For the typical resident of the Pacific Northwest, Fort Vancouver is a distant memory from your third-grade field trip. The tall, towering palisades, the blacksmith shop and carpentry shop. Then, that tall bastion in the corner you can climb all the way up.
For me, this National Park Service site is a treasure. For two summers, I worked as a fee collector (wearing the whole uniform getup! – Please, hold the Smokey-the-Bear jokes – that is the Forest Service, folks, not the NPS). In watching tour after tour, family after family enjoying the exhibits and demonstrations, I realized the true value of living history.
Reading history from a book is good. Seeing artifacts behind glass is better. Watching re-enactments in the original location amongst historically accurate buildings is priceless.
As a child, I enjoyed these sort of things, but never fully appreciated it until recently. The park rangers and volunteers at places like Fort Vancouver and the McLoughlin House in Oregon City are an endless supply of knowledge and resources. For families, theses sites also offer low-cost entertainment and education – if you catch the blacksmith working in the shop, your kids might even come home with a horseshoe nail or more!
For writers, seeing the setting of your historical fiction isn’t always necessary, or possible. But if you know the texture of the tall palisade walls, the metallic smell of the blacksmith’s shop or the sweet taste of the grapes along the veranda of the Chief Factor’s house, your novel will feel much more alive.
Pacific Northwest history, while rarely found amongst Christian fiction, is the forte of Jane Kirkpatrick and many other local writers. Linda Chaikin’s The Great Northwest series mentions Fort Vancouver among other areas and historical figures.
While World War II is one of my main interests now, I foresee a Pacific Northwest historical series in my future. The Columbia River area has a history as deep as the Pacific yet to be explored and revealed to readers. Fort Vancouver, the park rangers and volunteers, will be my first stop for information and inspiration.