Clark County History: Kanaka Village

At Fort Vancouver, Hawaiians, mostly men, made up a significant portion of the Hudson’s Bay Company workforce. Some had worked for the North West Company; the Hudson’s Bay Company acquired them when the two companies merged. Contracts with the company for the Hawaiians have lasted from one to three years. At first, Hudson’s Bay only paid for trinkets, food, clothing, and housing. Weekly rations varied over the years, but in 1841 each week an employee received a bushel of potatoes, 21 pounds of salt salmon, and sometimes other meats.

But the Hawaiians soon learned the value of money, and the company paid them 10 pounds a year while others received 17. For Hudson’s Bay, the Hawaiians operated the sawmill northeast of Fort Vancouver . George Simpson noted in 1829 that “about half” of the crews aboard Hudson’s Bay Company ships were “sandwich islanders,” as the Hawaiian Islands were then called.

In 1832, about twenty houses made up the village, giving the employees their own community. A visitor in 1834 noted the “tedious cleanliness” and saw women “sweeping the streets and scrubbing the doorsteps” as often as in town. The artist, Paul Kane, wrote in 1846 on the “Babel of languages” that he heard there. Around the same time, another visitor noted the predominance of the “fictional language” of Chinook business jargon.

The houses varied in construction as each employee built his own. Still, there seemed to be a rough pattern of pathways between the houses. Many were fixed with posts in the ground with wooden slabs placed in the notches of the posts and covered with cedar bark. Some buildings, as one visitor recalled, were “hewn out of logs”. Although the different construction is personal, it is possible that the style changed as the inhabitants of the village came and went.


Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Contact him at [email protected]