May 31 - Exploring the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Posted on May 31, 2020

When I read that today is the anniversary of Spanish Peruvian naval officer and cartographer Manuel Quimper beginning, in 1790, to chart the Strait of Juan de Fuca...I got to wondering why the Strait wasn't named the Strait of Quimper!?

I totally get that Quimper wasn't the first person to "discover" this stretch of water now located between the U.S. state of Washington and Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. 

Obviously, Native Americans / First Nations people had seen and traveled and explored this bit of water and probably every single island in the water for thousands of years. But European explorers had a habit of naming claiming and naming places long used and occupied by indigenous people.

If you for whatever reason want to
know more about fur trader Charles
Barkley, you'd better include his middle
name (William) in your Google search,
or you will be swamped with links to the
modern basketball player and analyzer
Charles Wade Barkley!
The fact is, Quimper was definitely not the first European person to see or study the strait, and he didn't name it. An English sea captain and fur trader named Charles Barkley named the strait a few years before Quimper charted it - and he named it after Juan de Fuca. 

Juan de Fuca was christened either Ioánnis Phokas or  Apóstolos Valeriános. This Greek sailor and ship's pilot worked for Spanish King Philip II, and "Juan de Fuca" was a Spanish translation of Ioánnis Phokas. He lived and sailed to the Far East (China, Philippines) and "New Spain" (North America) in the late 1500s, long before Quimper and Barkley were born.

Juan de Fuca claimed to have discovered the fabled "Strait of Anián," which was then believed to be a Northwest Passage that linked the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (but we now know that there is no such passage). The location of this Strait of Anián was roughly that of the strait now named Juan de Fuca, but his claim was that it was located 47 degrees north, and it's actually 48 degrees north, a difference of around 69 miles or 111 kilometers. He described a large island - and Vancouver Island is indeed large! - and a pillar of rock - and there is such a pillar! But most of the description of the land surrounding the strait doesn't match reality, and even the rock pillar that does exist is located on the opposite side from the Greek pilot's report.

Because of these uncertainties, historians are not certain whether or not Juan de Fuca ever actually traveled to and through the strait named for him.

Carpet Day in Turkmenistan
(Last Sunday in May)

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