Sunday, July 21, 2024

First European to land in Canada

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British Royal Navy Captain James Cook 1728 1779 became the first known European to set foot in what is now British Columbia in March 1778

During the last glaciation, about 20,000 years ago, ice covered the entire land area and extended into the oceans to the middle and outer continental shelves. “As of 2008, genetic findings suggest that a single population of modern humans migrated from southern Siberia to the land mass known as the Bering Land Bridge 30,000 years ago, and also crossed the Americas 16,500 years ago. Archaeological evidence suggests that by 15,000 years ago, humans was able to come as far south as the Canadian ice sheet.” Multiple migrations occurred from this land bridge and other possible routes to the Americas, probably by canoe across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Over the years, indigenous peoples have spread across both North and South America. When European explorers and settlers first arrived in British Columbia, Canada in the mid-18th century, the province was home to about 80,000 Aboriginal people. The Pacific coast was dominated by the Coast-Salis, Nu-chah-nulth (Nootka), Kwakiutl, Bella Kula, Tsimshian, and Haida peoples. According to Statistics Canada’s 2016 census, more than 1.6 million people in Canada identify as Indigenous – including First Nations, Métis and Inuit people – which is 4.9 per cent of Canada’s population. Today, there are 200,000 Aboriginal people in British Columbia including 198 distinct First Nations and more than 30 different First Nation languages in the province.

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British Royal Navy Captain James Cook (1728 – 1779) became the first known European to set foot in what is now British Columbia in March 1778. Cook was considered Britain’s foremost explorer, navigator and cartographer at the time. After two historic voyages to the South Pacific, Cook was sailing the waters of the Northwest Pacific on his third and final voyage. With his two ships, Resolution and Discovery, Legend was searching for a western exit in the Northwest Passage. He sailed east across the Pacific Ocean and anchored in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island on 29 March 1778, where he stayed at the site for a month, repairing their ships and trading with First Nations people. He was accompanied on the voyage by Mr. William Bligh, Master of the Resolution, and Midshipman George Vancouver.

Although it is known that Spanish sailors traveled this waterway in 1774-1775. But it was Cook who first described the actual shape of the northwest coastline. However, his search for an eastward passage through the Arctic was unsuccessful. His three voyages to the Pacific proved extraordinary; He achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands and even made the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand. Cook had served in North America two decades earlier during the British conquest of Canada (1758–63). When he took part in the amphibious assault on the fortress of Louisbourg in 1758, he mapped the entrance to the St. Lawrence River in preparation. That map was used in the Battle of the Plains during the Siege of Quebec in 1759. Cook also produced the first large-scale and accurate map of the Newfoundland coast in the 1760s.

Pictured is a bronze and granite sculpture of Captain Cook commissioned by the Victoria Environmental Enhancement Foundation on 12 July 1976. British Columbia Premier William Bennett unveiled the sculpture in Victoria. But on Canada Day, 1 July 2021, the statue of Captain Cook was torn down and thrown into the water in Victoria’s Inner Harbor by First Nations activists (‘Nuu Chah Nulth Youth and Friends’). Divers recovered the broken statue from the water the next day.

This was in response to the intense grief felt by Aboriginal communities over the ongoing discovery of unmarked graves of Aboriginal children found at the sites of former residential schools in British Columbia. Other vandalism in Canada occurred in June and July 2021, with statues targeting rural Christian churches and urban and rural areas where former residential schools were located. Since 2020, hundreds of statues of people seen as symbols of colonialism and the oppression of black, indigenous and other people of color have been broken, defaced or removed across Canada and the United States.

Again on this day, March 29, 2022, the 244th anniversary of Captain Cook’s first landing in British Columbia is celebrated and the important contributions and legacy of Aboriginal people who have settled Canada’s Pacific coast for thousands of years are honored and recognized.

In the late 18th century, Nootka Sound, off the west coast of Vancouver Island, was the center of international diplomacy and commercial fur trade began in the North Pacific. Captain James Cook’s third voyage to the northwest coast of America in 1778 and the response of the natives of the region did much to set the stage for further development.

When the two ships of the James Cook expedition arrived in early summer, the beach keepers from the village of Nootka came out to greet the newcomers. The ships were welcomed into their territorial waters with best speeches standing in the canoes and inviting the two ships to come to the port in front of their village.

“In the history of British Columbia, the main words used by Aboriginal people to call the arrival of ships were ‘nu.tka.?icim, nu.tka.?icim, nu.tka.?icim’, which translates to ‘sail around’, ‘sail around’. Around’ was, of course, misunderstood as the newcomers did not understand their language. The words somehow applied by outsiders became the name of the place, Nootka.

“The ships of the Cook expedition did not come in the direction the natives were pointing but instead chose a convenient anchorage some distance from the village but in the same area. The vessels were considered by the natives to flow on the village waters and were under the control of the village according to the traditional ownership rights of their chiefs. That is, they had to stay with the ship continuously day and night to prevent any intrusion by neighbors into the village.
The tribals said, “The month-long visit of the Cook expedition to our region established an economic and political relationship. We supplied the ships with their daily supply of fish, as well as water, timber, oil and furs to trade in metals, a rare commodity of great value to us.”

Cook’s expedition reached Nootka Sound on March 29, 1778. Two days later, the two ships anchored at Ship Cove, southeast of Bligh Island, where they remained until 26 April.

The expedition reached Nootka Sound not out of necessity, but because the ships needed repairs and Cook wanted to rest the crew. The expedition’s one-month stay introduced Cook to cultural behaviors that differed dramatically from those he had encountered in the South Pacific on previous voyages and in Hawaii on the third voyage.

Interactions with Aboriginal populations occurred daily initially outside the entrance to Nootka Sound and then at anchorage in Ship Cove. Cook also deployed two launches in a day’s exploration around the sound, a distance of approximately 30 miles. During this visit he visited three villages, two occupied and one abandoned. The adventurer returned to the village another day with the artist John Weber.

There are more than 30 extant logs or journals of Cook’s third voyage, of which seven have been published in full text and extracts from another five. The remainder remain in manuscript, primarily in the National Archives of the United Kingdom. Several journals are missing, including those of William Bligh (master on Resolution ) and George Vancouver (midshipman on Discovery ). Logs and journals vary widely in length, content recorded, and details provided. Some are incomplete, and a few are believed to have been copied from ships’ logs.

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