Tag Archives: Vancouver Island

Not Cowboys & Indians, Part 4

As I was looking at my notes about the 19th century, I realized I’d come across the problem of length. I try to maintain my posts in “bite size” chunks. So, after consideration, I decided to choose one battle instead of wars in this continuance of “Not Cowboys & Indians.”  I will pepper my blog with more posts about this series in the future. So for today, let’s visit Vancouver in the year 1811.

The Battle of Woody Point, also known as the Tonquin incident, took place in 1811, at Vancouver Island.

The Tonquin in 1811

The Tonquin in 1811

The Tonquin was an American ship that participated in the Fur Trade.  Her captain, Jonathan Thorn, traded mostly with the natives of the northern Pacific coast.  The ship had 23 men and carried 10 cannons.  Though the Tonquin was American-flagged, her crew were made up of mostly British men.   They needed a trading post, so they built Fort Astoria (later named Fort George).

On June 14, 1811, the Tonquin sailed to Woody Point to trade with the Nuu-chah-nulth.  Their chief boarded the ship.  Captain Thorn hoped to purchase sea otter pelts from them.  However, when the bargaining began, he was so dissatisfied at the price that he waved and tossed the pelts back to the chief.  Needless to say, this insulted the chief.  Later that night, a woman approached the captain to warn him that the  Nuu-chah-nulth were going to attack his ship.  Thorn did not believe this, thinking the Nuu-chah-nulth were not hostile.

Fort Astoria in 1813

Fort Astoria in 1813

The next morning, two large canoes, each carrying more than 20 men, were allowed to board the Tonquin for trade.  The Nuu-chah-nulth charged so little for the pelts that Thorn was very happy.  He became so distracted, that he didn’t at first realize the danger he was in.  The natives had hidden weapons under their clothing.  As soon as Thorn realized this, he gave the orders to hoist the anchor and sails.  At that moment, the chief gave the signal to attack.  Most of the crew were unarmed because the rifles and powder were kept in the lower level of the ship.  Thorn and most of his men were killed quickly.  As the natives made their way down the ship, they were met with resistance from the men who now had access to the rifles.  The natives left soon after that.

Only five men survived that attack, and one was seriously injured.  After reviewing their options, they knew they could not set sail with so few hands.  So instead, four of them left in one of the ship’s skiffs during the night, heading to  Fort Astoria.  The injured crewman (many believe his name to be James Lewis) remained on the Tonquin.

The next morning, the Nuu-chah-nulth returned to plunder the ship.  Lewis feigned surrender and invited the natives to board the ship.  While many of the natives were busy plundering, Lewis lit the ship’s store of black powder. There was a massive explosion, killing Lewis, obliterating the ship, and many natives.  Some say 100 Nuu-chah-nulth were killed with many more injured.  Others say that number was closer to 200 deaths.

The four in the skiff were blown ashore by a storm and were captured by the Nuu-chah-nulth.  As revenge for the explosion, they were slowly tortured to death.




Posted by on April 27, 2014 in Canadian-related Links, Longer Entries


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… There Was a Great Deal of Eating and Drinking

Timbre-poste du Canada 3 cents 1917

Timbre-poste du Canada 3 cents 1917 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By October 28, 1864, the Quebec Conference had drawn up a blueprint for Confederation.  Seventy-two resolutions had been discussed.  When the delegates and their wives left for Montreal by special train, all but three resolutions had been approved, and these were dealt with at Montreal.

There was great jubilation because the delegates did not realize how difficult the days ahead would be – Confederation still had to be approved by the five provinces, then submitted to the British Parliament, and this was to take another two and a half years.

After their meeting at Montreal the delegates toured the chief cities of Upper and Lower Canada.  They went first to Ottawa, the new capital chosen by Queen Victoria, and had lunch in the new Parliament Buildings, although they were only half-finished.  Then they went on to Toronto, making stops at Kingston, Belleville, and Cobourg, where they were greeted by cheering crowds and brass bands.  There was a torchlight procession in Toronto as they went from the station to the Queen’s Hotel and four brass bands played along the route.  Then the tour went on to Hamilton and St. Catharines.  Everywhere, there was sight-seeing, speech-making, and a great deal of eating and drinking.  The men did the eating and drinking, while their women, in true Victorian style, sat in the galleries and watched!

The most difficult problems solved by the seventy-two resolutions included that of striking a balance between federal and provincial powers — the American Civil War had shown how important it was to have a strong federal government.  It was agreed that all powers not expressly assigned to the provinces should be reserved for the Federal Government, which could also disallow provincial legislation.

The provinces would lose a great deal of revenue by not being able to impose customs duties; so it was decided that the Federal Government would pay each province 80 cents for every member of its population.  It was agreed to build the Inter-colonial Railway between Canada and the Maritimes.  The seventy-two resolutions also made provision for the Northwest, British Columbia, and Vancouver Island, should they decide to join the Confederation later.


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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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Through Kicking Horse Pass

Painting of the Kicking Horse Pass in British ...

Painting of the Kicking Horse Pass in British Columbia, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British Columbia has contributed some of the most unusual stories to Canadian history.  How Victoria became the capital was recounted on April 2 (Now Where Was I … ?), the use of camels on the Cariboo Trail, on May 29 (Two Wild Beasts With Humps On Their Backs!).  In 1859 George Barston was elected member of the legislature for Nanaimo, but only one vote was cast.  Guess who voted?  The story of Topping’s buying one of the world’s richest gold mines for $12.50 was told on July 21 (Gold Mine Sold For Just $12.50!).  The Hudson’s Bay Company’s purchase of Vancouver Island for seven shillings a year was related on January 13 (Vancouver Island Leased).  Here is yet another remarkable story from beyond the Rockies.

On September 20, 1882, Governor-General the Marquis of Lorne arrived in Victoria to attempt to solve the serious railway problem.  There was not only the delay in getting the C.P.R. through to the Pacific, but also the question of who would build a railway on  Vancouver Island.  There was great unhappiness in British Columbia as suggestions were received that the province should secede from Canada and join the States.

The Governor-General’s visit was almost too successful.  The vice-regal tour was supposed to last two weeks, but the Marquis and his wife, Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, stayed three months.  While her husband was touring the interior of British Columbia, watching André Onderdonk build the railway through Fraser Canyon, Princess Louise remained in Victoria.  She would walk along the streets visiting bazaars, examining needlework displays, and shopping.  On one occasion, a baker, not knowing who she was, ordered her to come out from behind a counter where she was looking at something.

When the Governor-General arrived back in Victoria, he found that a telegram from William Van Horne of the C.P.R., had arrived, stating that a route had been found through Kicking Horse Pass, and that the railway would be completed from Montreal to the Pacific by January 1, 1887.

The announcement was not greeted with as much joy in Victoria as might have been expected.  Instead, Premier Beaven asked it Vancouver Island could become a separate kingdom with Princess Louise as its Queen!

Many people on Vancouver Island were beginning to fear that the completion of the railway would make the mainland too strong, to their disadvantage.  Of course no such step was considered, but Vancouver Island was promised that it could have a railway of its own and a dry-dock at Esquimalt.

As I’ve only written the basics here, I can suggest a few sites to visit to learn more. I suggest the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and there’s an interesting page at Old Time Trains as good places to start.


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Applauded White & Armstrong

Today I am introducing two Canadian Women painters, who are still showing us their beautiful art.

✔  Shelagh Armstrong was born in 1961 in Owen Sound, Ontario.She is a Canadian illustrator, and was the recipient of the 1985 Will Davies award. She launched her illustration career in the Canadian book industry, and worked with publishing houses such as McClelland and Steward and McGraw-Hill.  She has received commissions from Canada Post for two Canadian stamps – Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and Canada’s International Year of the Older Persons.  She was also commissioned by the Royal Canadian Mint to create various coins.

illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
Published 2002

Armstrong currently resides in Toronto with husband,graphic designer Paul Hodgson.

✔ The second Canadian painter I am profiling is Amelia Alcock-White.  She was born in 1981,  on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  She is known for her paintings depicting water, myths, philosophy, and the west coast.  She also donates and fundraises with her art for the organizations Shanti Uganda, Vancouver Aquarium, Art for life, and the David Suzuki Foundation.

Her current project is “Painting for Change” an art fundraiser for ocean conservation.  NightLight_Amelia_Alcock_White Alcock-White is represented by the Petley Jones Gallery in Vancouver.

Amelia’s paintings express the human condition and its relation to nature, the transitory character of time and the contrasting endurance of elemental forces. Psychological themes, primal emotions and archetypal figures all play a role in her works. Amelia fuses sentiment, intimacy and warmth with the enigmatic, giving her images an emotional subtlety that draws the viewer into her private world. Amelia’s work embraces elements of both magic and symbolic realism. Her first collection, Opener, explored dream-like and romantic themes. Her last show, The Art of Staying Afloat, examined the concepts of personal and symbiotic balance.  This is a direct quote from her Official Web Site.


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Weren’t We Supposed To Get A Railway?

English: The Southern Railway of Vancouver Isl...


“Of all the conditions usually attached to a union of this colony with Canada, that of early establishment of railroad communication from sea to sea is the most important. If the railroad scheme is utopian, so is Confederation. The two must stand or fall together.” – British Columbian, 1870.

British Columbia became part of Canada in 1871 (see my post of July 20Welcome British Columbia!). The terms included a stipulation that a transcontinental railway would be started within two years, and completed in ten years. There was, however, a private agreement among the negotiators that British Columbia would not insist on a literal fulfilment of the deal if it caused too great a strain on Canadian finances. Some of the Ontario members wanted to include the clause: “within ten years if the financial ability of the Dominion will permit.” This amendment might have led to the defeat of the government, and so the gentlemen’s agreement was made and outlined to a caucus of Conservative members.

Two years went by and nothing had happened, except for a symbolic turning of the sod at Esquimalt on Vancouver Island on July 19, 1873, one day before the deadline! Rumblings of trouble began to be heard. It was forgotten that the agreement did not have to be adhered to strictly if it imposed financial strain. In fact that part of the agreement had been given very little publicity.

The rumblings gradually grew into a roar, beginning with an official protest on July 25, 1873. By the end of the year, Sir John A. Macdonald‘s government had been beaten and cautious Alexander Mackenzie (no relation to the explorer, by the way) had become prime minister. He wanted more time and asked for it. By 1874, many British Columbians were so angry that they invaded the Legislature (see my post of February 7Lover of the World).

The Cosmos was the Premier, and the people suspected that he was willing to change the terms of the agreement with the Federal Government. As a result, his career in provincial politics came to an abrupt end.

By 1878, the discontent had grown to such an extent that the British Columbia Legislature passed a resolution by fourteen to nine to secede from the Dominion if the railway were not started by May 1879. Future posts will describe the various developments and how they were solved.

To learn more, I found this .pdf (24 pages) called The Story of the Canadian Pacific Railway that’s interesting. You can also find interesting trivia at Wikipedia‘s Southern Railway of Vancouver Island.


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His Maps … Were Accurate!

1814 map of the Pacific Northwest and central ...

1814 map of the Pacific Northwest and central Canada by David Thompson. The Kootenay River is shown near the bottom left as McGillivray’s River. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On July 15, 1811, David Thompson reached the mouth of the Columbia River only to find that John Jacob Astor‘s fur company had established a post there late in March.  This was a great disappointment to Thompson, who had hoped to claim the territory for Britain.  Nevertheless, this is an opportunity to present a  few highlights in the life of the man who was probably the greatest geographer in the world.

David Thompson was of Welsh extraction and came from a poor family.  He was only fourteen years of age when he was apprenticed to the Hudson’s Bay Company and sent to Fort Churchill, Hudson Bay, in 1784.  He spent thirteen years there and at other company posts in Saskatchewan, and also a winter with Natives at the present site of Calgary.  Surveying, which he studied with Philip Turner, became his favourite hobby.

In 1797 he transferred to the Northwest Company and made a 4,000 mile journey of exploration that included the headwaters of the Mississippi.  Later he was made a partner in the company.  Years were spent tracing the crazy course of the Columbia River, which curves back and forth between Canada and the United States, almost entwining itself with the Kootenay.  Thompson was the first man to travel the full length of the Columbia and back again.  He began his final assault on the Columbia in 1810.  He manufactured snowshoes and sleds and started from the Athabaska River on December 29 in weather 32 ° F ( 0 º C) below zero!  He travelled through the Rockies under these conditions to the junction of the Canoe and Columbia Rivers.

After Thompson finished his work in the West, he went to live at Terrebonne, near Montreal, where he prepared a map of Western Canada which is now in the Ontario Archives.  His maps were not like those of the early explorers.  They were accurate.

When Thompson arrived at Churchill in 1784, the map of Canada was blank from Lake Winnipeg to the west coast of Vancouver Island.  When he departed from the West in 1812, he had mapped the main travel routes through 1,700,000 square miles of Canadian and American territory!  It is tragic to remember that David Thompson died in 1857, in poverty and nearly blind.

To learn more of David Thompson and his work, I can direct you to a few sites to get you started. To begin, I suggest a new-to-me website, for an interesting video about today’s post – really interesting! And then there’s his Biography – I’m not sure who the author is, though. Another place to go is the David Thompson Columbia Brigade. And lastly, I suggest the Canadian Encyclopedia – you can never go wrong there!


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