‘A Voyage of Discovery’

Welcome to the first BelowBC Biography post! While there are numerous individuals who have played an important role in the shaping of Canada’s westernmost province, many of whom are unsung or have yet to receive the recognition they likely deserve, I chose to start things off with someone whose name would be immediately recognizable.   If only due to the fact that the city of Vancouver has endured as his namesake as well as Vancouver Island.

Portrait of George Vancouver. Image via: www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca

Portrait of George Vancouver.
Image via:

So, first and foremost; don’t let the stuffy portrait fool you, George Vancouver was pretty bad-ass.  He was only 40 when he died in 1798 but had done enough in his short life to be one of the most important figures in North American exploration and the namesake of both a major city as well as an island.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m almost 30 and no one is going to be naming any landmasses after me anytime soon.  One of the great disappointments of my life…

To be fair, however, George did start his time in the Royal Navy at the age of 13; at which point in my own life I was definitely not that career oriented unless we’re counting playing, reading, watching T.V., and eating the beginnings of a career path. No? Such a a shame; I’m remarkably good at all of those activities.

The expedition Vancouver is most well-known for is, unsurprisingly, the one which took place from 1791-1795.  His ‘Voyage of Discovery’, which charted the Pacific Northwest Coastline from Oregon and Washington all the way up through B.C. to Alaska.  This exploration is still remarkable, even by today’s standards, for three major reasons:

  1. At 4 1/2 years, this was the longest surveying expedition in history
  2. The longitudes recorded by Vancouver and his crew are still remarkably accurate – even the most complex calculations are only off of modern numbers by, at most, one degree
  3.  There was an extremely low mortality rate among the crew.  In the 4 1/2 years only 6 crew members died.
A statue of George Vancouver. Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Vancouver

A statue of George Vancouver. Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Vancouver

While this exploratory voyage is what George Vancouver is best remembered for, he did have two other significant experiences in his life:

  1. He served under Captain James Cook on the second and third of his voyages
  2. He spent 9 years, from 1780-1789, on board fighting ships located, predominantly, in the Caribbean

It was during this second period when interest in the Pacific began to increase, mainly due to interest in sea otter skins, which had shown indications of being highly valued in trade with China, and the fact that Britain was not willing to concede to the claim of Spain that declared all of the Pacific Coast (from San Francisco to Prince William Sound, Alaska) to be under Spanish control.

All in all, this was a man who had a wonderfully exciting life in addition to being a person who, quite literally, mapped the future of the Pacific Northwest.  After he died in 1798 his journals were published posthumously; they can be read online here.

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