III. ANALYSIS AND EVALUATION (continued)
HISTORIC CHARACTER DEFINING FEATURES
RESPONSE TO NATURAL FEATURES
In 1824, George Simpson, North American governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, ordered the abandonment of Ft. George and the search for a new post on the north side of the Columbia River, Criteria for locating the new post included the desire to strengthen British claims to the land north of the Columbia River, and for the HBC to render themselves "...independent of foreign aid in regard to Subsistence." The search for suitable terrain--land lacking steep banks or low, flood prone areas--ended at Jolie Prairie, about one hundred miles from the mouth of the Columbia River.
The landscape along the north shore of the Columbia River was a mosaic of natural prairies, coniferous forests, streams, and lakes. The prairies (plains) were flat, treeless expanses of land with a dense cover of grass, moss, lichens, and other low herbaceous plants. This prairie environment was self-maintaining as the dense vegetative cover was virtually impenetrable to other plants. An oak savannah transition zone often occurred between forest and plain where the topography shifted from level to sloping land. Here the landscape took on a park-like or open woodland character--prairies interspersed with widely spaced native Oregon oak and/or Douglas-fir trees--often described and noted in journals by early northwest explorers and Fort Vancouver occupants and visitors.  These plains and forests offered an abundant blend of natural resources that were suitable for both trade and subsistence activities. The development of Fort Vancouver was shaped by these natural features. At its height, development at Fort Vancouver was located in three large prairies called Fort Plain, Lower Plain and Mill Plain, and five smaller prairies to the northeast called the Back Plains (First Plain, Second Plain, Third Plain, Fourth Plain, Fifth Plain and Camas Plain).
The site of Fort Vancouver, called Jolie Prairie, was located near a Chinook Indian village named Ske-chew-twa that was located on the site of the W.W.I. Kaiser Shipyards. Jolie Prairie was later named Fort Plain by the Hudson's Bay Company, and became the core of Fort Vancouver. The first stockade, which operated between 1825 and 1828, was located about three quarters of a mile from the river on the edge of a terrace. This location, sixty feet above the low-lying river plain, offered protection from floods and served as a strategic defensive position from the undetermined threat of native Chinook Indians. The naturally occurring plain provided open land for agriculture, and grass for livestock pasture. The coniferous forests surrounding the plains provided a ready supply of timber for fuel and building materials. The streams on Mill Plain, six miles east of Fort Plain, provided a power source for both a grist mill and a saw mill.
In 1829, the initial stockade was abandoned and a new site for the stockade was selected on the river plain. The decision to move the fort was based on the long, difficult route from the first stockade to the river, and George Simpson's decision to make Fort Vancouver the permanent headquarters for the HBC Columbia Department, which would cause an increase in river traffic and would necessitate a larger permanent work staff to support this expansion. Like the first site, development of the landscape surrounding the new stockade was also directly related to the natural features and resources. The plain provided open land with rich soils suitable for cultivated fields and pasture, with the stockade centrally located in the plain for access to the cultivated fields. It was also close to the river for access to fresh water, and transportation needs, but above the normal flood zone. The dense conifer forest lying to the west and north of Fort Plain created a physical boundary, and provided a ready supply of timber. The oak savannah transition zone between the forest and the plain was not suitable for cultivation, but was in close proximity to major work areas, and made a logical location for the houses built by the company's employees. An industrial area was developed on the shore of the Columbia River around a pond, providing a supply of fresh water for livestock, a protected area for boat building and other industrial activities, and a storage area for supplies being transported by boats and ships.
Response to Natural Features Summary and Analysis
Fort Plain possessed an abundant supply of natural resources required for a successful fur-trading and agricultural operation: a major river and streams for transportation, power, and fresh water; favorable climate and soil for farming; large areas of grasslands for livestock pasture; timber for building material; and plenty of open (non-forested) land for expansion of the fort as development proceeded. Overall, the development of Fort Vancouver was directly tied to the availability and location of natural resources on Fort Plain; the forests, prairies, topography, and river all playing a role in directing the location and character of both individual landscape features and overall site organization.
Today many of the natural features of the site have been greatly impacted by development; some have disappeared entirely. The large coniferous forest that defined the western and northern boundary of Fort Plain, and the pond located in the riverfront area, no longer exist. The overall spatial relationship and connection between the reconstructed stockade and the river, which is critical to understanding the historical context for Fort Vancouver, has been degraded by the Burlington Northern railroad berm, Interstate 5, Highway 14, and Columbia Way. Despite these physical intrusions, some of the historic character of the site still exists. For example, the overall topography of the site, a gentle slope from the parade ground to the river, remains essentially the same. In addition, although the development surrounding today's stockade has eroded the quality of the historic open plain, the open spaces of both the Vancouver Barracks parade ground, and the southern half of Pearson Airpark, help retain the open space character of the historic fields and prairies.
Last Updated: 27-Oct-2003