The Explorers

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Introduction

Expeditions of exploration to the Pacific Northwest started between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago, when groups travelled from Asia to North America on a land bridge. Thousands of years later, First Nations mariners, sailors from China, adventurers from Britain, diplomats from Spain, Canadian traders, and American military men came by sea and river. Sometimes these men came to the Pacific Northwest under orders and sometimes they disobeyed orders so they could come.

There are a few key figures that stand out as explorers who were great leaders and thinkers. Historians continue to discuss the motivations and personalities of these people. Expeditions required months or even years of preparation, hundreds of crewmembers, sailmakers, carpenters, brewers, blacksmiths, interpreters, botanists, doctors, artists, politicians, traders, First Nations guides and pilots, navigators, hydrographers, cartographers, publishers, and many, many others. The crew may have kept the expedition moving, but the captains set the course.

First Nations voyagers took their canoes out to trade with other coastal nations. Bering and Chirikov endured torturous hardships to bring scientific and strategic information back to Russia. Bodega y Quadra and Malaspina volunteered for dangerous and undesirable duties for the chance to sail and climb in rank. Galiano and Valdés sailed on a side-expedition under Malaspina that would earn them notoriety. Cook circumnavigated the globe twice before setting a course for the northern Pacific and Vancouver learned to be a captain in his own right by serving under him. Alexander Mackenzie travelled by river to the Arctic and the Pacific to increase the reach of the Canadian fur trade. Lewis and Clark marched and paddled across North America long after the other expeditions, but with a renewed interest in expansion on behalf of the United States Army. Some expeditions remain as legend, including the 16th century journey of Sir Francis Drake, who may have reached the Pacific Northwest, and the junks of China and Japan, which sailed east towards the mysterious and unknown coast of North America.

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