While fur traders edged nearer to the Pacific on overland routes, the ships of several different nations had begun to explore the coast by water. The Pacific shore was one of the few in the Americas that was still relatively unknown to Europeans, and where the Native inhabitants had likely never encountered them.
The Russians, approaching from the Arctic, had already sighted the northern reaches of the west coast as early as the 1720s. The Spanish arrived from the south and later began laying claim to parts of the coast, eventually overlapping with Russian and British claims. Only the British produced maps of their findings with any speed, so it was not until they arrived in the 1780s that the world began to see a clear picture of Canada's Pacific region and its inhabitants. With their arrival began the British colonization of the west coast and the finalization of the North American map. By the time of Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne in 1837, the continental outline would be complete.
The Spanish explore the West Coast
Juan Pérez Hernandez ( ? )
Dionisio Alcalá-Galiano (1762 - 1805)
Francisco de Bodega y Quadra (1743 - 1794)
Estebán José Martinez ( ? )
Cayetano Valdés Flores Bazán y Péon (1762 - 1835)
Francisco A. Mourelle de la Rúa (1750 - 1820)
The first explorers of British Columbia were Spanish -- in fact, the West Coast of Canada came close to temporarily falling under Spanish control. Between 1774 and 1795, the Spanish explored its shores and built the first permanent post on Vancouver Island. Having settled in Mexico, they feared losing their hegemony on the Pacific coast when they heard of the Russian expeditions and of Samuel Hearne's voyage to the mouth of the Coppermine River on the North Sea. These expeditions had revived interest in the Northwest Passage among both the English and the Spanish.
The first Spaniard to undertake the exploration of the Pacific coast, in the summer of 1774, was Juan Pérez Hernandez. Leaving San Blas, Mexico, he sailed as far as the northern end of the Queen Charlotte Islands, where the Haida came to meet him. Turning south, he stopped at point Estevan on Vancouver Island, where the Nootka came to the ship to trade with the crew. The meeting was friendly but Perez dared not compromise the results of his discoveries by leaving the ship.
The following year, two ships left San Blas. Don Bruno Hezeta captained the first and Perez was its pilot. Francisco de Bodega y Quadra captained the second, piloted by Francisco Mourelle. They were to find the Russian establishments and officially take possession of the territory for Spain. At Point Grenville, in present-day Washington State, seven sailors who had been sent on land to bring back water and wood were massacred by 300 Native people within sight of the crew, who were too far away to help. Hezeta decided to return home. Bodega carried on north on his own, disembarked at 58º N and took possession of the area in the name of Carlos III, King of Spain and the West Indies. Then, not having seen a single Russian, he went back down the coast, making topographical surveys.
" As we thus lay at anchor, [...] our Captain gave me orders (being himself indisposed) that I should land with some of our crew, and with the same precautions as at Los Remedios. He also directed me to take possession for his Majesty of this part of the coast, and name it Bucarelly. I accordingly obeyed his instructions in all particulars, without seeing a single Indian, though there were the following proofs of the country's being inhabited: viz a hut, some paths, and a wooden outhouse."
In 1778, the English captain, James Cook, came to the Pacific coast to take possession of "territories useful" to England without contesting the rights that the Spanish had established. In March, he stopped in Nootka harbour, where he set up a temporary observatory. He studied the coast to beyond Bering Strait. The Spaniards only reacted to Cook's voyage in 1779, by sending two frigates under the command of lieutenants Ignacio de Artega and Bodega to give an account of the situation on the northwest coast. They then surveyed the coast as far as the Russian posts in Alaska. Spain started exploring again following the publication of Cook's voyages in 1784 and the French count Lapérouse's in California in 1786. The latter not only confirmed the Russian presence in Alaska but also that of English ships on the coast. Carlos III ordered a new expedition.
In 1788, ship's ensign Estebàn José Martinez went as far as the Russian posts. Returning, his encounters with several English and American merchant ships on the coast recommended to him the construction of a Spanish establishment in Nootka Bay. On his arrival at this bay, on May 5, 1789, he found three merchant ships there, and then Captain James Colnett arrived with Chinese workers, confirming that he had received orders from England to build a post at Nootka. An argument ensued between Martinez and Colnett. Martinez arrested the latter and ordered the seizure of two other English ships, which had arrived later. The Native people, who had previously been indifferent to these disputes, protested as the seizure of the English ships prevented them from trading. Martinez fired in the air to frighten them but one of his soldiers, thinking that he had missed his mark, killed a First Nation chief. In spite of this delicate situation, the Spaniards managed to build a "presidio", a frontier fort that included barracks, a battery of cannons and a villa for the officers. This was the first European establishment on Canada's west coast.
The ships' capture created a diplomatic incident between England and Spain. After several negotiations, on October 28, 1790, in Madrid, the two countries signed the Nootka Bay Convention. According to the terms of this treaty, the two colonial powers recognized that they both had rights to the northwest coast north of California and that each would have access to the other's establishments. Commissioners from each country would be named to settle the details of the agreement. This convention has frequently been interpreted as an agreement, on the part of the Spaniards, to leave the northwest coast, although there was nothing in it forcing them to leave Nootka. Rather, the Spanish improved the land fortifications and installed a floating battery in the port.
The two commissioners named were George Vancouver, captain in the Royal Navy and Bodega y Quadra, now captain in the Spanish navy. They met at Nootka in August 1792. In spite of their good relations, they could not agree on the details of the transfer of properties specified in the Convention and, by mutual agreement, submitted the problem to their respective governments.
During these discussions, scientific expeditions were also being launched. During his explorations in the interior of the Georgia Gulf, Vancouver met Dionisio Alcalá-Galiano and Cayetano Valdés Flores Bazán y Péon, who were also conducting research as part of the Spanish scientific expedition of Captain Alejandro Malaspina. When these explorations showed that there was no water passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic, the European nations lost interest in the north-west coast and, on January 11, 1794, England and Spain signed an agreement declaring that both were leaving the region. On March 23, 1795 the Nootka "presidio" was dismantled. So ended the Spanish reign on the northwest coast. Names of straits and islands all around Vancouver Island remain as testimony to the Spanish presence on this coast.
James Cook, Europe's most celebrated explorer
James Cook (1728 - 1779)
When he was born on October 27, 1728, at Marton-in-Cleveland, England, the son of a farm labourer, no one could have foreseen the destiny of James Cook, great navigator, hydrographer and explorer. At 18, the course of his life changed when he was hired as an apprentice by a ships' owner in Whitby. For three years, he learned all ships' manoeuvres, which allowed him, in June 1755, to enter the Royal Navy as an able-bodied seaman . Two years later, he became a "master " and spent most of the Seven Years' War on the coast of the Atlantic provinces and the St. Lawrence River. In 1758, Cook drafted a first map, of the Bay of Gaspé and of the port, and collaborated on the "New Chart of the River St. Lawrence", published in London in 1760, which served the army invading New France. Cook's work drew attention.
Cook was discharged from the navy in November 1762. The following month, he married Elizabeth Batts, with whom he would have six children. Domestic life was short-lived however, as, five months later, the British Admiralty hired him to do a detailed survey of the shores of Newfoundland identifying territories specified under the Treaty of Paris of 1763 . From 1766 to 1768, Cook developed a new model of hydrographic surveys combining trigonometric surveys made on land using a small craft taking many soundings, information on aquatic fauna, coastal profiles and navigational notes.
Then came the two circumnavigations that would overturn what Europe knew of the South Pacific by detailing information which, before 1775, was only fragmented and jumbled. Equipped with the first marine chronometer, used to determine longitude, in August 1768, Cook left for the first voyage around the world and returned in 1771. During this first voyage, New Zealand, the east coast of Australia and the Strait of Torres emerged from the fog of rumour and myth.
He conducted a second circumnavigation from 1772 to 1775. On this tour, he navigated further south than any of his predecessors, dashing the idea, which geographers of the time entertained, of a vast and fertile southern continent. On Cook's return to England, the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, described him in November 1775, as "the first navigator in Europe".
Cook's second voyage was a very important one for humanity: not a single life was lost to scurvy. Cook had understood that a proper diet was essential for fighting this "sailor's illness". This achievement was so remarkable that it would have surpassed the importance of the geographic results of the voyage, if these had been less significant.
Empowered by this success, Cook wanted to take up another challenge -- that of finding the Northwest Passage. He knew that Samuel Hearne had got as far as the Arctic in 1771 and the map of Vitus Jonassen Bering's voyage had been published in London in 1774. He had also heard of the explorations of the Spaniard Bartholomew de Fonte on the west coast of the American continent. Moreover, in 1775, the English Parliament was offering a £ 20 000 reward to whoever discovered the Northwest Passage.
The new expeditions searching for this passage were being conducted both from the east and west of the American continent. An expedition led by Richard Pickersgill, and another, in 1777, by Walter Young, went to Baffin Bay whereas Cook headed for Bering Strait. Cook's mandate was to sail to 65º N, and then to search for the passage of the North Sea, "taking care not to lose any time in exploring Rivers or Inlets, or upon any other account, until [he got] into the beforementioned latitude." These orders explain the haste he took in getting north of British Columbia.
Cook left England in July of 1776, reached the Cape of Good Hope and went through New Zealand, Tahiti and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) before reaching the west coast of America. On March 7, 1778, he arrived on the shore of present-day Oregon. He was mistaken on the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait and denied its existence. Violent winds pushed him northwest to Nootka Bay on Vancouver Island, which he believed to be the mainland. He met Nootka people, who had objects of European origin. Having taken on wood and fresh water, Cook left for the north on April 26, 1778. Bad weather forced him to stay at sea, so much so that he saw no shore before reaching Alaska. He skirted the coast, went around the peninsula, attained the strait that Bering had reached in 1728 and headed northeast, but a wall of ice forced him to turn back. He returned to the Sandwich Islands and settled his crew there for the winter. On February 14, 1779, James Cook was assassinated by a Native person in Kealakekua Bay.
Cook had taken hydrographic readings of the coast from Mount St. Elias (on the Alaska-Canada border) to Bering Strait and beyond. The extent of the North American continent was now known even though the viability of a northern passage to Europe from the west could not be confirmed.
In Europe, Cook was primarily acknowledged for his explorations in the Pacific. In Canada, his renown came primarily from the description he made of the coast of Vancouver Island.
"I have frequently had occasion to mention, from the time of our arrival in Prince William's Sound, how remarkably the natives, on this North West side of America, resemble the Greenlanders and Esquimaux in various particulars of person, dress, weapons, canoes, and the like. However, I was much less struck with this, than with the affinity which we found subsisting between the dialects of the Greenlanders and Esquimaux, and those of Norton's Sound and Oonalashka. [...] But still, enough is certain, to warrant this judgment, [...] that all these nations are of the same extraction; and if so, there can be little doubt of there being a Northern communication of some sort, by sea, between this West side of America and the East side, through Baffin's Bay; which communication, however, may be effectually shut up against ships, by ice, and other impediments. Such, at least, was my opinion at this time."
George Vancouver (1757 - 1798)
Born in 1757, at King's Lynn, England, George Vancouver entered the Royal Navy at the age of 14. The following year, in 1772, he left on James Cook's ship for the southern continent, and was still on Cook's crew when he got to the northwest coast of America in 1778. When Cook had to stop at Nootka Bay for ship's repairs, Vancouver and his companions were the first known Europeans to land on the island that now bears his name. Vancouver received his lieutenant's commission in 1780 and spent nine years on war ships, mostly in the Caribbean Sea.
In 1791, the Admiralty assigned him to command an expedition to map the west coast of America, between 30º and 60º north latitude. He was also to seek out any navigable route that could eventually serve as a passage between the Pacific and the northwest Atlantic. As commissioner, he was also charged with meeting Francisco de Bodega y Quadra at Nootka to delineate England's and Spain's territorial rights as a result of the Nootka Bay Convention.
Leaving England with two ships in April 1791, Vancouver went by the Cape of Good Hope, Australia, New Zealand and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) before reaching, one year later, the west coast of America, some 100 kilometres north of San Francisco. For the following three summers, he went up this coast several times over, doing hydrographic surveys and visiting inlets that could provide a possible passage. He paid little attention to the rivers as the mountains led him to believe that the rivers were most probably not navigable too far into the interior. In this he was following his orders "not to pursue any inlet or river further than it shall appear to be navigable by vessels of such burthen as might safely navigate the pacific ocean." But he could not follow this directive to the letter as the innumerable inlets, coves and islands in the Juan de Fuca and Georgia straits forced him to use barks to conduct his surveys of the indented shores. These small craft, not much larger than many First Nations canoes, were a temptation to the Native people because of the arms and provisions that they carried. Towards the end of the explorations, the crew had to repel several attacks. On the whole, however, relations with the Native people were good.
At the beginning of his explorations, on June 22, 1792, Vancouver met Alcalá-Galiano and Valdés, two members of Malaspina's Spanish scientific expedition. They were at anchor near Grey Point, in the present-day port of the city of Vancouver. The explorers exchanged information, and Vancouver continued north. Passing Queen Charlotte Strait, he could confirm that Vancouver Island was, in fact, an island. He got as far as Burke Strait at 52º N. From there, he sailed south as far as Nootka, where he met Bodega y Quadra, with whom he got along very well. The two men were unable to complete their mission as the preliminary information was not accurate and they remitted the decision of conducting their research back to their respective sovereigns.
Vancouver continued his explorations but, this time, by skirting the shore down to Mexico. The following year, he went back up the coast of present-day British Columbia and, in June 1793, explored Dean Strait several weeks before Alexander Mackenzie got there by land. The following year, in August 1794, Vancouver ended his exploration of the northwest coast in a bay of Baranof Island in the Alexander Archipelago. He appropriately named this bay "Port Conclusion." This authoritarian and demanding commander organized a celebration for his crew to mark the end of explorations.
As of that time, the explorer could affirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that the entrance to the Northwest Passage was not within the territory that he had explored. His expedition made known with precision the coast of North America from 30º N to 56º N. It is said that this was one of the longest exploration voyages of the century, travelling some 96 200 kilometres in four years. Apart from exploring the American coast, Vancouver used the winters to explore the Sandwich Islands and to do a detailed survey that would prove very useful for all the ships later to dock there.
"These ideas, not derived from any source of substantial information, have, it is much to be feared, been adopted for the sole purpose of giving unlimited credit to the traditionary exploits of ancient foreigners, and to undervalue the laborious and enterprizing exertions of our own countrymen, in the noble science of discovery.
"Since the vision of the southern continent, [...] has vanished; the pretended discoveries of De Fuca and De Fonte have been revived, in order to prove the existence of a north-west passage. These have been supported by the recent concurring opinions of modern traders, one of whom is said to conceive, that an opening still further to the north is that which De Fuca entered. Under this assertion, should any opening further to the northward be discovered leading to a N.W. passage, the merit of such discovery will necessarily be ascribed to De Fuca, De Fonte, or some other favorite voyager of these closet philosophers."
Vancouver returned to England in September 1795. He retired a month after his return and settled in Petersham, where he spent his time writing an account of his voyage of exploration. He was about to finish it when he died prematurely in May 1798. He was only 40 years old. His brother, John, completed the manuscript, which was published a few months later.
Every year, British Columbia organizes a commemorative ceremony at Vancouver's tomb at St. Peter's cemetery in Petersham. Hundreds of place names that Vancouver had chosen to describe the west coast of North America are still used today and remind us of his expedition.
The Russians in the north Pacific
Vitus Jonassen Bering (1681 - 1741)
Aleksey Ilyich Chirikov (1703 - 1748)
N. I. Billings (?)
Urey Fyodorovich Lisiansky (1773 - 1837)
I. G. Voznesenskii (?)
Lavrentii Alekseevich Zagoskin (1808 - 1890)
While the Europeans were looking for a passage to Asia through the Arctic Ocean or through the interior of the North American continent, the Russians were trying to find out if Siberia was linked to North America. In 1648, the Cossack Semyon Ivanovich Dezhnev conducted a first expedition which went around the point of Siberia and proved that the two continents were separate. But his report was buried in the archives and, when Tsar Peter the Great commanded Vitus Jonassen Bering and Aleksey Ilyich Chirikov to explore this region to find out if the two continents were linked, it was a new beginning and, consequently, it was called the 'first Kamchatka expedition'.
Vitus Jonassen Bering was born in Horsens, Denmark, in 1681. He had already visited India when he became a naval officer at the service of Imperial Russia in 1724. Promoted to first captain, he was charged with conducting the 'first' Kamchatka expedition in 1728. Before reaching Kamchatka, he had to cross more than 7 200 kilometres by land with 33 men, including lieutenant Aleksey Ilyich Chirikov. The voyage took three years. At Kamchatka, Bering built the Saint Gabriel, a ship on which he skirted the coast northwards and discovered a large island, which he named "Saint Lawrence". On August 15, 1728, he had gone far into the polar sea. Knowing the results of previous expeditions in northern Russia, he knew that, at the latitude that he had just reached, the two continents did not join. He returned without having seen the North American continent due to fog and clouds. In Saint Petersburg, many were not convinced that the continents were not linked and demanded more thorough research.
In 1732, Russia organized a large expedition that would set out in three directions: the first would skirt the shore of the Arctic Ocean in Siberia; the second would explore the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk and of Japan; and the third, under Bering's command, would sail along the shores of America to Mexico. Bering would claim the northwest coast of North America for Russia.
This last expedition left Kamchatka in June 1741, with Bering and Chirikov each on his own ship. On July 16, Bering saw Mount Saint Elias, in Alaska, and landed on Kayak Island. Chirikov also reached the coast of Alaska, only further south. Bering explored Kodiak Island, surveyed the Kenai peninsula and the Aleutian Islands and took possession of the coast in Russia's name. On the way back, in November, almost at Kamchatka, his ship foundered on one of the Commander Islands. Bering and 18 members of his crew died of scurvy during the winter. The others managed to build a bark and to survive.
As for Chirikov, in 1743, he returned to Saint Petersburg with precise information on the strait that separates Siberia from North America -- since named Bering Strait. He also brought back furs, which drew the attention of Russian merchants and brought them to North American shores. The places along which Bering and his lieutenants had moored their ships were later established as the boundary of present-day Alaska.
From 1785 to 1794, N. I. Billings and G. A. Sarychev travelled a route through northeast Asia, Bering Strait, the northwest coast of America and the Aleutian Islands. They brought back many artifacts produced by the peoples of these regions. But, at the beginning of the next century, Catherine of Russia commanded a voyage of exploration around the world to see whether or not it would be appropriate to supply Alaska entirely by sea rather than by the land route used by Billings and Sarychev, which crossed Russia all the way to the Sea of Okhotsk and Kamchatka.
To this end, in 1803, a lieutenant of the Russian navy, Urey Fyodorovich Lisiansky, accompanied commander Adam Ivan Ritter von Krusenstern. The two men left the Baltic Sea and rounded Cape Horn sailing all the way to Hawaii. From there, in 1804, Krusenstern headed for the coast of Siberia and Japan whereas Lisiansky sailed towards the establishments of the Russian-American Company in the Gulf of Alaska. At Sitka, he helped to re-establish the trading post destroyed by the Tlingit two years earlier. He then continued his voyage to the west and returned to Russia in 1806. The voyage's objective had been met -- the Alaskan trading posts could be re-supplied more easily by sea than through Siberia. This also improved Russia's position in the competition for the fur trade with China.
"Though this part of the coast of America has been known to us since the period of Captain Cheericoff's voyage, in the year 1741, we still were not sure whether it formed part of the continent or belonged to an island, till captain Vancouver's expedition, when Chatham's Strait was discovered, [...] By our survey it appears, that amongst the group of islands, which in my chart I have denominated the Sitca Islands, from the inhabitants, who call themselves Sitca-hans, [...]"
For his crew's health: "[...] I laid in, while at New Archangel, a large stock of sorrel, two casks of which were prepared in the manner of sour crout, as well as an ample supply both of the juice of the hurtle-berry, and of the berry itself, which being put into small casks, and the casks filled with water, will keep a long time. There had hitherto been no appearance of scurvy on board, and with these antiscorbutics I had little fear of the disease."
In Russia as elsewhere, the growing interest in natural history and ethnology brought about new research expeditions into the lands that had been explored in the previous century. Thus, in 1839, the Academy of Sciences of Russia sent ethnologist I. G. Voznesenskii to study the "primitive" populations of Alaska and to collect artifacts. This researcher, considered as the most important scientist in Russia, spent almost ten years in America and the results of his research surpassed all hopes. He brought back more than one thousand articles from the Inuit and from Native peoples from Alaska to California. His rigorous work methods and the notes that accompanied this collection made this an incomparable source of information for those who studied the ethnology of the west coast of North America.
From 1842 to 1844, Lavrentii Alekseevich Zagoskin, a lieutenant in the Russian navy, led an expedition to Alaska for the Russian American Company. He explored the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers to find sites that would be favourable for building trading posts. Influenced by Voznesenskii, Zagoskin also brought back precious artifacts and descriptions of the Inuit and Athabasca populations. The publication of the account of his voyage, in 1847, led to his being considered the most important ethnographer of his time.
After its defeat in the Crimean War, Russia did not want to cede its Alaskan territories to Great Britain and so transferred them to the United States in 1867. This marked the end of Russian presence in North America. Russian explorers contributed to making known the west coast and its people, from Alaska to California, including present-day British Columbia.
Ships and Boats
The northwest coast of Canada presented special difficulties for European navigators. The coast was so far away from Europe that it took sailing vessels more than a year to reach it. Once they arrived, explorers found a rocky shoreline littered with islands and reefs, swept by uncertain winds, prone to strong tidal rapids and to wet, gloomy weather, and with few safe harbours for anchoring.
The Spanish met these challenges by using small sloops that could more easily navigate the inner passages of the coast. For example, when Dionisio Galiano and Cayetano Valdes explored Georgia Strait in 1792, they used schooners that were only 14 metres long, with crews of about 20 men. Such vessels were no bigger than many of the private yachts that cruise the same waters today. In contrast, James Cook's vessel, Resolution, was a 560-ton sloop of war with a crew of more than 100 men. And George Vancouver's ship, Discovery, was a converted merchant ship, 29 metres long, with a crew of 84 sailors, plus 16 marines. (A second ship, Chatham, was smaller but still bulky). These vessels were too large to manoeuvre through the narrow channels and up the steep-sided fjords. This fact was emphasized during the first summer of Vancouver's survey when both his ships grounded on reefs in Queen Charlotte Strait and came perilously close to sinking before they could be righted.
In response to local conditions, Vancouver worked out his own method of exploring the coast. Leaving his ships in protected anchorages, he and his men completed their meticulous, inlet-by-inlet survey in wooden longboats. These craft, six to seven and a half metres in length, were equipped with sails, but mostly they were rowed. They were absent from the "mother ships" for ten days to three weeks at a time. From before sunup until dusk, the sailors bent to their oars, fighting adverse winds and currents which in some places on the coast reached ten knots (about 18.5 kilometres per hour). During the first summer of the expedition, the men had no protection from the elements; they were drenched with rain, bitten by insects, and baked by the hot sun. In subsequent summers, awnings were erected that made the work slightly less uncomfortable. At dark they made camp on the rocky shore where they took celestial observations and enjoyed a short night's sleep. The third year of the survey took place mostly in Alaska where bitter cold, snow and ice were added to the litany of hardships with which the boat crews had to contend. One of Vancouver's biographers estimates that the longboats travelled a total of 16 000 kilometres along the coast before the survey was completed.
In the 1720s, by which time Russian fur traders had reached the Pacific coast, Russian tsar Peter the Great ordered a scientific expedition to the Far East in order to determine, among other things, whether Asia and North America were connected. Under Peter's successor, Catherine I, an expedition was launched in 1741 led by Vitus Bering and Alexsey Chirikov. They eventually charted the Bering Strait, crossed to North America, and reached 55°N on the Alaskan coast, proving that no land bridge existed. This expedition opened the coast of North America to Russian sea-otter hunters and claims of possession.
In 1752, the French cartographer Philippe Buache published a map that showed Bering and Chirikov's route. Also on this map was the latest speculation about the "Mer de l'Ouest" and about a northeast passage from the Pacific to Baffin Bay ostensibly discovered by an Admiral de Fonte in 1640. Goaded by this map, which gave the credit for the discovery of the northwest coast to a Spaniard, the Russians finally published their own map.
To the south, the Spanish were growing alarmed that the Russians were making discoveries and laying claim to land which Pope Alexander VI had handed to Spain under the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Furthermore, although some Spanish scholars had proven the de Fonte story to be a myth, others decided that if a strait to Baffin Bay existed, Spain should lay claim to it. Although Spain had a foothold in California, their furthest penetration north had been Cape Blanco on the Oregon coast. In 1774 they sent their first expedition to the north under Juan Pérez, reaching 55°N. Bad weather and fog prevented a close examination of the coast. Subsequent expeditions charted the northwest coast but were not able to find a northeastern passage. By the time Vancouver arrived in 1792, Spain had sent ten expeditions up the coast but had done very little to publicise their discoveries with maps, even though their marine surveyors had done some fine work. This work did finally appear in 1792 but by this time Spain was losing interest in the area. War with Britain in 1796 ended Spanish involvement in the North Pacific Coast.
In Britain's growth as a global naval power it developed imperial and scientific interests. In 1778 James Cook arrived on the Northwest coast at 44°33' N, with instructions to determine whether a northeastern passage to Baffin or Hudson Bay existed. Over the next few months Cook ranged northward outside the string of coastal islands and through the Bering Strait to about 70°N, where he was stopped by ice. Although he did not check the coast in detail, he found it unlikely that any passage east existed.
The great charting expedition of the century was that of George Vancouver. His instructions were to make an accurate survey from 30° to 60°N, since Cook's was not detailed enough. Vancouver spent 1792 to 1794 making his survey over a very difficult coast. While surveying around Vancouver Island he met two Spanish ships, the Sutil and the Mexicana, engaged in the same objective. Having surveyed as far north as 59°12', Vancouver came to the conclusion that all the bays, inlets and river mouths he saw were dead ends. A northeastern passage did not exist. He passed the mouth of the Bella Coola River on June 4th, 1793, unfortunately missing Alexander Mackenzie, who arrived overland at the same place on July 22. Vancouver's charts were the best ones available until the middle of the next century.
Significant maps of the period
Carte des nouvelles découvertes du nord... . .
[Galiano, Alcalá and Valdes, Cayetano]
Carta Esférica de los Reconocimientos... . 1792.
Nouvelle Carte Des Decouvertes Faits Par Des Vaisseaux Russiens... . 1758
A General Chart exhibiting the Discoveries made by Captain James Cook... . 1784.
A Chart shewing part of the Coast of N.W. America... . 1798-1801.