VANCOUVER—Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, in the heart of the Vancouver National Historic Reserve, will host a Candlelight Tour on Sept. 15 and 16.
On both evenings the fort will reopen at 7 p.m.; entrance to the event is free. The tour will focus on two consecutive evenings in the fort's history almost exactly 160 years ago to the date. This "history in real time" will give visitors something different to see each evening.
The first night of the event will focus on the relief effort provided by the fort for the shipwrecked crew of the U.S. schooner Shark on Sept. 13, 1846, and the second night of the event will be highlighted by the wrecked ship commander's return to the fort on the evening of Sept. 14, 1846.
The 2006 Candlelight Tour will include many of the favorite features of the past — company clerks will busily work on completing inventories in both the Fur Store and Indian Trade Shop. Yet, as always, the tour will offer new features that will help the visitors connect to the broader aspects of the fort's story.
"This year, we are unifying the Candlelight Tour around a specific — and exciting — two-day period in our history," said Greg Shine, the site's chief ranger and historian.
"Using evidence from the historical record, we will interpret the fort's response to the wreck of the U.S.S. Shark and Lt. Howison's subsequent return to the fort almost exactly 160 years after they occurred."
On July 24, 1846, the U.S.S. Shark, commanded by Lt. Neil Howison, reached Fort Vancouver, where it was welcomed by Captain Baillie of the British Royal Navy and Chief Factor James Douglas of the Hudson's Bay Co. For the next 30 days, Howison and his crew explored the area's rivers, lands and settlements, using Fort Vancouver as a base of operations. In September 1846, the Shark was wrecked on Clatsop Spit as it departed. In response, Fort Vancouver instigated a major relief effort in support of the Shark's crew.
The day after the fort began gathering supplies for a relief effort, Lt. Howison returned to the fort, informing the fort's officers of the harrowing details of his shipwreck and soliciting transportation and supplies for his beleaguered crew.
Inside the fort at the Candlelight Tour, conversations in the parlors of the Chief Factor's House will have a different focus than in past years, as on the first night the gentlemen will discuss the relief efforts and reflect on the Shark's recent visit.
The bakers, blacksmiths and carpenters will be busily working on providing provisions and equipment for the shipwrecked crew. Blacksmiths will be working late into the evening to fabricate chain for a possible salvage effort, and the Bake House ovens will be aglow as the French-Canadian baker works to provide sea biscuits for the shipwrecked sailors.
Carpenters will work on crates and containers for the supplies to sail with the fort's launch the following morning. The kitchen employees will be doubly busy, cleaning up after supper from the gentlemen's mess as well as for the shipwrecked sailors while preparing for the next day.
On Saturday evening, Lt. Howison will return to the fort and share the details of his experience, while other colorful discussion topics will range from the upcoming horse races to American land squatters to the recent wheat harvest.
"Shifting the Candlelight Tour to a focus on 1846 is new for the site, and allows us to expand our programming immensely," said park Superintendent Tracy Fortmann.
"By basing the Candlelight Tour in 1846 rather than in 1845 as in past years," Chief Ranger Shine added, "We can now interpret more of the major themes in our nation's history. Our participants can more fully discuss seminal national issues — such as manifest destiny, war with Mexico, the annexation of Texas and the Oregon boundary issue — as well as local and regional issues, including the completion of the Barlow Road section of the Oregon Trail, the retirement of Dr. John McLoughlin to Oregon City and the growing role of Fort Victoria."
As in past years, prior to entering the fort, visitors will be able to stroll the popular timeline of living history. The timeline begins during early World War II and continues back to the earliest periods of local recorded history.
Candlelight Tour 2006 will feature Oregon Trail immigrants who will invite visitors into their camp to hear their story of a difficult journey and the surprising aid they found at the end of the trail.
At the final stop on the timeline, the visitors will meet a few of the workers of the fort who made it a place of surprising diversity in the early 19th century. Although the fort had only roughly 30 residents within its walls, the company village to the west of the stockade had nearly 600 people living in it at peak times of the year. This multicultural neighborhood contained French-Canadians, Hawaiians, Scots, local Native peoples as well as members of the Iroquois and Delaware nations. It also contained a large number of people of mixed ancestry.