Heritage Network Building a Columbia Boat

By Chris Maccini

Cover photo courtesy of Summer Hess

History can sometimes feel lost to the past. It’s the challenge of historians, museum curators, and historical societies to help bring the stories of years gone by to life in the present day. That’s the spirit behind the Heritage Network’s effort to build a “Columbia Boat,” a unique watercraft with a connection to the history of the Inland Northwest.

The Heritage Network is an association of museums and historical societies centered around Northeast Washington. Member organizations share resources and information and collaborate on regional projects. One such project is the upcoming 200th anniversary of the establishment of Hudson Bay Fort Colvile, which was built as a fur trading outpost in 1825 by Governor George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company. At the time, the main trading outpost in the area was Spokane House (established in 1810), but Simpson felt that its location on the Spokane River was too far from the Columbia River. So Simpson abandoned Spokane House and moved his operations north to a location on the Columbia near Kettle Falls. The area had been an important salmon fishing site for Native American tribes for generations.

Photo Courtesy Summer Hess

But the traders still needed a way to move their goods up and down the river. Enter legendary explorer David Thompson. Years earlier, Thompson had adapted the design of a birchbark canoe, popular east of the Rocky Mountains, to Northwest materials. Built using planks split from a cedar tree and seams sealed with pine pitch, the Columbia Boat became the shipping barge of its day, spacious and stout enough to carry a load of furs and other materials from Kettle Falls to the mouth of the Columbia, and light enough to be paddled all the way back upstream and portaged around waterfalls and rapids.

As part of the bicentennial celebration of Fort Colvile’s founding, The Heritage Network plans to build a replica of a 30-foot Columbia Boat. They have contracted with an Olympia-based boatbuilder named John Zinser to oversee the boat’s construction and have the boat ready by the spring of 2025 to take part in the 200th anniversary festivities.

According to Joe Barreca, President of the Heritage Network, the hope is that a group of volunteers will coalesce around the boat to paddle, maintain, and use it for educational opportunities in the future. For the time being, they are focused on raising the final $30,000 to fund the boat’s construction. Anyone interested in the Columbia Boat or the 200th anniversary celebration of Fort Colvile is encouraged to join the Heritage Network’s mailing list by emailing Joe.Barreca@gmail.com or visiting Theheritagenetwork.org.

Share this Post

Scroll to Top