The unknown world of the Pacific Northwest spawned many myths and legends. The story of Juan de Fuca is one that left its name on the charts of the Pacific Northwest and kept the sailors of the 18th century heading into unfamiliar waters.

Sailors would tell exciting tales in harbour-side taverns after long voyages, some completely fabricated and some with a grain of truth. The desire to find a Northwest Passage was at the root of many myths about the Pacific Northwest. The Spanish were lured by the mythical Strait of Anian, and a French press printed maps revealing the mythical island of Gama Land in the northern Pacific. Like these other stories, Juan de Fuca’s strait held promise – was it the passage they were seeking?

Michael Lok was an English sailor who returned home from Venice to pass on the tale of Greek mariner Apostolos Valerianos. Valerianos claimed to have travelled to the Pacific Northwest in 1592 on a Spanish expedition, during which time they had discovered a long broad inlet at between 47° and 48° latitude. Valerianos, who explained that the Spanish knew him as “Juan de Fuca,” recounted that they had sail Read More
The unknown world of the Pacific Northwest spawned many myths and legends. The story of Juan de Fuca is one that left its name on the charts of the Pacific Northwest and kept the sailors of the 18th century heading into unfamiliar waters.

Sailors would tell exciting tales in harbour-side taverns after long voyages, some completely fabricated and some with a grain of truth. The desire to find a Northwest Passage was at the root of many myths about the Pacific Northwest. The Spanish were lured by the mythical Strait of Anian, and a French press printed maps revealing the mythical island of Gama Land in the northern Pacific. Like these other stories, Juan de Fuca’s strait held promise – was it the passage they were seeking?

Michael Lok was an English sailor who returned home from Venice to pass on the tale of Greek mariner Apostolos Valerianos. Valerianos claimed to have travelled to the Pacific Northwest in 1592 on a Spanish expedition, during which time they had discovered a long broad inlet at between 47° and 48° latitude. Valerianos, who explained that the Spanish knew him as “Juan de Fuca,” recounted that they had sailed for 20 days up the inlet and emerged in the north Atlantic.

The tale was a tempting one to believe, especially considering the entrance to the strait flowing past Vancouver Island sat at 48° latitude. It was the wife of Captain Barkley, during an expedition to the Pacific Northwest in 1787, who named the strait after Michael Lok’s story. In 1792, 200 years after Valerianos’ presumably mythical voyage, the circumnavigation of Vancouver Island (through the combined efforts of Captains Galiano, Valdés, and Vancouver) proved conclusively that the waters of Juan de Fuca formed a strait and not the Northwest Passage.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

The “explorer” was cast as a heroic figure in the popular imagination, regardless of how the king or financiers might have felt about the outcome of the exploits of exploration. Many of the expeditions that reached the Pacific Northwest were full of brave adventurers, but captains were usually trained by navy life and held to discipline and decorum. Tales of their travels made them into thrilling characters of mythic proportions, who sailed and paddled off into danger and the unknown without a care for their own safety. Some received the accolades and rewards all hoped were their due, but others returned home to suspicious governments and jealousy. Some survived to tell of their adventures, but many were laid to rest at the furthest reaches of their expeditions.

Statues, busts, portraits, knick-knacks, and souvenir charts were created for sale and display during the 18th century. Ceramics manufacturers in England produced earthenware figures of sailors, and companies hoping to interest buyers in their commemorative collectables issued special-edition porcelain figurines, mugs, and bronze medallions with the likeness of Captain Cook.

Long afte Read More
The “explorer” was cast as a heroic figure in the popular imagination, regardless of how the king or financiers might have felt about the outcome of the exploits of exploration. Many of the expeditions that reached the Pacific Northwest were full of brave adventurers, but captains were usually trained by navy life and held to discipline and decorum. Tales of their travels made them into thrilling characters of mythic proportions, who sailed and paddled off into danger and the unknown without a care for their own safety. Some received the accolades and rewards all hoped were their due, but others returned home to suspicious governments and jealousy. Some survived to tell of their adventures, but many were laid to rest at the furthest reaches of their expeditions.

Statues, busts, portraits, knick-knacks, and souvenir charts were created for sale and display during the 18th century. Ceramics manufacturers in England produced earthenware figures of sailors, and companies hoping to interest buyers in their commemorative collectables issued special-edition porcelain figurines, mugs, and bronze medallions with the likeness of Captain Cook.

Long after the 18th century and its explorers had passed, many towns and sites erected monuments to the expeditions and captains that gave them their names and brought the Pacific Northwest to the attention of the rest of the world. A simple memorial to Vitus Bering and other sailors lost in the North Pacific was erected in Petropavlovsk, Russia. A golden statue of Captain Vancouver sits atop the buildings of the Provincial Capital in Victoria, British Columbia, and plaques and statuary in honour of Spanish Captain Bodega y Quadra sit in parks and ocean-side esplanades. The Pacific winter camp of the Lewis and Clark expedition at Fort Clatsop was recreated in the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park in Oregon, U.S.A. Alexander Mackenzie even made his own monument upon reaching the Pacific coast, writing “Alexander Mackenzie From Canada By Land 22 July 1793” in vermillion and grease on a rock near Bella Coola.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

James Cook

City of Victoria Statue of James Cook, Bronze on Granite Base

Artist: Tweed
Maritime Museum of British Columbia
1976
© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


Claiming land was done in a ceremonial manner, usually on general instructions from the King of England, the Viceroy of the Spanish, or the orders of the companies that commissioned the mission, but at the discretion of the captain leading the expedition. It was expected that the ceremony legitimized a nation’s rights to the land and was, therefore, regarded as a serious act that required symbols to represent the nations making the claims. Records and documents were created as “proof” of these claims and the “discoveries” they represented. Although many indigenous peoples were living in the Pacific Northwest in the 18th century, expeditions of exploration took it upon themselves to claim land on behalf of their European leaders.

The Spanish adhered to a religious rite that displayed their ties to the Catholic Church and the Papacy in Rome. They supported a policy of “prior discovery” and viewed their claiming ceremonies as a step that simply emphasized their rights as outlined in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Spanish expeditions claimed territory by rowing ashore, fashioning and planting a cross in the ground, and perfo Read More
Claiming land was done in a ceremonial manner, usually on general instructions from the King of England, the Viceroy of the Spanish, or the orders of the companies that commissioned the mission, but at the discretion of the captain leading the expedition. It was expected that the ceremony legitimized a nation’s rights to the land and was, therefore, regarded as a serious act that required symbols to represent the nations making the claims. Records and documents were created as “proof” of these claims and the “discoveries” they represented. Although many indigenous peoples were living in the Pacific Northwest in the 18th century, expeditions of exploration took it upon themselves to claim land on behalf of their European leaders.

The Spanish adhered to a religious rite that displayed their ties to the Catholic Church and the Papacy in Rome. They supported a policy of “prior discovery” and viewed their claiming ceremonies as a step that simply emphasized their rights as outlined in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Spanish expeditions claimed territory by rowing ashore, fashioning and planting a cross in the ground, and performing a religious ceremony that included prayer and the reading of a Papal bull or decree. In some instances, the local indigenous communities were charged with maintaining the cross that demonstrated Spanish rights.

English expeditions claimed territory by selecting an on-shore location to bury coins and a glass bottle of English origin. Although the ritual might include a religious element such as prayer, claiming territory was predominantly a secular event undertaken in the name of the King. The purpose of burying coins was in fact to leave a marker with a date and the image of the English regent, and the bottle could be used to hold a note or document.

The Canadians and Americans claimed land by establishing trade and erecting forts. The trading outposts of the Northwest Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company moved closer and closer to the Pacific following 18th century overland expeditions by their traders. In the United States, archaeologists are still combing the Lewis and Clark route for physical signs of their presence as recorded in their early 19th century expedition journals.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Russian Plaque

Russian Plaque, Courtesy of the Maritime Musuem of British Columbia

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


Maps and charts show distances and geographical features on land and water. Navigators use them to travel safely towards a known location. But charts are also historic documents, and hydrographic cartographers, the people who make charts, are a special kind of historian. The establishment of the British Admiralty Hydrographic Office in 1795 demonstrates the growing understanding of the importance of charts for an expanding empire. We often classify charts as a type of scientific geographical document, but cartography reveals events and decisions of the past just as other documents do.

We can learn a great deal from 18th century charts that show how far expeditions travelled, what features they noted, and where they focused their time on detailed surveys of the coast. One of the first messages we receive from these charts is the focus on the discovery of a Northwest Passage, which encouraged expeditions to test every strait, inlet, and pass for an entry point (though not necessarily to continue further on their course – for instance, Vancouver Island was thought to be part of the mainland until 1792.) Safe harbours and Read More
Maps and charts show distances and geographical features on land and water. Navigators use them to travel safely towards a known location. But charts are also historic documents, and hydrographic cartographers, the people who make charts, are a special kind of historian. The establishment of the British Admiralty Hydrographic Office in 1795 demonstrates the growing understanding of the importance of charts for an expanding empire. We often classify charts as a type of scientific geographical document, but cartography reveals events and decisions of the past just as other documents do.

We can learn a great deal from 18th century charts that show how far expeditions travelled, what features they noted, and where they focused their time on detailed surveys of the coast. One of the first messages we receive from these charts is the focus on the discovery of a Northwest Passage, which encouraged expeditions to test every strait, inlet, and pass for an entry point (though not necessarily to continue further on their course – for instance, Vancouver Island was thought to be part of the mainland until 1792.) Safe harbours and village sites that became dependable stops for the fur trade were also noted.

When expeditions returned home, the charts that were produced from their efforts showed what lands were believed to be under European flags – charting was often a symbolic act of possession. This is demonstrated by the example of the French expedition to the Pacific Northwest in 1786 under Captain La Pérouse. When his ship, crew, and papers were later lost off the coast of Australia, France’s claims to territory could not be supported with documentary and cartographic evidence.

Many place names on the charts of the Pacific Northwest honour explorers and their crews, as well as members of the royal families of Europe. The islands of Haida Gwaii are often called the Queen Charlotte Islands after Charlotte, Portuguese wife of 18th century English King George III. The Bering Strait, which connects the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, was named for Captain Vitus Bering following his death. Vancouver Island is now known by the name of English Captain Vancouver although its title once included the name of Spanish Captain Bodega y Quadra as well. Cook Inlet in the northern Pacific was named after Captain Cook, and Captain Vancouver named Puget Sound in Washington State after his officer, Peter Puget. Hecate Strait, Port Alberni, Gonzales Hill, Tofiño, Cordova Bay, and Quadra, Gabriola, Galiano, and the San Juan Islands are just a few examples of locations now known by Spanish names. These labels on our charts that tell a story of the European past of the Pacific Northwest mingle with the names given by the indigenous peoples of the coast.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Pacific Northwest

Chart showing part of the Pacific Northwest, Captain Vancouver

The National Maritime Museum, London

NMM – G278 :1
© National Maritime Museum


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • construct, interpret, and use graphs, tables, grids, scales, legends, and various types of maps
  • locate and describe major world landforms, bodies of water, and political boundaries on maps
  • locate and describe current and historical events on maps

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