Story and tangible history came together when the Friends of Fort Vancouver and the National Park Service hosted me for a book event at the remarkable re-creation of the historic Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, Fort Vancouver.
The event highlighted the actual reconstructed fort with a tour led by Dr. Robert Cromwell, Chief Ranger and Archaeologist, speaking behind the big gun here. Two large cannons stand in front of the elegant Big House, home of the fort’s commander in the days of my book, The Shifting Winds. During the tour I offered a few words on certain scenes from the book which took place at the fort in 1842 and 1843. I’m in the white hat. Photo by Robin Loznak.
The tour brought us into the fort’s living history, and Dr. Cromwell was great. I love this place that makes the past live. I feel a deep connection because my first visit here years ago inspired me to write The Shifting Winds, and making the past live is what I try to do with my historical novels.
Dr. Cromwell talked about the impression the house would have made on its 19th century visitors, such a grand structure with its expensive white paint and the big guns facing the front gate, although he noted the guns were spiked so couldn’t fire.
Nevertheless, the effect was no doubt intended to show the power of this British fur trading company that essentially ruled over Oregon at the time of my story.
On this July day the lush grapevines draped over the Big House veranda and bright flowers bloomed in front. On my previous visit in March the canes were bare, and there was no sign of flowers. Now huge clusters of grapes hang from these vines.You can also see part of the arbor in the top photo.
Photos taken of the original Big House in 1860 let researchers know that grapevines twined around metal trellises on the veranda that extends across the entire front of the house.
The thumbnail shows the house during my March visit before the greenery leafed out. Quite a change, and probably effective for the south-facing house. In winter when they needed more light the leafless vines let the sun come in, but in summer the leaves provided cooling shade.
Our tour proceeded inside the house so the group could see additional settings of the story and learn more about the fort. Then we moved on to the Indian Trade Store and the Fur Store warehouse to get an idea of the real purpose of this fort. The Hudson’s Bay Company officers and employees may have appreciated the protection of the picketed stockade, but the fort never served as a military post for them. The Company came for the furs, particularly beaver, purely a business venture. But it could be a cutthroat business as they competed against the Americans, who also held an interest in the territory.
The tour ended up at the New Office, above, the closest thing to the setting where my character Alan Radford would have worked. The clerk Alan lived and worked in the Old Office, which hasn’t been reconstructed yet. While Dr. Cromwell looked on, I talked about the scene where Alan invites protagonist Jennie to see his workplace during the Christmas Ball at the fort. Through a bit of byplay between these characters, I slip a little information into the story that gives the reader an idea how the fort functioned and how very isolated they were in this wilderness. Photo by Robin Loznak.
My lecture at the Visitor Center featured photos related to the story, this one showing Fort Hall, another reconstructed fort that became a landmark on the Oregon Trail. My thanks to Ranger and Guide Emily Orvis for setting up the AV tech equipment so it all rolled smoothly, and thanks to my son-in-law Robin Loznak for handling the individual photos while I talked. This shot of me was taken by Benjamin Capps with my camera.
After my talk, Mary Rose, Executive Director of the Friends of Fort Vancouver, surprised me with a bag of thoughtful gifts, from a lovely turtle pin that memorializes the Native American label for the fort area as the “place of the mud turtles,” to Jacobsen sea salt from Oregon’s cold waters at Netarts Bay, to a Russian nesting doll acknowledging Vancouver’s many Russian immigrants, a little stuffed beaver representing the target of the 19th century fur traders, and a 100th anniversary pin commemorating the 100-year birthday of the National Park Service that maintains the site. What a delightful gesture! Photo by Benjamin Capps.
I arrived early, well before planned activities, which worked out. Tourists were stopping by and several bought my books, even some that hadn’t come for the event, and they were pleased to get personalized signed copies. My thanks to Sales Assistant Madya Panfilio for her enthusiasm in recommending my work. Official signing came after the lecture. Photo at left by Robin Loznak.
Mary Rose also asked me to sign additional books, which are available in the Visitor Center Bookstore.
Mary was the one who arranged my presentation at Fort Vancouver. When she learned about my book The Shifting Winds, she immediately became interested. She read the book, appreciated the accuracy and the story, and discussions led to Saturday’s presentation.
Many thanks to Mary for organizing such a wonderful event. She and the staff at the Visitor Center and the fort did a terrific job. Thanks to them all.
As my grandson Alex said, “They rolled out the red carpet for you, Grandma.” Yes, they did.
Everyone made it a wonderful day and I am most grateful.