1791: Spanish Ships on Salish Sea
On July 1, 1791, Spanish navigator José Narváez set out on another trip to enter the great inland waterway he had seen in June. With a 41-person group in a longboat and a small schooner, he passed northeastwards up Rosario Strait into the Salish Sea (Gulf of Georgia) shown in the background of the repeat photographs. His group came northwards from Boundary Bay, crossing “a line of white water more sweet than salt” that was the mouth of the Fraser River (upper centre of photographs) that was likely in flood at this time. However, Narváez, or George Vancouver who followed him the next year, never explicitly described the Fraser River. They anchored off the headland now called Point Grey below today’s “Spanish Banks.” From the southeast, a large number of local villagers paddled out to Narváez’s boats. These people brought several kinds of fish out to the Spanish, and they traded deer and elk meat, and native vegetables to obtain copper, pieces of iron and barrel hoops from the Spanish. Salish speakers described how they had previously obtained metal goods from other European ships, and in turn traded these goods to interior peoples came from the interior flatlands with horses. Thus it is possible that other fur trading ships had preceded them into the interior channels between Vancouver Island and the mainland 1 The Spaniards continued northwards along the coast, mapping the entrances to Burrard Inlet (running across the centre of the photograph) and Howe Sound, and passing more villages. They then continued up today’s Sunshine Coast as far as Texada Island before crossing the straits, and returning southwards along the edge of the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island (right background of photographs). On July 22, with their provisions exhausted, they reached their mother ship, the San Carlos in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. 2.
Map and Footnotes:
- John Meares’ description of his voyages contained charts showing the “the track of the American Sloop Washington in the Autumn of 1789” along the complete east side of Vancouver Island as discussed in: Nokes, Richard J. Almost A Hero: The Voyages of John Meares, R.N., to China, Hawaii, and the Northwest Coast. Pullman, WA: WSU Press, 1998: 80-81. Regardless of this potential American visit, the long-distance travels of Salish sea residents by canoe on the waterway could have brought them into direct contact with Europeans elsewhere. ↩
- McDowell, Jim (1998). José Narváez: The Forgotten Explorer. Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark, 1998: 55-58 ↩