The Heritage Network

The Heritage Network

Fort Colvile Bicentennial

The Boat

The 200th anniversary of the establishment of Hudson’s Bay Fort Colvile is happening in 2025. The Heritage Network is preparing to take that opportunity to remind us of our history and form honest bonds with tribes in local reservations. There are some major obstacles to interpreting the fort’s history.

The site of Hudson’s Bay Fort Colvile is under the waters of Lake Roosevelt so we can’t rebuild it or visit it. One of the main reasons it was built there was the major fishery at Kettle Falls which for over 9000 years brought tribes together in peace to harvest salmon. The fishery is also under water now. So, both the main focus of the fur trade and that of the indigenous population are gone. The Tribes have revived their canoes. We need to revive ours.

There are both terrible results and neutral results from colonization by Hudson’s Bay. Few today would approve the export of 20,000 fur skins annually.  The fort did protect natives from gold miners, the American Military and aggressive settlers. In that role it was perhaps the lesser of two evils. HBC built over 100 large cargo canoes called Columbia Boats at Fort Colvile and they are worth remembering and reintroducing into our still very lumber and boat-building focused community.

Building a Columbia Boat gives us a chance to highlight our past and announce the commemorative activities planned for 2025 while raising funds to build the boat at the same time.

This is a picture of a birchbark canoe only built east of the Rockies.

It is the same size and use as we are building on the Columbia River out of local cedar.

Status March 28th, 2024:

  • We have authoritative research from several sources on how these boats were built and used.
  • We have detailed plans from the Parks of Canada to build the boat.
  • We have a professional canoe builder eager to take on the challenge.
  • We have secured a grant from the Vinson Fund to buy materials to build the boat.

How Will We Use the Boat?

For 40 years, Kettle Falls and HBC Fort Colvile were the Capital of Boat Building on the Columbia River. The fort had a supply of cedar and location on the river to build, load and launch these boats. They were critical to the fur trade because not only could they hold up to 3 tons of furs and supplies and navigate down the river, they were light enough that they could also be brought back up the river with trade goods and be portaged around rapids, rocks and waterfalls. Over a hundred of them were built at the fort. They were essentially the semi-trucks of the fur trade. Brigades of 10 boats at a time would be sent down and up the river depending on the mission. They were built by French/Indian Métis craftsmen. at the fort.

We still have a couple of boat building companies in Colville that I want to get involved, particularly finding a crew for the boat. Building dougout and sturgeon nose canoes has been an inspiration, symbol and just a lot of fun for the local tribes. The comradery and competition over the past few years seems to keep on building. I would like to see some local younger white people get involved and learn the history as well as have fun with these boats. They can mark our history in parades, fairs and community events. I would like to have a Columbia Boat stored with the dugout canoe at the Kettle Falls History Center. It is in a transition right now so for the time being we have a dry secure place to use at the fair grounds.

It would be great to have a Columbia Boat from here participate in the Canoe Journey coming down to the Salmon Ceremony at the Solstice. Jack Nisbet has given us some original documented evidence that native boats accompanied the HBC boats up and down the river. Native people also often helped get the boats through rough spots. Since the canoes in that journey already have a race together from Mission Point, having a Columbia Boat in the race would be a natural.

Before 1846, there was no US/Canada border. People along the river commuted annually to Kettle Falls and the fort itself. Museums and canoe groups in Canada have already been contacted and we are discussing trying to get one or more of these boats built on that side of the border. That would open up the chance to have International competition on both sides of the border celebrating our mutual history and heritage. A friendly rivalry like that would carry on for years making it a lasting memorial to HBC Fort Colvile.

Who Invented the Columbia Boat and developed its design?

The simple answer is David Thompson, Canadian explorer and national hero. It is a great story and fairly long. Check out these two articles, The Columbia Boat – published in the Silverado and Columbia Boat Plans – written by historian Tom Holloway. This design is also known as a David Thompson Canoe.

There is a lot more information in the book The Mapmaker’s Eye by Jack Nisbet.

We still need $30,00 to get the boat built. Please Help