History comes to life at night at Fort Vancouver

Lantern tours offer nocturnal glimpse of life inside Fort Vancouver

VANCOUVER — On Nov. 29, 1845, the British warship HMS Modeste, under the command of Thomas Baillie, moored in the Columbia River near Fort Vancouver. The ship was stationed near the fort to maintain the peace between British possessions of the Hudson’s Bay Company and American settlers traveling overland to settle in the Pacific Northwest.

Baillie planned to host a ball at Fort Vancouver as part of his stay, and beginning on Oct., 28, history will come alive as volunteers reenact moments of the preparation for that event as part of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site’s annual Lantern Tour Series.

Each visitor on the lantern tour will be able to carry a candle lantern throughout the tour. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Each visitor on the lantern tour will be able to carry a candle lantern throughout the tour. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The lantern tours at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site are divided into two separate events. “Lantern Tour: An Evening at the Fort’’ tours take place within the fort itself. “Lantern Tour: Walking Vancouver Barracks’’ takes attendees on a night time tour of a portion of the Vancouver Barracks.

Lantern tours inside the fort not only allow visitors to see the fort at night, lit by candlelight, but also to watch historical vignettes performed by volunteers.

Each year’s lantern tours at the fort usually have a unique theme, according to Park Guide Brett Roth. This year’s theme concerns events taking place at Fort Vancouver in preparation for a ball hosted by Royal Navy Captain Thomas Baillie.

Each visitor is given a candle lantern, and guided through several buildings within the fort, Roth said. Within those buildings, volunteers in period dress act out vignettes related to the year’s theme. The characters in each scene are based on real people that lived at Fort Vancouver, Roth said.

Lantern tours at Fort Vancouver allow visitors to see the fort at night, with all buildings and activities, such as the blacksmith workshop, lit by candles. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Lantern tours at Fort Vancouver allow visitors to see the fort at night, with all buildings and activities, such as the blacksmith workshop, lit by candles. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

“Coming at night and taking a tour of the fort without any electricity using candle lanterns puts a very unique perspective that a lot of people aren’t going to be able to get from coming during the day,” Roth said.

According to Roth, the tours and vignettes inside Fort Vancouver “give a tangible connection to history by experiencing it.”

The lantern tours of the East Vancouver Barracks do not feature historical vignettes, Roth said. They focus on the history of the United States Army in Vancouver, from 1849 to 2012, and showcase different aspects of the Army’s history in the region.

Roth said that lantern tours have been held at Fort Vancouver for approximately eight years.

Tours occur on a Saturday evening each month from October to February. The lantern tours of the barracks began on Oct. 21, but will be held on Nov. 18, Jan. 20 and Feb. 3.

During the lantern tours, buildings throughout Fort Vancouver will be lit only with candle lanterns, much like they were when the fort was in use. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
During the lantern tours, buildings throughout Fort Vancouver will be lit only with candle lanterns, much like they were when the fort was in use. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Lantern tours within Fort Vancouver begin on Sat., Oct. 28. Additional tours will be held on Nov. 25, Dec. 16, Jan. 27 and Feb. 17.

All tours begin at 7:00 p.m., and require reservations. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $10 for visitors 15 years old and younger. Each tour has a maximum capacity of 90 people. According to Roth, reservations can be made up to the day of the tour, but are distributed in a first come, first served manner.

The tours last approximately one hour, but Roth said that attendees are invited to stay afterwards for apple cider and a chance to meet the volunteers who participated in the historical vignettes.

Roth said that the tours are not canceled, except for extreme examples of inclement weather, and said that visitors should dress appropriately. They should also expect to stand and walk for the entire duration of the tour.

More information can be found on the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site website at https://www.nps.gov/fova/planyourvisit/lantern-tour.htm. Reservations can be made online at http://www.friendsfortvancouver.org/#/fall-and-winter-lantern-tours/.

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About The Author

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Alex Peru is a 2017 graduate of Washington State University Vancouver. He has a bachelor’s degree in History and a double minor in Political Science and Business Administration. Peru grew up in Battle Ground, and graduated from CAM Academy in 2013. He worked for The VanCougar, WSU Vancouver’s campus newspaper, for three years, including one year as the editor-in-chief. When not working, Peru enjoys reading books about history, working on cars and enjoying the outdoors in Clark County’s beautiful rivers, lakes and forests.

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