Europeans had anchored in Nootka Sound and near the village of Yuquot on Nootka Island during several successive expeditions. Spanish Captain Perez stopped there in 1774 and Cook made arrangements to trade sea otter pelts with the Mowachaht people in this Vancouver Island harbour. When the Spanish grew wary of Russian movement southward from the northern Pacific, Esteban Martinez was dispatched to Nootka Sound based on information collected during these prior visits. The orders from Spanish Viceroy Flores, the Spanish representative in the Americas, were to set up a formal Spanish claim and to construct a building ashore that would serve for trade and shelter.

Martinez arrived in Nootka Sound with the Princesa and the San Carlos. In 1789, his crew set about constructing a battery, complete with mounted guns, on the island at the entrance to the sound. They continued by building a large hut. A steady stream of visiting vessels entered Nootka Sound and the guns were frequently fired as a form of salute. However, Martinez made a formal claim on behalf of the Spanish and began to treat all visiting vessels as trespassers on Spanish territory. The viceroy sent a letter ordering Martinez and his men to return to the naval base at San Blas, Mexico, for the winter season. Martinez lingered until October. By that time, he had seized British ships and their crews, and he sailed the prisoners and their captured vessels back to San Blas as well.

Captain Francisco de Eliza arrived during the spring of 1790 and added a bakery and workshops and restored the battery, bolstering Martinez’s abandoned establecimiento or fortified outpost. “Fort San Miguel” became a base of explorations and an outpost for the Spanish. The actions of Martinez sparked an international controversy known as the Nootka Crisis and the Spanish once again left the outpost. Only a few bricks from the ovens remain.

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

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