should make this year’s Independence Day at Fort Vancouver into quite the party.

But while many events at the 2011 shindig are aimed at honoring the Civil War sesquicentennial, if the crowds could travel back in time to Fort Vancouver back in 1861, they’d find a very different scene.

“It would have almost been one of these things where they would have celebrated the Fourth of July in defiance of the Civil War,” said Maj. Jeff Davis, historian and chairman of the Vancouver Barracks Military Association.

The war between the North and South began on April 12, 1861, with an attack by Confederate troops on Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C.

News traveled more slowly back then, but within at least a few weeks of the first shots, soldiers in the Pacific Northwest would have heard about it and started to pick sides, Davis said.

And much like news of the war did in the rest of the country, it divided the Army troops that were stationed at Fort Vancouver.

About half of those stationed here headed south to join the Confederacy within a month or so after the war started. The other half remained, waiting for their own recall orders to fight for the North, Davis said.

“It probably would have been a somber and defiant period for the remaining garrison,” Davis said. “The Southern part would have left very quickly, because they would be afraid that they’d be arrested for treason. Yet I imagine both sides probably had some sort of farewell dinner to honor their brothers in arms before they left.”

The reduced numbers were just the beginning of troubles for the soldiers that remained waiting for orders, he added.

The War of 1812 against the British was still in the minds of many, with fears that England would join with the South and try to recapture lands it once owned around the fort.

And then there were growing territorial problems with the local tribes, Davis said.

“Leading up to the war, 1856, 1857, 1858, those were the times of the Yakima War, the Rogue River War, there was a lot of concern about Indian unrest in the Pacific Northwest,” Davis said.

Independence celebrations that year probably wouldn’t have included fireworks or rousing speeches by politicians, he added.

“The soldiers would have been a little paranoid,” Davis said. “It would have been like a September 11 for them. They’d be worried about Indians in the hills, about the British invading. It couldn’t have been fun.”

Back to the future

Fortunately for visitors to the 2011 event, the fun of the Fourth has returned — both from the dark days of the Civil War and from the financial woes of 2009 — said Cara Cantonwine, director of programs for Fort Vancouver National Trust, which manages the Independence Day celebration.

In 2009 there just wasn’t enough money to run the event, so it shut down that year.

The introduction of paid attendance when it relaunched in 2010 has put the event on much more stable footing, Cantonwine said.

“Last year we broke even within a few dollars,” she said. “That gave us the financial stability to continue. And we’ve added some sponsors this year, for our 48th year of the event, which should also help.”

The fireworks display will be the same size this year as last year, but the staging will be different, which should make the show seem more multidimensional for viewers at the fort, said Heather Gobet, marketing director at Western Display, the company putting on the show.

Last year, fireworks launched from three spots on the field. This year, they will launch from five spots, she said.

“The computer seeks shells in multiple locations and can fire from different areas,” Gobet said. “It gives a more dramatic quality to the display — it seems more full. And it gives us more options.”

Fireworks can move in a wave across the field, move from both edges into the center or go all across the sky, which were options that the company didn’t have when it was shooting shells from a barge on the Columbia River before 2009, she explained.

“When you go off a river it’s such a huge area that you can’t do some of the things that go closer to the ground,” Gobet said. “Bringing things back to the field allows us to use different shells.”

One type of firework the company plans to use is called a peacock box.

“It has very intense glittering comets,” Gobet said. “They shoot in a sequence with one fanned effect and then another. It’s a really intense layered display.”

The Fort Vancouver celebration will also include five entertainment zones with musical acts, games and children’s activities. One zone includes a heritage stage with demonstrations, period actors and information about the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

“We’ll have costumes from the 1860s, with a Civil War-era fashion show,” said Susan Parrish, communications manager for Fort Vancouver National Trust. “We have an amazing Abraham Lincoln re-enactor, who will do a press conference. We have Illinois Doug Tracy, a banjo and guitar player who will sing campaign songs from the 1860s.”

The stage will also have a black powder firearms display using weapons from the Civil War, she said.

Soldiers in 1861 probably wouldn’t have been as happy to see black powder or fireworks — which are made from black powder — during that turbulent time, but after the Civil War was over, well, that was a different story, Davis said.

“After the war fireworks were less expensive,” Davis said. “During the Civil War the government had started up all these mills producing nothing but gunpowder. So after the way there were all these shiny new mills, but they didn’t need to produce black powder for the war anymore. By the 1880s, fireworks celebrations were common.”