Captain Vancouver at Birch Bay
The Discovery, sloop of war, and armed tender Chatham, under the command of Captain George Vancouver, British Royal Navy, anchored here on June 11, 1792. They were on their way to Nootka Sound to accept the transfer of rights to the Northwestern area of North America from Spain. He explored and surveyed and claimed for Great Britain the territory he passed through. Having explored the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound (named after Lt. Peter Puget) he sailed through Rosario Straits and The Straits of Georgia (which he named) to Birch Bay. He named the bay, Birch Bay, because of the abundance of White Birch here. The ships botanist, Archibald Menzies identified the tree as Betula papyfera, our native Paper or White Birch.
His men set up camp on land. They immediately began building a navigational observatory, blacksmithing, carpenter shops, making spruce beer, taking on water and firewood for the ships. Historians have not been able to find the exact area he landed at and the site of his camp.
The next day he left in the yawl, accompanied by Lt. Puget in the launch, they sailed and rowed to Point Roberts which they named. They then traveled north exploring the area that became Vancouver, BC. Four of his men got very sick from shellfish poison (Red Tide) and one died. On the return, he unexpectedly met an expedition of two Spanish frigates led by Captains Galiano and Valdez. He was treated with elegant hospitality by the Spanish. They shared charts and information about their explorations.
During this time, Lt. Joseph Whidbey sailed south in the ships cutter for exploration and survey along the coastline and islands. He explored and named Bellingham Bay. Vancouver had already named Whidbey Island for him. Menzies studied the Birch Bay flora and fauna. During a land exploration, inland, he found an old Indian deserted village covered with nettles and bushes. There was an old canoe suspended six feet from the ground between two Trees, containing some decayed human bones wrapped up in mats, carefully covered over with boards to keep animals from them. They departed Birch Bay on June 24th heading north where they were joined by the Spanish explorers and together traveled up the unexplored east side of Vancouver Island to Nootka Sound on the west side of the island.
Submitted by Arne Cleveland