I was born in the penultimate years of the Carter administration, in Vancouver. Wait, why didn’t I say the short administration of Progressive Conservative Canadian Prime Minister, Joe Clark? (yes, Canada had a party called the Progressive Conservatives – but that will lead into my confusing party names of world rant.)
But, let’s talk about another lexical confusion of the toponymic variety getting the US and Canada out of the way… for now.
Captain George Vancouver, sailing for the Royal Navy, circumnavigated the globe in the Vancouver Expedition from 1791-1795. The two Vancouvers (or three, including Vancouver Island, which was almost named Isla de Quadra after Teniente, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra) are interesting since the Spanish were also there. Thus, San Juans, Juan de Fuca, and so on – if anyone thought the Californians had anything to do with that or Nanaimo bars [which are delicious].
Of course, I’m sure you’re all thinking about the large Canadian city in the province of British Columbia. And how can I blame you? It’s an international city of approximately 631,000 people.
But; I was born, raised, and lived in the city of Vancouver into my mid-twenties, in the American state of Washington, with only a population of about 180,000; making it the fourth largest city in Washington (after Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma), while Vancouver, British Columbia is the eighth largest city in Canada.
Of course, you will say, that the Canadian Vancouver (the Big V I call it – and that is just me as far as I know, but, I will use it to differentiate) is the third-largest metro area in Canada.
Fair enough, but Vancouver, Washington is in the Portland-Vancouver metro designated area. Both metros are around the same, averaging about 2.5 million each. So, touché. This is not me taking shots at the Big V, but you need to understand how annoying it is when they don’t even know we exist. Even Seattle doesn’t care.
Interestingly, Captain Vancouver would have personally seen what would become the Big V, but he was doubling back to Hawai‘i (to which they derived their current flag, and I’m not touching that right now.)
His Lieutenant, William Robert Broughton sailed up the Columbia River, which today separates Vancouver and Portland, and the also vast boundary between Washington and Oregon including the Columbia Gorge. But who gives a hoot about the fourth largest river in America [other than Woodie Guthrie, and I’m not doing a Washington State history, maybe later]?
I want to make it clear, of course, that this is not a terra nullius. The Big V was originally inhabited by the Squamish (a Salish-speaking people), and my Vancouver was inhabited by Chinook (where we get the salmon and jargon and attack helicopter), and to a lesser extent the Klickitat also sometimes with the Cowlitz. This is not my specialty, and I would definitely defer to indigenous sources. Let’s just say I was smudged more than once, and for some reason, natives like me even through all the genocide. My maternal and paternal lineage was settled in Washington before it was a state.
There was a local legend in eastern Vancouver, I can’t remember, but on the old freeway near my house, where I would bike (no wonder I was so skinny, I’m so lazy now – I would bike and walk for miles and miles exploring – walking through forests – through mud and poisonous nettle patches, up hills – and I used to enjoy it at the edges of suburbia later smoking up top Prune Hill where a worker checked me out and let me be just to smoke weed looking at the Columbia and lights.
Anyway, it was that there was a Fisher’s Landing (it’s now its own pronoun for schools and shopping centers, but I’d heard it before they were all built – far from the actual site), living on the frontier of ever-expanding downtown after my parents moved from the central Heights to the border with the next towns of Camas and Washougal, which deserves its own chapter of my life story – though that’s where it gets dark, and it’s boring to me and all my therapists alike (I got a lot on this – it’s darker than the cemetery).
Well, there was a pioneer cemetery there at Fisher’s Landing [anyone getting super technical and literal, don’t, this is how I remember things]. I still have dreams about it – like off the banks of the river, you could hear the river slurp gently – and I never ventured that far down the ferns and wet bank, sticking to the rail instead.
It was just one of those places where the air becomes thick and oppressive and there’s a vibe you can’t describe. The mist etched its own history on stone. I went in it a few times, but even when I got a car and drove by it – it gave me the willies.
Remember that at that point I was well into being a full-blown goth with my 35-mm camera going to cemeteries across the city for photography classes (not like going to cemeteries was the assignment, I just liked every cemetery but that one). Anyway, the legend is it had been the site of a native village. So, turning the built-on Indian Burial thing on its head, they had built their cemetery on the old village. Like all folk legends, I don’t know how much is true, but it felt real. Anyway, before I ADD myself into the supernatural. Again, I don’t know how much of this I heard or just made up.
And of course, after that cheery tale, let’s get back with a man who would be one of the first recorded examples of self-harm in cutting, and have a mental decline, and commit suicide. That would be Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame. I swear to Sacagawea and her dollar there are so many Lewis and Clark highway markers, there must be a few that said: Here Lewis wiped Clark’s ass. But, this is another tangent briefly.
It was later when visiting the east during my Mid-Atlantic trip in around 2009 that I saw a grand monument of them in Charlottesville, Virginia [and yes Virginia is not technically Mid-Atlantic Neo-Confederate troll I still remember – believe me, I get it, as that’s sort of this article of mine too, about the Northwest – how we’re not California – if you’re still around, be with me on Cascadia (I can’t tell if Texans or Virginians are more insufferable)].
Back to the [Pacific] Northwest, about 1805 I think? I’m not sure, but the expedition, under the administration of Thomas Jefferson, was between 1804 to 1806 and it could have been 1806 where they wintered at the mouth of the Columbia at Fort Clatsop (five miles from later Fort Astoria, the Astoria later of Goonies and Kindergarten Cop fame). I’ve of course been to all these places, as a good Cascadian.
Back to Lewis, he said of the place that would be Vancouver, that it was “the only desired situation for settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.” Of course, he was homesick and would shoot himself not long later in 1809. So, take that as you will.
In any case, it was not long after, in 1824, that Fort Vancouver would be established by the Hudson’s Bay Company as a fur trading post. The Hudson’s Bay Company, acting much like the East India Company chartered by the British Crown. It is still a Canadian department store much like Old Navy, only unlike Old Navy founded in the 90’s, it was founded in the 70’s – the 1670’s. It is still the oldest corporation in North America.
Fort Vancouver is a designated National Historic Site, which, of course, almost everyone in Vancouver went to on a field trip as a kid. It’s a reconstruction, and not technically the actual site. For a while, it billed itself as the biggest 4th of July West of the Mississippi. I was living miles down the river growing up and we could always feel the ground tremble with the finale, even though we couldn’t see the fireworks miles away.
Ironically, the directly adjacent Pearson Field is where Fort Vancouver would have been. Pearson Field was the site where the US Army Air Service stopped during its first round-the-world flight in 1924. But more notably, it is where Valery Chkalov landed after the first flight over the North Pole from Moscow in 1937. He was later made a Hero of the Soviet Union, met Stalin, is interred in the Kremlin, and featured on Soviet-era stamps.
There was a sizable Russian community – and I went to school with, worked with, and was friends with many of the children of Russians who emigrated to Vancouver after the Soviet Union fell. I can only wonder, as they were often from Moscow or at least “European” Russia and not from the more geographically immediate Far East like Vladivostok…
A prominent street in Vancouver is still named after Chkalov, and there’s a large mural in Downtown Vancouver (seen above). At the Pearson museum, there is a monument [side note, my first pipe band I was in would practice there in the evening after hours, and all the old planes were amazing].
Other than that, I guess we don’t have much except that I would hang out in the woods near my house late at night, or climb on the roof outside my room and look at the lights of Portland across the Columbia River. Our house was built along an old road, some said a wagon trail. There was an embankment with rusty iron markers, for a road grown over with blackberry bushes. One night I was on acid, and freaked out because I thought I saw the imprint of older long-gone souls. But, I have an imagination, and we had a big yard.
It may be apocryphal, but Vancouver may have had the first Drive-Thru Starbucks. At one point it was a Long John Silvers. I just know that in the Northwest, we knew Costco, Starbucks, and others before you. We also had the last person hung, who was the Dahmer of Washington. My parents would not let me go out during that time. I remember it well. One of my distant friends actually lived on the same street as Weseley Allen Dodd – I remember tripping over passed-out bodies in his own house. I was from the upper class, but I definitely hung out with everyone (and yes I got shit for it, but I couldn’t stand rich kids).
In any case, I have so many fond memories. I still have soil from Vancouver and our yard. I carved my initials in my room before we moved. If and when I die, I will haunt my old room as a happy ghost.
What I do not have is a flag. The Big V has one of the best flags, but, I want to vomit every time I see my hometown flag. If you can’t design a flag don’t bother.
Before I forget, Burgerville was founded in Vancouver. It was sad when they tore down the first one (seen above). In any case, it is the Northwestern answer to In-n-Out, though there isn’t a question about what is better to me. I’m not about to do a commercial – but around southwest Washington and down into Oregon – say they are overpriced and overrated, but they are progressive, but I’m not going to say they supported a union (rawr).
Nevertheless, it has got to be one of the only fast food casual restaurants to have unionized workers at some franchises. While I won’t oversell it, it’s the first thing many of us go to after touching down in PDX.
I can not forget Clark College where I went briefly before having my first major mental breakdown. I took History, German [intro, though I tested into third year], Drawing and Photography. Whatever, we had the mascot of the Penguins!
Later, Washington State University (from Pullman near the Idaho border far past Cascadia) built a campus in Vancouver. One of my friends went there. It was odd for me as a kid who grew up west of the Cascades rooting for the U-dub Huskies, but I generally don’t care. If you’re playing any team outside the Northwest, I don’t care if it’s the Cougs, Ducks, Beavs, ‘Zaga, Dawgs – don’t care. I root for Cascadia.
Some of my Northwestern alumnus friends’ cultic parochial attitudes cannot understand that until you’ve lived outside the Northwest, your little rivalries are insignificant. I root for my new hometown University of Arizona – but, whenever they are playing a Northwestern team, it’s a win-win for me no matter what and I secretly root for the Northwestern team. I have true pride.
I’ve left out so much… I could write a book on Vancouver. Like the theater, you could watch cult films and long past blockbusters
Or where weddings would take place at the old Academy
Or Officers Row where General George C. Marshall and President Ulysses S. Grant were stationed and lived adjacent to the Vancouver Barracks. I took this shortly before moving to Arizona. This is the Grant house, which he never actually lived in, though stationed at Fort Vancouver from 1852-3.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kaiser Shipyards started building Liberty Ships en masse. There was a large Navy contingent, along with the Army barracks.
Other than that, there is Tonya Harding who inhabitated several bars near my neighborhood. It’s unfair, but, those across the bridge in Portland called us things like Vantucky, and such. I can’t lie, when me and friends went out on the weekend, we were heading across the bridge to Portland.
I just wanted to preface that with how Vancouver (not BC), Washington (not DC), is perhaps the oldest continuously settled (European) city in the Northwest. Only Oregon City can claim the same, where the (totally not haunted) McLoughlin House was built in 1845. By some weird coincidence, my best of friends lives in walking distance of that house. Did I forget to mention Dr. John McLoughlin was chief factor of the Fort Vancouver territory for Hudson’s Bay? He was totally happy.
Where was I? I have so much more to say. I know people, like my sister, who couldn’t get away from Vancouver fast enough. I love her, but she moved to Gresham (a suburb of Portland in Oregon)… though there’s less meth and crack rocks there now and she was in a good part, she’s still in the Northwest I suppose, and doing well for herself. I just never took the move out of Washington well, and still call myself an Arizonan reluctantly – though I’ve adapted about as well as a Cascadian could in stride.
It is here in Arizona where I still sing Washington, my Home, and dream of returning to my homeland one day. I have a lot of struggles to overcome before then though. And I like being near my parents in their golden years. I guess I’m a Tucsonan in many ways, but you can never take the Northwest out of me.
I’ve got more to say… but, I’m tapped out. I just want to say that: before Portland, Oregon, before Seattle, Washington, and yes, before Vancouver, British Columbia, there was Fort Vancouver.