British Royal Navy captain George Vancouver anchored in Birch Bay on June 11, 1792, with the ships HMS Discovery, a 10-gun sloop-of-war, and its tender HMS Chatham, a 4-gun survey brig. He named the bay Birch Bay because of the abundance of white birch here. The ship’s botanist, Archibald Menzies, identified the tree as betula papyrifera, which is our native paper or white birch.
His men built a navigational observatory, blacksmith and carpenter shops, made spruce beer, and took on water and firewood for the ships. Historians have not been able to find the exact area he landed or the site of his camp. Ship logs indicate they landed on the south side of Birch Bay, near the present-day state park.
Menzies studied the Birch Bay flora and fauna. During one inland exploration he found an old deserted Indian village covered with nettles and bushes. There was an old canoe suspended six feet from the ground between two trees, containing decayed human bones wrapped up in mats, carefully covered over with boards to keep animals away.
The day after anchoring in Birch Bay, Vancouver left in the yawl, accompanied by lieutenant Peter Puget. They sailed and rowed to what they named Point Roberts after captain Henry Roberts, who originally was to command the expedition. They then traveled north exploring the area that became Vancouver, B.C. Four of his men got very sick from shellfish poisoning (red tide) and one died. On the return, he unexpectedly met an expedition of two Spanish frigates led by captains Galiano and Valdés. He was treated with elegant hospitality by the Spanish. They shared navigational charts and information about their explorations.
Vancouver explored, surveyed and claimed the north Pacific Coast territories he passed through for Great Britain. Having explored the Juan de Fuca Strait and Puget Sound (named after Puget) he sailed through Rosario Strait and the Strait of Georgia.
During the stay at Birch Bay, lieutenant Joseph Whidbey sailed south in the ship’s cutter to explore and survey along the coastline and islands. He named Bellingham Bay after Sir William Bellingham, the Navy controller who provisioned the voyage. Vancouver had already named Whidbey Island after Whidbey.
They departed Birch Bay on June 24 heading north to receive back from the Spanish, land and property that had been confiscated from the English during the Nootka Crisis as well as establish a British presence to support and promote fur trade.
(This historical account was supplied by the Birch Bay Historical Society. They may be contacted by writing them at Birch Bay Historical Society, 7373 Birch Bay Drive, Blaine, WA 98230. The historical society’s website is cshopcandy.com/2019/09/10/birch-bay-historical-society.)
Arne Cleveland is secretary for Birch Bay Historical Society.
Captain Vancouver celebration June 12
Birch Bay Historical Society will celebrate captain George Vancouver’s 1792 arrival to Birch Bay in his ship, the Discovery. The historical society will gather by The C Shop, near Alderson Road and Birch Bay Drive, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 12.
Drayton Archeology archeologists will give a presentation and answer questions 1-3 p.m. during the kid-friendly event.