Okanagan-Shuswap History - Indians & Early Explorers

Statue of Captain James Cook in Victoria The last ice age, which ended 10,000 years ago, created a land bridge between Asia and North America. This enabled early homo sapiens to walk to this continent many years before whites came over from Europe by boat. Over the years, these Natives dispersed across both North and South America.

The Indians that settled around Okanagan include the Inland Salish, related to the Coast Salish around Vancouver, and the Kootenay, which settled the mountainous terrain east to the Rockies. The rivers , lakes and forests provided an abundance of both food and building materials, and enabled them to develop a sophisticated culture including a system of trade. There are currently over 90,000 Natives in BC with 11 distinct linguistic groups. There are 197 bands living on 350 reservations, represented by 33 tribal councils.

In 1778 James Cook, the famous British captain, first landed on Vancouver Island. The arrival of the white man was followed shortly by the scourge of new diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis, and venereal diseases, which decimated the native populations. In 1790 the Spaniard Manuel Quimper, sailing on the sloop Princesa Real, sailed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the southern end of Vancouver Island, landing just west of Vancouver. The following year, a pilot in the Spanish Navy, Jose Maria Narvez, discovered the mouth of the Fraser River. Fourteen years after sailing here under Captain Cook, Captain George Vancouver (for whom the city is named) returned to the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1792, and spent the next two years exploring the area with the aim of finding the western end of the elusive "Northwest Passage", which would have helped British traders to travel more quickly from England to the Pacific Ocean.

In 1793 Alexander Mackenzie, working for the fur-trading Northwest Company, managed to reach the Pacific from the eastern side of the Rockies. He first traveled up the Peace River and then down 400 kilometres of the Fraser River, portaging, and used the lower stretch of the Bella Coola River arriving about halfway between Okanagan and the southern tip of Alaska. In 1808, Simon Fraser, also with the North West Company, navigated 35 days to the Pacific all the way down the river since named after him, passing through many uncharted rapids. David Thompson, again with the NorthWest Company, managed to navigate the entire length of the Columbia River. Fur trading posts were established along all of these rivers and began a period of white settlement in the interior of BC. When the North West and Hudson's Bay companies merged in 1821, the province already had significant agricultural interests centred around the forts, supplying the travelers, traders and the Royal Navy.

In 142 HBC Factor James Douglas, on board the Cadboro, surveys Victoria for a site for a Hudson's Bay Company depot. The next year, the Beaver arrives in Victoria harbour, and the construction of Fort Camosack begins, but is renamed Fort Victoria in December. The natives in the area are convinced to come under the protection of the Fort.

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