In the 1840s, Fort Vancouver was full of hardworking Hawaiians or Kanaka as they were called. The area they lived was outside of the main Fort and was known at one time as Kanaka Village. A hundred or so years later, during excavations of the area, archeologists discovered a piece of coral and helped cement the history of the trade relationship with Hawaii. Coral from the Islands supplied lime for fertilizer and whitewash, and mortar for the Fort’s chimneys.
By 1845, Chief Factor Dr. McLoughlin asked the Hudson’s Bay Company to send to the Fort, a Hawaiian who was educated, trustworthy and able to “read the scriptures and assemble his people for public worship.” McLoughlin was concerned about the drinking, gambling, fighting, and other “corruptions” among the Hawaiians in Kanaka Village.
The person selected to fill this position was William R. Kaulehelehe, well known in Fort Vancouver history as “Billy” or “Kanaka William” and his wife Mary S. Kaai. He was not an ordained minister--no Hawaiians had been ordained by that date though some had already been formally licensed to preach by the Protestant missionaries--but he was a man of good reputation. McLoughlin placed him on the rolls as “teacher” at an annual salary of £40, a rate about equalling that for the top European craftsmen on the Columbia.
As Sunday was the only free day available for gardening, carpentry, or recreation which the inhabitants of the village were reluctant to give up. Hawaiians hoped that Kaulehelehe would address some of their complaints about the HBC.
“The Hawaiians have repeatedly and daily asked me to see about their trouble of being repeatedly abused by the white people without any cause. They thought I had come as an officer to settle their difficulties. I said no, I did not come to do those things. I had no instructions from the King and ministers of the government in Hawaii to do those things. All that I have come for was the word of God and school.” Throughout the 1850s, Kaulehelehe was not listed as a minister on the HBC records, but as a teacher. But he established a small church (Owyhee Church) within the stockade —the only Hawaiian to live within the compound.
Kaulehelehe returned briefly to Hawaii in 1850 when he discovered his family’s land had been taken for a sugar plantation.
About 1851 or 1852 the old Owyhee Church building seems to have been vacated, being so dilapidated as to be considered unsafe. It was finally pulled down between 1855 and 1858 and Kaulehelehe returned to the Village.
In early 1860, the Hudson’s Bay Company relocated to Victoria, British Columbia and gave up the Fort to the Americans. Kaulehelehe and his wife lived there for a few months until the U.S. Army removed the windows and doors from his home, carried him out by force, and burned the house in March of 1860. In 1862, Kaulehelehe went to Fort Victoria, Canada where he worked as a Hudson’s Bay Company clerk and translator. He and his wife lived on Humboldt Street, an area known as Kanaka Row which was located where the current Empress Hotel is located. He was buried in Ross Bay Cemetery in 1874.
This story is told in the print, "Kaulehelehe" which is one piece in the series Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest. The artwork depicts images from his story and time at Fort Vancouver even showing the Nupepa Kuokoa which William would get his news from back in the Islands.