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News / Clark County News

Fort Vancouver village offers look at life in 1800s

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: February 19, 2022, 8:55pm
8 Photos
Park Ranger Justine Hanrahan, left, welcomes Jim Stenlund of Vancouver to a reconstructed house at the Fort Vancouver village on Saturday. "Every time I come out here, I learn something new," said Stenlund, who walks at Fort Vancouver daily.
Park Ranger Justine Hanrahan, left, welcomes Jim Stenlund of Vancouver to a reconstructed house at the Fort Vancouver village on Saturday. "Every time I come out here, I learn something new," said Stenlund, who walks at Fort Vancouver daily. (Elayna Yussen for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Visitors at Fort Vancouver on Saturday got an inside look at the homes of those who were “the backbone of the Hudson’s Bay Company,” through a ranger-led interpretive program at the fort’s village.

The village is an area to the west of the fort’s stockade that at one point was home to up to 600 of the fort’s lower-ranked employees and their families.

“The families who lived out here were the trappers. They were the blacksmiths, the carpenters, the cooks, the gardeners. They were the laborers of Fort Vancouver,” Ranger Justine Hanrahan said. “And their stories haven’t been told as often as the people who knew how to read and write.”

Park rangers open the door of a reconstructed house in the village and answer questions during drop-in hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The one-bedroom house, equipped with a fireplace, is adorned with a bed and blanket, beaver and otter furs, and other items reminiscent of the residents’ lifestyles.

If You Go

What: Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Village ranger-led interpretive program.
How to get there: Park at the lot at 1001 E. Fifth St. and follow the land bridge to the west. The village is a few minutes walk from the parking lot.
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, excluding Feb. 26.
Cost: There is no fee at the village. There is a $10 entrance fee at the fort stockade.

The population fluctuated as trappers would leave for brigades in the winter, but Hanrahan said the village also housed largest population of Native Hawaiians in the world at the time, outside of the Hawaiian Islands. She shared stories of people who lived there and who experienced “so much change in one lifetime” during British colonization.

On the dirt floor of the house, she demonstrated setting a beaver trap and used a stick to trip it.

Mindy Mosher and Zack Vann swung by the village while visiting the area from California. The pair said they were amazed by how authentic the historic site felt.

“I’m always just so impressed by how people survived back in the day,” Mosher said. “We’re so used to our creature comforts. It’s interesting and very humbling to see.”

Most of those who step into the one-room house on display are locals who come out to the fort for a walk, Hanrahan said. They’re often excited to be able to peek inside one of the small buildings they had strolled past before.

That was the case for Darren and Linda Meaney from Battle Ground, who stumbled upon the village Saturday while visiting the fort with their 18-month-old daughter, Daphne. They enjoy walking the grounds and nearby parks, and Linda Meaney said it was interesting to see how the people of that time lived.

“Life back then was more difficult,” she said. “You take for granted things of everyday life.”

While Daphne was too young to understand much Saturday, Meaney said it’s also valuable for younger generations to see how hard people back then had to work to lead to the kind of progress we see around us today.

Hanrahan said that each day the rangers open up the village, they typically see 50 to 90 people pass through.

Visitors who first stopped at the fort stockade could bring a castor token with them to the village, which they could trade in for stickers or buttons. The wood tokens were meant to symbolize those given to traders as company credit for beaver pelts.

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