Back together at the brigade encampment

History fans re-create a day of 1844 at Fort Vancouver

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



The National Park Service is holding an archaeology field school for college students at the workers' village site, west of the stockade, through July 22.

The National Park Service is holding an archaeology field school for college students at the workers’ village site, west of the stockade, through July 22.

Asher Webb learned a valuable lesson about reading the fine print Saturday. After inking his name — one letter at a time — to the bottom of a contract, he was reminded by fort official David Douglas and his son Andrew that the next two years of the boy’s life belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Asher quickly reconsidered. After all, two years is a big part of your life when you’re only 6.

“I changed my mind,” Asher said and ducked behind his mom, Abigail Webb.

There were lots of learning experiences going on Saturday in the annual Brigade Encampment at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. The scene represented a day in 1844 when fur trappers celebrated the end of the trapping season with their return to Fort Vancouver.

The event started when residents of the workers’ village met the returning trappers at Old Apple Tree Park.

Then the trappers and their greeting party hiked together over the Vancouver Land Bridge, singing “En Roulant ma Boule,” as they returned to the village.

Visitors to the site, set up just west of the reconstructed stockade, learned about everyday life more than 160 years ago. About 70 costumed re-enactors demonstrated skills like blacksmithing and black-powder shooting.

There also were lessons for some of the younger costumed participants. Boys were learning 19th-century career skills through the “young engagé” program, including lessons in Chinook trading jargon. They also picked up wood-craft tips.

“You can use a pistol to start a fire,” said one boy who was eager to share his knowledge.

Girls worked on needle craft and knitting skills, which included putting together some elements of their own wardrobes.

Liana Bennett explained that her dress doesn’t have any pockets. So she created a portable pocket — a pouch, sewn on a sash that can be tied around her waist — as one of her “dame” projects. Her ankle-length dress didn’t prevent her from taking a game break. She ran down the rain-soaked pathway, using a stick to propel a wooden hoop in front of her.

“The skirt doesn’t go all the way to the ground,” the 15-year-old Brush Prairie girl said.

Under a canvas rain shelter, several other dames-in-training were assembling fabric dolls and sewing costumes for them. The dolls — some dressed in European styles, others in the costumes of mixed-race Métis people — will be used as interpretive material to illustrate clothing from the Hudson’s Bay Company period.

It was a drippy, damp day, so several of them were wearing knitted fingerless gloves.

“Muffatees,” explained one of the seamstresses.

“You do get wet,” said 14-year-old dame Victoria Alford of Vancouver. “But we have fires. And I enjoy playing in the rain.”

The annual brigade encampment has typically been a Saturday-Sunday event, but this year’s participants arrived Friday night. Nothing will be going on today except for some clean-up chores, said Kimm Fox-Middleton, supervisory park ranger.

The route of today’s Vancouver USA Marathon is going through the site of Saturday’s Brigade Encampment, but that doesn’t mean the two events can’t co-exist in the future.

“We’ll see how it works out,” Fox-Middleton said, adding that a marathon course that swings past a historical reenactment “would be unique.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558 or