Explorers returned to their homelands with stories and drawings of the peoples of the Pacific (often with theatrical embellishments) that fascinated the royal courts and the people on the streets of Europe. The stories of the European visitors and the first encounters with sailors became part of the histories of the First Nations, passed on orally, with similar dramatic emphasis. The contact was between seafaring peoples who lived with the ocean in their daily lives and travelled aboard specialized vessels – the First Nations peoples in canoes and the visitors in sailing ships. There were similarities and vast differences that filled both sides with questions.
Studies of the period of contact during the 18th century suggest that it was a time of exchanges, trade, and communication, due to the fact that the explorers had no interest in erecting settlements and displacing local peoples. This is in sharp contrast to the years that followed, when fur trading outposts, agricultural pioneers, and religious missionaries disrupted First Nations relationships to their lands and families. However, disease traveled with the explorers, and in 1782, the first of a number of smallpox epidemics hit the Coast Salish community, killing two thirds of the Stó:l? population in a matter of weeks.
The meeting of the coastal peoples of the Pacific Northwest and the explorers from Europe was obviously noteworthy and memorable for both sides. For Europe, it was the start of access to new resources and new lands. The potential to establish settlements and gain power over new people lay ahead. For the First Nations, it was the start of access to new tools and material wealth, and then to new diseases. The coming century would bring a new religion and new rulers that alienated them from their identity and traditions.