Jean Baptiste Bolduc at Fort Albert

Fort Victoria

Fort Victoria in 1846, painted by Henry James Warre, Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

In 1843, the missionary Jean Baptiste Zacharie Bolduc arrived at the new location of Fort Albert with Chief Factor James Douglas. His story gives us an interesting look at the building of the new Hudson’s Bay Company post on southern Vancouver’s Island.

Jean Baptiste Bolduc was from Quebec, and a part of the Quebec Mission to the Pacific Northwest. Bolduc’s story begins with the group’s arrival at Fort Nisqually, on Puget Sound, where they would board the steamship, Beaver, for their journey north. Most of the information for this post comes from the book, Mission of the Columbia, Jean Baptiste Zacharie Bolduc, edited and translated by Edward J. Kowrach, and published by Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, WA, in 1979. I begin this blogpost at Fort Nisqually, on Puget Sound:

Fort Nesqually [sic] is situated near the sea at the lower end of Puget Sound. This port is large and can hold several hundred ships at a time. Up to the present it has not been frequented but by ships of the Honorable Company which arrived from time to time, and by some American warships.

By American warships, Jean Baptiste Bolduc is referring to the ships of the United States Exploring Expedition under Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, who arrived at Fort Nisqually in May 1841, and spent some time surveying Puget Sound and the Columbia River. This story is told in the book by Nathaniel Philbrick, titled Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842. Interestingly, at the time the Expedition ships visited Fort Nisqually, my great-grandfather, A.C. Anderson, was in charge of the post. 

The Steamship Beaver has awaited for us for a long time, but because there were some preparations to make we postponed our departure till the 13th. The aim of the Company for this voyage was to build a fort on the southern extremity of the large Island of Vancouver, and to visit other establishments on the coast, up to the Russian Fort of Sitka. The Governor, Mr. [Chief Factor John] McLoughlin [of Fort Vancouver], and Mr. Douglas, the commander of the expedition, invited me to continue my voyage even as far as Sitka, and I decided to accept this generous offer, but circumstances, as we will later see, caused me to act differently…

Finally, on the 14th [March 1843], early in the morning, we went on board the Beaver. This steamboat was a little short of the style of the elegant Queen. It is of an older design and it sails no faster than five miles an hour. The entire journey was made almost due north. Puget Sound reminds one more of a river than anything else. The numerous islands, for the most part uninhabited, are covered with forests. The incoming and the outgoing tides reach a height of ten feet in the highest seas. the mass of waters surging between the islands is the cause of currents almost insurmountable even for a steamboat.

That evening we anchored close to a point of Whidbey Island called Point Perdix. Rarely do ships travel during the night in these straits because one frequently encounters pieces of drift wood. At sunrise we had the pleasure of catching with hook and line several beautiful fish which resemble in form and taste the Canadian cod. this bay is richly stocked with fish…

All this information given to us by Jean Baptiste Bolduc was left out of James Douglas’s journal of the voyage, which you will find here:  You can see that when you write a history of any sort, you need to search for more than one source for the story. I am a little obsessive about getting all the sources I can, which probably means it takes me longer to write the story. But I hope its a better story in the end. Let us continue with Jean Baptiste Bolduc’s journal:

Early in the morning of the 14th we weighed anchor and directed our route towards the mainland, which is at the end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to learn if the Indians had seen a small Company boat pass which had aboard provisions and tools destined for workers who would build the new fort. When only about a mile from land the steamboat dropped anchor and two launches were put into the water. [This is “Dungeness,” confusingly mentioned in James Douglas’s journal, in a way that seems to confuse it with Camosun Inlet where Fort “Albert” will soon be built.] A little fort built on posts was found nearly belonging to a small camp of the great nation of the Klalams. On seeing us several of the men left their lodges and came to shake hands. All had their faces painted red and soon one said “they feared some trouble.”

It is likely that the trouble these First Nations men feared was caused by their sighting of the Great Comet of 1843, mentioned in the above post — and why not? The Klallams certainly would not have an easy explanation for such a sighting. Jean Baptiste Bolduc’s story continues, below: 

After some words exchanged through an interpreter, they were reassured and told our commander that the ship we were asking for had passed only the day before. They even indicated the place where it spent the night. This made us realize that we had unknowingly been only about a mile-and-a-half from it, for a thick fog had been between us…

We rejoined our steamboat and resumed our journey. About four o’clock in the afternoon we were at the southern extremity of large Vancouver Island. We at first saw only two canoes occupied in fishing. But soon the cannon aroused the natives to leave their hiding places. However, as it was already late, we saw but few that day. The next morning we saw canoes arrive from every side and surround the steamboat. As all appeared to show peaceful dispositions, we went ashore. These poor natives of whom only a few had seen Father [Modeste] Demers at Fraser River did not know how to make a show of their joy at the sight of a priests for the first time visiting their land. All shook hands, and the Chief, a young man about twenty years of age, accompanied us on a long walk that we made into the interior of the island, after which we returned aboard ship. Without seeming to, we watched every movement the natives made because all these tribes who live on [the] shores of the Pacific Ocean are treacherous and deceitful in every respect. Just at the moment when one believes them well-disposed toward himself, they plot the blackest treasons. Only at the end of a few days, that is to say when I had certain evidence that their dispositions, at least for the moment, were sincere, did I go to their village, which is situated at the end of a charming, small bay. There they had a fort of stakes which is about one hundred-fifty feet square. Nearly all the nations hereabouts are fortified in this manner in order to defend themselves against their enemy, the Yougletats, who live north of Fraser River. This is a powerful nation of Indians who live but for carnage. Their ravages are carried on everywhere and they attack by night the people they wish to destroy or enslave. At the top of the posts which serve as buttresses to the fort one notices grossly sculpted human heads and paintings in red and black and often some with the two colours together. 

It seems that the village that Jean Baptiste Bolduc visited was at modern-day Cadboro Bay. Word of Bolduc’s arrival had spread among the First Nations, who although they had not ever seen a missionary knew of their existence. One First Nations man stood up and told Jean Baptiste Bolduc that: “It is but ten years ago that I have heard said that there is a Master on High who does not love the bad, and that among the French there are men who have learned to know this Master. Since that time my heart, which before was very wicked, has become good and I do not do more bad. Now that you have arrived among us our hearts are content.”

On the 18th of March, Jean Baptiste Bolduc asked Douglas for help in the “erecting of a chapel for celebrating the day of the Lord. Mister Douglas furnished several men to assist me in this work. At sunset I had quite a vast edifice. Its sides of fir branches rose majestically: and its roof was covered with canvases from the steamboat. Some of the men of the expedition came to visit it, and compared it to the tabernacles that the Israelites raised in the desert.” I think Bolduc did not understand the Canadiens’ sense of humour, although he should have, as he was from Quebec.

Jean Baptiste Bolduc’s story continues: On Sunday, “more than twelve hundred Indians of three different nations, Kawaishins, Klalams, and Samishes [Cowichan, Klallam, and Songhees], were assembled around our modest temple. Our commander [James Douglas], a religious man, although a Protestant, arrived there as well as some Canadians…

It was in the midst of this large concourse that our holy Mysteries were celebrated for the first time on this land, which was for so many years the prey of all the abominations of hell. Heaven grant that the Blood of the Spotless Lamb render this land fertile, that it may produce an abundant harvest…

The following days I was not able to give my next instructions, for nearly all the men were working to cut stakes for the new fort.

I am presuming that this is both the Canadian men, and the First Nations, the latter of whom had volunteered their services and were being paid in 2 1/2 pt blankets “for every forty pickets of 22 feet by 36 inches which they bring,” according to James Douglas. Although it does not say it here, I understand that the pickets were brought in from modern-day Mount Douglas, and that Cedar Hill Road, in Victoria, was the road they used to skid the logs out. I have yet to confirm this, but believe it to be true. But it is to be noted, there were no horses here, so the men who cut the trees must also have skidded those same trees out — that’s quite a distance, if you know modern-day Victoria. 

Jean-Baptiste Bolduc’s journal continues here: 

“That day being the one I had set for the baptism of children, I went to the principal village [Cadboro Bay] accompanied by a man named Gobin, an interpreter, who with the whole crowd of Indians who had been present at the divine service. On arriving, it was again necessary to repeat the terrible ceremony of giving my hand to all in the village. The children were assembled in two rows on the shore of the ocean: the boys to the right and the girls to the left. I had written a great number of names of the male and female saints on small pieces of paper, and before commencing the ceremony, I distributed one hundred two of them. It was almost night when I finished all the baptisms. I was very tired and I had yet to walk six or seven miles to return to the steamboat…” Jean Baptiste Bolduc’s story continues below:

According to the plan of traveling from fort to fort as far as the establishments of the Russians at Sitka, outlined before our departure, we should have been here only four days but the little ship carrying the provisions were greatly delayed and from all appearances was not due to arrive. This delay was very inconvenient for me.  saw it was impossible to instruct the Indians and besides I believed that the voyages would be longer than they had at first foreseen. I had no time to lose for the orders of the Reverend Vicar General were that I was to take part ina permanent mission which was to be established on Vancouver or Whidbey Island. These reasons kept me from journeying too far, I then bought a large war canoe, forty-two feet long, its width through the centre was about three feet. The decorated bow was six feet in height…

And so, James Douglas and his men were delayed at Fort Albert because they were waiting for the provisioning ship — which I believe was the Cowlitz. Jean Baptiste Bolduc’s story continues below:

My departure from Vancouver Island was fixed for the 24th of March. I engaged Tsamics… who is Chief of the tribe to conduct me to Whidbey Island which is south of Vancouver [well, not exactly]. I gave him a blanket on the condition that he give me ten men for a crew, this he did. I then left the steamboat on the day set. The sea was calm, but a very dense fog enveloped everything. As a precaution I took a compass aboard, for without it I would undoubtedly have been lost on such a trip of twenty-seven miles.

And so we know that James Douglas was delayed at the future Fort Victoria until at least March 24, according to Jean Baptiste Bolduc’s journal. I don’t in fact think we have a date for his departure from the future Fort Victoria — but we know what he did. He closed down a number of posts on the Northwest Coast and brought all the men down with him to build the new Fort, which would eventually be called Fort Victoria. This story will be told in the next post, which you will find here when I write it: I chose to call it.

To go back to the first post in this series, go here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2022. All rights reserved.  

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3 thoughts on “Jean Baptiste Bolduc at Fort Albert

  1. Graham Brazier

    As I’m sure you are aware, some aspects of the translations of the writings attributed to Bolduc have been controversial. See, for example,

    My own skepticism however stems from the precision of the wording Bolduc attributed to the Indigenous man you quote:

    “It is but ten years ago that I have heard said that there is a Master on High who does not love the bad, and that among the French there are men who have learned to know this Master. Since that time my heart, which before was very wicked, has become good and I do not do more bad. Now that you have arrived among us our hearts are content.”

    These words strain credulity. One has to wonder what language the man was speaking and how and by whom it was being recorded and translated and how it survived to February 1844 when Bolduc wrote his journal in French.

    I found this disappointing, for variations of this quote appear in all the translations and, I believe, undermine the reliability of the details of Bolduc’s experiences on Vancouver Island in March of 1843.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Yes, thank you. I have Grant Keddie’s article.
      Also, the First Nations chiefs did speak like this — often. Many were described as “great orators.” Obviously this is translated likely through two translators (interpreters) — one, the HBC’s man, and the second a First Nations man who could speak the local language as well as the language that the HBC interpreter spoke. I have found occasions where both the HBC men, and the First Nations chiefs, had interpreters — for example, when A.C. Anderson spoke with Tsilaxitsa and Black-Eyes son when they were travelling up the Fraser River and over the new trail behind modern-day Boston Bar in 1847.