A clanging staccato punctuates the gravel-floored workshop as Bill Evans strikes metal mallet to iron bar. Evans, aÂ National Park Service volunteer and blacksmith atÂ Fort Vancouver,Â scrapes ashes from the glowing metal bar with a screechy wire brush before resuming his rhythm, only to return the cooled rod to the fire a few seconds later. Evans beats the iron bar into submission the old-fashioned way, using fire, tongs, a mallet, and an anvil.
Over the stirring, cracking, clanking, striking, scraping, and billow-pumping that mark his trade, Evans narrates the role the Hudsonâ€™s Bay Company played in the settlement of the Pacific Northwest in the early- to mid-1800â€™s. A retired couple listens from behind a cordon as Evans speaks of Dr. John McLoughlin, and his 20-year tenure as Chief Factor over the Hudsonâ€™s Bay Companyâ€™s fort.
Under McLoughlinâ€™s leadership, the Hudsonâ€™s Bay Company monopolized theÂ fur trade west of the Rocky Mountains, and it was from here that beaver pelts and other trade goods were sent back to Great Britain. According to the National Park Service, thirty-five ethnic groups had trade dealings with the fort.
From 1825-1849, the fortâ€™s blacksmith shop was responsible for making and repairing beaver traps, trade good axes, buckets, implements, and building hardware to support the companyâ€™s operations. The original shop, perched just north of the gentle banks of the Columbia River, provided metal-working services to anchored ships as well.
Great Britain and the expanding American nation disputed ownership over the land north of the Columbia River and south of the 49th parallel. The mutual signing of The Oregon TreatyÂ on August 5, 1946 resolved the dispute, making theÂ 49th parallel the border between the nations.
The Hudsonâ€™s Bay Company, one of Britainâ€™s oldest corporations, eventually moved north to Canada where it remains active to this day.
After having been deserted, the fort fell into disrepair and was destroyed by fire in 1866. Though no blueprints of the original post remain, Evans reported that re-builders were able to locate the anvil stump and determined that the oven would have been positioned a quarter-turn away. Today, Fort Vancouver National Park is one of 401 sites included as part of the National Park Service.
Fort Vancouver is host to the only working blacksmith shop in the U.S. National Park Service system. Its volunteers fashion hardware for the historic buildings on the park service registry, including those for Williamsburg, Virginia.