Fort Langley National Historic Site
Fort Langley National Historic Site of Canada
|Location||Fort Langley, British Columbia, Canada|
|Governing body||Parks Canada|
|Website||Fort Langley National Historic Site|
Fort Langley is a former trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company, now located in the community of Fort Langley opposite McMillan Island. Commonly referred to as "the birthplace of British Columbia", it is designated a National Historic Site of Canada and is administered by Parks Canada.
A new fort
After John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company sold its assets in the Oregon Country to the North West Company following the War of 1812, Astor's Fort Astoria was renamed Fort George and became the main depot for Pacific interior trade. Pelts collected in the northern New Caledonia district travelled south along the Fraser River to Fort Alexandria, then overland via a route known as the Brigade Trail to Fort Okanagan then along the Columbia River to Fort George on the coast.
The Oregon Country/Columbia District was shared between the British and Americans as a result of the Treaty of 1818, but the treaty was to expire in 1828 and since Fort George stood on the south side of the Columbia River, it would likely be awarded to the United States in any boundary agreement. After the North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821, the HBC administrator George Simpson suggested the creation of Fort Vancouver on the northern bank of the Columbia, but that it serve as secondary post to a larger trade hub further north near the mouth of the Fraser River. Simpson felt such a location help secure the coast from ocean-based American competition, and believed the Fraser to be more navigable than the Columbia River. He sent Chief Trader James McMillan to explore the region, and McMillan proposed an area near the Salmon River suitable to agriculture, and where fish were plentiful.
Erecting the fort
James McMillan returned to the Fraser River with 24 men, including four First Nations, two Native Hawaiian Kanaka, and one Métis workers, in 1827 to begin the construction of Fort Langley (named for Thomas Langley, a prominent HBC director) 50 kilometres (31 mi) from the mouth of the Fraser River. This site was not the same as today's fort, but 4 km to the northwest at what was later called Old Fort Langley and then renamed Derby in 1858 (now only farmland). But when they arrived at the end of July, five of the men were incapacitated with gonorrhea, another with "venereal disease", and all the horses were either dead, crippled, or exhausted. Despite these setbacks and the heavy brambles at the site, the remaining 19 men began to clear the land in preparation for the fort. Potatoes were planted in a garden during the establishment of Fort Langley. The first bastion was built by mid-August, a second at the end of the month, and the palisade walls were completed in early September. Some of the Hudson's Bay men were nervous about the indigenous people of the Fraser, and the bastions were completed first "to command respect in the eyes of the Indians, who begin, shrewdly, to conjecture for what purpose the Ports and loopholes are intended." After the stockade was complete only natives with furs were allowed past the gate. A number of buildings were built through autumn, and Fort Langley was officially completed on November 26. Native laborers resided in a camp a short distance from the station.
During the first few years, trade in furs with the Stó:lō, the indigenous people (Fraser River), was surprisingly poor from the HBC point of view. Firstly, traders from Boston controlled most of the Maritime Fur Trade, travelling along the coast by boat. Such strong competition kept the price of pelts very high, much higher than Hudson's Bay was paying elsewhere. McMillan was advised by his superiors to intentionally undersell Americans in order to force them out of the region and assure a monopoly for the HBC. Second, indigenous people living along the river were not particularly interested in hunting or trapping, since they lived primarily on salmon. As they had little contact with Europeans, they were quite self-sufficient and not in serious need of European goods. In the first year, guns were in high demand by the Stó:lō to fend off attacks from the Laich-kwil-tach, but when this threat died down, firearms became mainly symbolic yet infrequent items of trade. 1829 and 1831 were the most successful years for the fort's fur trading operations, each year netting 2,500 skins. Salmon pickling was begun by staff of the fort, creating nearly 300 barrels in 1831.
Also a disappointment to the HBC was Simpson's discovery that the Fraser was not as navigable as he had imagined. Along with Archibald McDonald (who would later replace McMillan at Fort Langley), Simpson travelled from York Factory to Fort St. James, the centre of trade for New Caledonia, before assembling a group of men (including James Murray Yale, who would later replace McMillan) to descend the Fraser towards Fort Langley. Their party found that travel down the Fraser was relatively easy until it forked with the Thompson River, after which the powerful rapids and sheer cliffs convinced Simpson the passage would be "certain Death, in nine attempts out of Ten." At least some part of the journey from the north would have to be made overland to bypass the Fraser Canyon and Hell's Gate.
As part of its plan to rid itself of American competition, the HBC sought to corner the market in Alaska by securing a monopoly on trade with the Russian American Company in 1839. The location of the fort was moved four kilometres upstream in 1839 and changed its focus to farming, fish, and cranberry harvesting, rather than the fur trade. Trading was now only allowed through a wicket, with sentries posted on the second story. In 1840 the farm had "potatoes abundant" along with 750 bushels of wheat, 500 bushels of oats and 600 bushels of peas. Catholic Missionary Modeste Demers traveled to Fort Langley and performed religious services for the staff and neighboring Indigenous, baptising over 700 children in 1841.
Birthplace of British Columbia
Due to its strategic location on the northern boundary of the Oregon Territory of the U.S. and in the path of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, Fort Langley grew dramatically. It played a key role in the establishment of the 49th parallel as the international boundary with the U.S. and was the staging point for prospectors heading up the Fraser Canyon in search of their fortune.
The social and political consequences of this influx of adventurers led the British Parliament to establish a crown colony on the Pacific Mainland. Old Fort Langley was the location of the proclamation of the Crown Colony of British Columbia in 1858 by James Douglas, the colony's first governor, during his journey upriver to confront American miners in the wake of the Fraser Canyon War as a pre-emptive move to forestall any drives for annexation to the US.
While some might have projected Fort Langley as the capital of the newly created colony, Colonial military commander, Colonel Moody of the Royal Engineers, Columbia Detachment, deemed it militarily indefensible and ordered the construction of New Westminster on the high north bank of the Fraser River many miles downstream due to its much more defensible position.
The decline of the fort over the next 30 years was attributed to three factors. First, the advent of paddle wheelers on the Fraser meant that river traffic was extended to Fort Hope and Fort Yale. Second, the capital of the colony was established at New Westminster, British Columbia and later moved to Victoria. Finally, competition for goods and services undercut the monopoly the Hudson's Bay Company had formerly enjoyed. In 1886, Fort Langley ceased to be a company post.
In 1923, the Canadian government designated Fort Langley as a National Historic Site and erected a commemorative plaque near the storehouse. At this time, the site consisted only of the one building and 1-acre (4,000 m2) of land. From 1931 to 1956, the Native Sons and Daughters of British Columbia operated a museum out of the storehouse. Parks Canada took control of the site in 1955, and a joint Federal-Provincial program reconstructed three buildings in time for the centennial of the founding of British Columbia in 1958. In 1978, the site became a national historic park, and has consisted of 8.5 hectares (21 acres) since 1985.
The site has a number of historic buildings, both original and reconstructed, for guests to visit.
The servants' quarters were reconstructed in 1958 for the Centennial of the Colony of British Columbia, and portrays the living conditions of three different HBC employees. The building was used to display barrel-making until 1992 when the new cooperage was built.
The Big House was also reconstructed for the 1958 Centennial, and is quite consistent with the original in terms of appearance and location within the Fort. It houses the living quarters of James Murray Yale and his wife; and William Henry Newton and his wife, Emmaline (Tod) Newton
The Depot was reconstructed in 1997 and is mainly used as an exhibition area and administration building. The original building would have been used as a supply depot for shipments in and out of the Fort.
The exhibits building, built in 2001, houses a display on the international trade done by the Hudson's Bay Company. The original building would have been a storehouse.
The storehouse is the oldest building at Fort Langley, and possibly the oldest in British Columbia. It was rebuilt in the 1840s after a fire which destroyed a similar building in 1839, and was the only building which survived the demise of the Fort as an active trading post. The Mavis family, who later purchased the land, used it as a barn for a number of years, until Fort Langley was recognized as a site of historic significance in 1923.
The blacksmith shop was first built in 1973, and then rebuilt in 1975. It features a working forge and live demonstrations of blacksmithing.
The cooperage was built in 1992, slightly south of the original, and features all the required tools for barrel making and other woodworking.
- BC Names/GeoBC entry "Fort Langley National Historic Site of Canada"
- Cullen, Mary K. The History of Fort Langley, 1927-96. Canadian Historical Site: Occasional Papers in Archeology & History, 1972.
- Maclachlan, Morag (November 1, 2011). "Journal Kept by George Barnston, 1827-8". Fort Langley Journals, 1827-30. UBC Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0774841979.
- First Fort Langley National in The Langley Story Illustrated
- Sage, Walter N. Life at a Fur Trading Post in British Columbia a Century Ago. The Washington Historical Quarterly 25, No. 1 (1934), pp. 11-22
- Harris, Cole. The Resettlement of British Columbia. 1997
- Peak Production at Fort Langley, Parks Canada]
- Fort Langley. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
- Fort Langley National Historic Site National Geographic Destinations
- Fort Langley National Historic Site
- A 1958 home movie of a visit to the Fort
- Langley Centennial Museum
- "The Children of Fort Langley"
- A Brief History of Fort Langley
- Fort Langley (Canadian Register of Historic Places)