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They had Witnesses To Prove It

English: Fort Astoria, 1813

English: Fort Astoria, 1813 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If a British naval captain had not been so wide awake, to put it politely, Canada might now own what is American territory as far south as Portland, Oregon.  The Columbia River would be the “St. Lawrence of the West.”

Fort Astoria, near the mouth of the Columbia River, had been established by John Jacob Astor in 1811.  The fort’s only link with the outside world was a ship which visited the fort while on trading trips to Vancouver Island and dropped necessary supplies.  Unfortunately the captain was a rough character, and on one occasion struck an Indian chief who came on board to trade.   The next day members of the tribe came on board, ostensibly to trade, drew their knives and killed the captain and most of the crew.  The ship’s clerk, mortally wounded, crawled down to where the ammunition was stored, and set off a blast that killed the Indians and sent the ship to the bottom.

As a result, the people at Fort Astoria were isolated and without supplies.  They were starving when a party of Nor’Westers appeared, after travelling David Thompson’s route down the Columbia, and they were glad to sell the post to the North West Company.  They would be assured of supplies, and protection from any British naval unit that might appear.

In the meantime, such a unit had been sent to capture Fort Astoria.  It was H.M.S. Raccoon under the command of Captain William Black.  After sailing all the way from Britain he was greatly disappointed to find that Fort Astoria was already British territory, through purchase by the North West Company and not through a brilliant naval action of his own.  So Captain Black put on a show.  On December 12, 1813, he hauled down the British flag and raised it again, while the Americans and Indians watched the performance.

When the War of 1812 ended, it was agreed that all territory taken by military action would be returned.  Britain claimed Fort Astoria because it had been purchased from the Astor Company.  “Oh no,” said the Americans.  “The fort was taken by military action by the captain of H.M.S. Raccoon.”  They had witnesses to prove it, and their case held good.  The fort was returned to the States on October 6, 1818, and Canada lost the territory from the British Columbia border to Portland, Oregon.

If you would like to read more about Fort Astoria, I would suggest the Great Battles of the war of 1812 – there’s a great timeline there.

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Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!

Fishermen catching salmon on the Columbia Rive...

Fishermen catching salmon on the Columbia River using a seine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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On June 15, 1846, Britain and the United States signed the Oregon Boundary Treaty.  There was a good deal of give and take in the Treaty, which extended the frontier along the 49th parallel, dipping south on the Pacific to give Britain all of Vancouver Island.

Britain had hoped to make the Columbia River “the St. Lawrence of the Pacific.”  The Hudson’s Bay Company had pioneered the area and it had also been claimed by explorers Vancouver, Thompson and Broughton.  An amazing mistake by a Royal Naval officer in 1813 may have cost Britain this territory.

the Americans hoped not only to acquire the Pacific coast to the 49th  parallel, but all the way to Alaska.  They were ready to go to war, if necessary.  In 1844, the Democratic Party slogan was, “fifty-four forty or fight,” and fifty-four meant the boundary of Alaska.  The Democrats won the election.  President Polk said in his inaugural address that Britain had no rights to territory on the Pacific.  Britain, however, took a firm stand and American Secretary of State Buchanan (who later became president) warned Polk that there would be war if he pushed the matter too far.  War with Mexico was imminent and it would be dangerous for the States to be fighting Britain at the same time.

Under these conditions, the Oregon Boundary was signed.  The negotiations for Britain were carried out by Lord Aberdeen, the Foreign Secretary.  His firmness in the matter was not undermined by the opinions of his brother, Captain Gordon of the Royal Navy, who had been sent to survey the region.  Captain Gordon wrote to Lord Alberdeen that he would not give one barren hill of Scotland for what he had seen of the Pacific.  The country was worthless because neither salmon nor trout would rise to the fly!  Captain Gordon was obviously using the wrong kind of fly!

To learn more about the Oregon Boundary Treaty, I would suggest going to History.com, and then the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, then after that X Timeline. Lastly, I would suggest a visit to the Internet Archives to read Treaty between Her Majesty and the United States of America for the settlement of the Oregon boundary : signed at Washington, June 15, 1846 (1846).

 
 

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The Day Louisiana Was Sold To The U.S.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One story that isn’t well-known is that Napoleon planned to recapture Canada for France.  He made himself dictator of France in 1799, on the pretext of “saving the Revolution,” but then went on to conquer most of Europe.

Napoleon’s plan to recapture Canada was inspired by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, who in 1793 became the first man to cross the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Mackenzie wrote a book about his trip which Napoleon had translated into French to help him plan his campaign.

His first step was to regain Louisiana.  France had owned the Mississippi Valley all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, but had handed over this territory to Spain before signing the Treaty of Paris in 1763 so that Britain would not acquire it.

In 1800, Napoleon regained Louisiana from Spain as part of the secret treaty of San Ildefonso.  He planned to move his troops up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico.  In order to do this, he sent a large navy and army to recapture the former French colony of Haiti, which had been lost in a rebellion led by a mighty black warrior, Toussaint L’Ouverture.

Français : Le général Toussaint Louverture.

Le général Toussaint Louverture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was to be the base for the attack up the Mississippi, led by Napoleon’s favourite general, Count Bernadotte. His campaign was defeated by the same elements that beat the Scotsmen who wanted to set up a colony in Panama and make it New Scotland.  The natives and the mosquitoes were too fierce.    They killed 60,000 French troops in two years!

In the meantime, the British fleet had moved powerful units to the West Indies, and Napoleon knew that it would be too risky to try to move an army to the mouth of the Mississippi.  He abandoned the plan to recapture Canada, and sold Louisiana on April 30, 1803, to the United States for $27 million between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. Spain still retained claims on the Pacific coast as far north as Oregon, which had an important bearing on the future development of British Columbia.

Want to read more about what became known as the Louisiana Purchase? I suggest National Archives & Records Administration for the transcripts, and a site I just found is Booknotes.org that you just have to check out! Oh, and don’t forget Wikipedia

 

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Bluenose I Launched

Bluenose

Bluenose (Photo credit: lifecreations)

If a poll were taken of the greatest achievements by Canadians in the world of sports, there would be many nominations.  The greatest all-around athlete could be Lionel Conacher, who appeared to be able to play everything well. There would be runners like Tom Longboat and Percy Williams; boxers like Tommy Burns and Jimmy McLarnin; skaters like Barbara Ann Scott, Hockey players like Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr … so many athletes in so many sports.

But today, let’s talk about Nova Scotian fishing schooner Bluenose, long commemorated on Canadian 10-cent pieces (diimes).  She was launched at Lunenburg on March 26, 1921, built entirely of Canadian materials except for her masts of Oregon Pine.

In order to challenge in the International  Schooner Racing Trophy, Bluenose had to be a bona fide fishing vessel.  Her job was to go to the Grand Banks and catch fish.  She returned as best of the Lunenburg fleet, having caught more than the others.

Now Bluenose was qualified to race against the champion of the Gloucester, Massachusetts fleet.  The first contest was held in October 1921, and Bluenose was fifteen minutes ahead of the finish line.  From that time until her last race in 1938, Bluenose defeated all other challengers.

In 1935, Bluenose crossed the Atlantic to attend the Silver Jubilee of King George V, and was received with royal honours by the yachtsmen of Britain. She even raced the fastest schooner yachts in Britain and came in third. Well, to be fair, her opponents were designed for racing, not fishing.

W. J. Roue of Halifax, who designed Bluenose, built other vessels to try to beat her, but was unsuccessful.  It is believed there was something freakish about her hull, an accident of building, that could not be detected and copied.

During World War II, Bluenose was sold to the West Indies Trading Company and carried general cargo between Cuba, Haiti, Guatemala and Honduras.  On the night of January 28, 1946, she hit a reef off Haiti and sank the next day.  Not a sliver of her got back to Canada, although a replica now operates in Halifax as a cruise ship.

As commented below, here’s a link to a great article about the Bluenose, including a stamp commemorating her at Cotton Boll — a very good read!

Canadian dime.  Bluenose!

Canadian dime. Bluenose!

To watch in her glory, you can see her on YouTube, and you can watch Bluenose II live at Nova Scotia Webcams.

 

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Blanshard Arrives to Govern Vancouver Island

Richard Blanshard, Governor of Vancouver Islan...

Richard Blanshard, Governor of Vancouver Island, 1849-1851 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Blanshard is the name of an important street in Victoria.  It commemorates Richard Blanshard, the first Governor of Vancouver Island which was made a British colony in 1849.  Previously it had been governed by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Richard Blanshard must have been one of the most disappointed  men who ever came to Canada.  He was a London merchant who had spent some time in the West Indies and India, and became ambitious to make a name for himself in the British diplomatic service.  When Vancouver Island became a colony, he applied for the job of governor, even though it meant serving without pay.  There was some talk in London, though, that he would be given a beautiful mansion and an estate of 1,000 acres with beautiful lawns and gardens.

His chagrin can be imagined when he stepped on shore from H.M.S. Driver on March 11, 1850, and read the proclamation establishing the new colony with himself as  governor.  It was a dreary day, mixed with rain and snow.  The only estate available for Blanshard was 1,000 acres of unclear land  which he was expected to develop at this own expense.  There wasn’t a place for him to live on shore, let alone a mansion and he had to go back to the ship.

In one of his first letters to the Colonial Office, he complained that there were only three other settlers on the island.  One of them, Captain Colquhon Grant, had arrived the previous year with coaches and carriages, only to learn that there were no roads.  He also brought equipment  for playing cricket, which requires a smoother surface than a baseball diamond!

Blanshard only lasted until November when he resigned.  James Douglas, Chief Factor of the Hudson’s  Bay Company, was appointed governor in his place.  It was a good thing, because Douglas had seen the United States take over Oregon and knew the steps that had to be taken to keep British Columbia from annexation.

Did I whet your appetite?  To read more about this, there are a few good sites to visit.  The first I’d recommend is Birds of a Feather – Victoria B & B’s History of Victoria and Vancouver Island; then you can head on to Google Docto read Bob Reid’s extensive article about The Colony of Vancouver Island 1849-1855; there’s a bit about Fort Victoria at The Canadian Encyclopedia; Richard Blanshard at Wikipedia, also at Wikipedia, there’s more information about the Colony at Vancouver Island.

Happy hunting, everyone — there’s a lot more out there!

 

 

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