The Story of the Cannon Beach ‘Canon’ | What’s in a name?


The story behind the name involves a game of hide and seek, a shark and of course, a cannon.

CANNON BEACH, Oregon — Cannon Beach is surrounded by sandy beaches and mountains. It’s a place that can get very crowded in the summer months and quiet in the off-season. It is a popular place due to its natural beauty.

Cannon Beach is perhaps better known for the beach than the cannon.

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It has not always carried its current name.

“This place was first called Ecola,” said Andrea Suarez-Kemp, museum manager at the Cannon Beach History Center.

Ecola means ‘whale’ in Chinook. The area took this name after Lewis and Clark visited the area during their exploration from the west. The story goes that there was a whale washed up on the shore and the local tribes called it Ecola, or some variation of the word. The name remained until 1922.

This name was confusing for the post, thanks to the community of Eola near Salem.

“It took a lot of patience if you accidentally got a letter to Eola and Ecola,” Suarez-Kemp said.

The post office insisted on the change and the name was changed from Ecola to Cannon Beach.

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The “beach” part is pretty obvious because it’s right on the Pacific Ocean.

The name “cannon” dates back to 1846 and begins with a shark, but not the type that swims in the water.

Instead, the USS Shark was an 86-foot-long vessel from a fleet of sister ships.

“[They] were named the alligator, the dolphin, the porpoise and the shark,” Suarez-Kemp said.

President James K. Polk sent the Shark to the Oregon Territory in the 1840s to discover the loyalty of the region’s inhabitants during a boundary dispute between Britain and the United States.

After a stop at Fort Vancouver. USS Shark has gone back to sea.

A little impatient to wait for a bar pilot to guide the ship out to sea, Captain Lt. Neil Howison decided to cross Bar Columbia on his own.

Things did not go in his favor as he failed and was shipwrecked.

“The sneaky locals, the nosy ones, they definitely had their pick and the rest was just the ship owner picking it up,” Suarez-Kemp said.

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One of the guns of this ship ran aground among debris.

This would become the cannon of Cannon Beach.

That cannon story would become a local tradition for the next 50 years.

“A local postman found him and he pulled him to the Shark Creek area and he left him there because he was coming back for him, but the tides changed so he got covered,” said Suarez-Kemp.

This is where a game of hide and seek comes in. A few years later, this gun will be found by someone else.

“Then it disappeared again. So they couldn’t find the barrel anymore,” Suarez-Kemp said.

If you count points they found it and then it was lost at high tide. Then someone found him a few years later but also lost sight of him.

“That little game of hide-and-seek with the gun continued,” Suarez-Kemp said.

To be fair, this gun weighed about a ton and was in wet sand. It would take 50 years after the sinking of the shark before it was found for good.

For years it sat outside along a highway, but it kept getting vandalized. The center sent it to Texas A&M for restoration and it is now at Cannon Beach History Center.

It wouldn’t be the only cannon found on the beach. In 2008, two more guns were found in the sand and sent to Texas A&M for restoration. These guns are thought to be from the Shark and are in the Columbia Maritime Museum in Astoria.

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