Fort Vancouver – Educational Fun for the Whole Family

The Chief Factors House stands in the background during a walk through the gardens at Fort Vancouver. Photo credit: Gregory E. Zschomler

Vancouver, Washington; Vancouver U.S.A.; America’s Vancouver; The ‘Couve. The southwest Washington, Clark County city of many monikers, named for the sea explorer Captain George Vancouver, began as Fort Vancouver—the Pacific Northwest fur trading hub for Britain’s Hudson’s Bay Company in 1829.

In 1961 the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site was established and now includes the reconstructed fort as well as the US Army’s Vancouver Barracks, and Pearson Field and Air Museum—all located in proximity.* Visitors to the Clark County site can wander the 200+ acre park, famous for it’s Fourth of July fireworks show (the largest west of the Mississippi), stroll inside the stockade, enjoy the park’s Visitor Center, and much more. It’s educational (don’t tell the kids) fun for the entire family.

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Fort Vancouver, a national historic preserve, promises interactive fun for the whole family. Photo credit: Gregory E. Zschomler

You might begin your visit by learning about all the park’s venues and local history through exhibits and hands-on activities in the Visitor’s Center (admission is free). There you can catch a short film about the history of the area, peruse the bookstore, and enjoy a display of art and craftwork by local Native American artists. Be sure and grab a free map of the grounds and fort site before you exit the building.

Next, walk or drive south to the stockade where visitors are welcomed by a lovely educational garden, not unlike the gardens grown for the fort’s occupants nearly two centuries ago. A nearby orchard, outside the compound, may also be enjoyed. Once inside the stockade, visitors are able to walk through the bakery, blacksmith’s shop, carpenter’s shop, and grand Chief Factor’s House as well as other service buildings essential to 19th Century fort life and commerce. The buildings are authentically furnished and stocked with period pieces. As funding is available other buildings are scheduled to be added.

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While visiting The Village at Fort Vancouver, download a free app for an interactive experience. Photo credit: Gregory E. Zschomler

Further afield, down a twisting path through the orchard you’ll find The Village, the beginnings of a reconstructed community where non-military employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company lived. In The Village, use your mobile device for interpretive and interactive content. The Fort Vancouver Mobile App is available for free download from GooglePlay and iTunes. The digital multimedia content is delivered based on your geolocation. The app was developed by Washington State University-Vancouver Digital Technology and Culture (now Creative Media and Digital Culture) students under the direction of professors Brett Oppegaard and Dene Grigar.

Walk further south and enjoy passing over Highway 14 on the beautiful land bridge path to Old Apple Tree Park and the scenic Columbia River Renaissance Waterfront Trail if you like.

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The Pearson Field and Air Museum stands on the Fort Vancouver national historic reserve. Entry to the Pearson Air Museum is free. Photo credit: Gregory E. Zschomler

In addition you might check out Pearson Field and Air Museum, one of the nation’s oldest operating airfields and still in use today. Exhibits inside the museum showcase early military and civilian aviators, as well as the site’s World War I Spruce Mill, which produced aviation-grade lumber for Allied planes.

Established in 1849, Vancouver Barracks (no longer used) was the Northwest’s first U.S. Army post. Here you may meander among historic buildings, which are labeled with plaques interpreting their history.

The Parks Department offers a number of family-friendly historical-educational activities throughout the year such as Lantern Tours, the Brigade Encampment and more, as well as the popular Independence Day events. Lantern Tours, which take place at dusk by candlelight in the fall, feature costumed interpreters “living” life as it was right before your eyes—as if you were a fly on the wall.

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The barracks at Fort Vancouver were originally built in 1849. Photo credit: Gregory E. Zschomler

The Brigade Encampment (June) spills outside the stockade walls and features a daytime living drama of reenactments with soldiers, trappers and pioneers. Fees and reservation information for the Lantern Tours can be found here. The encampment is free and not to be missed; unlike the Lantern Tour actors the costumed reenactors interact with visitors, answering questions. Kids, and college students and others may also get involved in archeological digs at the site this summer. Signups are now in progress. Other group tours and interpretive programs are offered by appointment as well.

Fort Vancouver is located at 1501 E. Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver, Wash. Entry to the Visitor’s Center is free. Entry into the reconstructed fort is $5 for each adult (ages 16 and up) and is free to those under 16. Receipt allows re-entry for seven days. Entry to the Pearson Air Museum is also free. A Fort Vancouver Annual Pass, $30, valid for one year from date of purchase, allows free entry for the pass holder and up to three adults to all of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Most surfaces are wheelchair-friendly.

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The I-5 bridge looms in the background during a visit to Fort Vancouver. Photo credit: Gregory E. Zschomler

Standard hours are: Tuesday through Saturday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday. All park facilities are closed on major holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, except Independence Day.

*The John McLoughlin House, in Oregon City, Ore., has also been included as part of the historic reserve. McLoughlin served as the fort’s Chief Factor from 1824 to 1845, during which time he and his family resided within the fort walls at the Chief Factor’s House.

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