I am such a nerd. I feel sorry for my future children, because they will have a mother whos idea of a vacation day is taking the audio tour at Columbia to Fort Vancouver. I don’t know why I had never realized it before, but last winter, I discovered that there is an actual FORT just a few miles from my house.
I went on a Thursday morning, right after they opened, so I pretty much had the place to myself. Fort Vancouver is right off I-5, on the side of SR-14. It’s the first exit after you cross the river. There are a lot of easy to follow signs leading you to the parking lot. If you are there in the summer, the first thing you’ll notice is a spectacular garden. It’s tended by a big team of volunteers who where hard at work the day I was there. They grow flowers, vegetables, berries made a really cool tunnel hedge.
Inside the fort, there’s a little visitor’s center to where you check in and pay your $3 fee. I opted for the audio tour which is about an hour. The tour takes you through all the buildings inside the fort walls, the officer’s quarters, the bakery, store house, infirmary, brig and guard tower. They’ve done a good job recreating the insides of the buildings and it was interesting to hear about life at the fort. I was surprised to learn it was not a militarty fort, but rather a Hudson’s Bay Trading post. Later the US Army set up shop in the surrounding grounds, but it started as a fur trading hub.
The tour ends with a trip to the top of the lookout tower. The cannons inside look threatening, but they were not used for defense, just communicating with the incoming ships. Surrounding the fort was a big village full of many native americans, and other settlers who decided to make Vanvoucer their home. That’s where the first large scale agriculture operation for the area began. It’ really pretty cool to think that this where our cities of Portland and Vancouver first got started.
Before leaving, I stopped in at the blacksmith building, where they keep an actual blacksmith on staff. It’s part of their effort to do living history at the fort. He was doing a couple demonstrations with his ovens and talked for a while about putting up with the heat. At times through the year they have big living history days, where historians act out life at the fort. I’d love to go to one sometime.
My tour just scatched the surface of what there is to see here. There’s also the army base and an air museum on the grounds, that I think is included in the admission fee. So if you enjoy history, or just want to torture the kids, check out Fort Vancouver, it’s especially nice in the summer.