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Fourth at the Fort: Holiday a big blast

In keeping with history, Fort Vancouver makes some noise on the 4th

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Published: July 5, 2014, 12:00am
11 Photos
Fireworks during the Fourth of July celebration at Fort Vancouver on Friday.
Fireworks during the Fourth of July celebration at Fort Vancouver on Friday. Photo Gallery

Fort Vancouver park ranger Mike Twist used a long wooden wand with a smoking wick to ignite gunpowder inside a historical replica of a swivel gun — a small portable cannon used by Pacific Northwest fur traders in the early 1800s to scare away potential enemies.

“Make ready,” Twist called out.

A crowd of people — attired mostly in red, white and blue — simultaneously plugged their ears as the cannon fired.

“That scared me,” Amelie Ellingson, 8, of Milwaukie, Ore., said. “But it was kind of cool.”

Since the 1860s when the U.S. Army took over the fort, it’s been a tradition at Vancouver’s premier historical site “to make as much noise as possible on the Fourth of July,” Twist said.

Friday was no exception. In addition to Twist’s “black powder” demonstration in front of the fort’s stockade, revelers at the Fort Vancouver National Site continued the noise-making tradition throughout Independence Day with fireworks, outdoor concerts on a main stage, a children’s parade punctuated with classic car horns and bagpipes and the squeals of children playing a menagerie of games.

The day culminated with a 20-minute display of fireworks, synchronized to music. A crowd, estimated before the show at 30,000, counted down the show and cheered as the first salvo was set off at 10:05 p.m. The show started slowly, to drumming, then built to an early crescendo as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.

“I hadn’t been here in 25 years,” said Viktoria Strommer of Vancouver, after taking in the fireworks display. “It was amazing.”

In the late 1800s, soldiers at the post celebrated the Fourth with liberal imbibing, speech-making, artillery salutes, fireworks and picnics, Twist said. Someone in an official position would read aloud the Declaration of Independence.

“As for the celebration, not a lot has changed in the past 150 years on the Fourth of July,” he said.

Just as in the past, daytime picnickers sought the shade and erected tents throughout the area. The day was free of extreme heat, and the sky was clear, with temperatures rising only to the upper 70s.

Performing on the main stage was a lineup of bands, including a performance by country singer and songwriter Britnee Kellogg, a former “American Idol” contestant from Vancouver.

“My very own hometown,” she said. “It’s so good to be here.”

Earlier in the day, 10 aspiring singers from local high schools competed for college scholarships in the Sing Fourth Teen Vocal Competition on the main stage.

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Davidson & Associates Insurance Agency Inc. awarded a $1,000 scholarship to first-place winner Mikayla Merrell of CAM Academy for her performance of “Morning Person,” from “Shrek the Musical.”

Second-place winner Damaris Nance of Union High School won a $500 scholarship for his performance of “The Girl in 14 G,” and Jarvis Kingtaro of Mountain View High School and Nicki Roller of Skyview High School tied for third place, each winning a $250 scholarship.

A children’s parade wound throughout the grounds with a procession of classic cars, a truck disguised as a bright red train, a propeller plane float that spun around in circles and the Fort Vancouver Pipe Band.

“It was pretty cool,” said Coltyn Ower, 7, of Washougal. “My favorite was the Spider-Man truck.”

Coltyn marched in the parade with the Fred Meyer bear mascot but then slipped away with his dad, Tim, to watch the rest of the parade from the shade of a tree. The Owers planned to spend the day, playing games, taking a biplane ride at the Pearson Field and watching the fireworks.

Tim Ower said he and his family have celebrated the Fourth at the Fort for the past three years.

“It’s not as hot as it usually is on the Fourth,” he said. “It’s a lot nicer today.”

Revelers also enjoyed aisles of vendors and concessions, where they could buy some holiday treats such as red, white and blue popcorn and cotton candy.

Riley Oates, 12, of Bend, Ore., experienced the Fourth at the Fort as his parents Scott and Mindy Oates did when they grew up in Vancouver.

“It’s not as big as when we were kids,” Mindy Oates said.

Riley said he loves history and enjoyed playing some of the historical games offered outside the stockade. He and his mom played stump pull in which two players each stand on a stump and attempt to pull each other off with a rope.

“It was really fun,” he said.

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