Monday, November 20, 2017

Fort Langley National Historic Site

On one of the days when our grandchildren were in school and daycare, Mrs. F.G. and I headed out to visit Fort Langley, a National Historic Site down the Fraser River.  I ended up being really impressed, and learned a lot about the early settlement history of B.C.  Warning, this is a picture heavy post; if you're not interested in a bit of history, come back tomorrow.

There's a small visitor centre through which you enter.  It consists mainly of a gift shop and washrooms  Notice the 'Welcome' in three languages - the third language is Halkomelem, the language spoken by the local Kwantlen First Nation.

This mural was on the outside of the building, and I thought it actually captured rather well the atmosphere of fur traders arriving on a supply boat, and the native encampment across the river.  West coast tribes built houses of planks split from large cedar logs just as in this illustration.

The first building we stopped at was the cooperage.  This fort developed a large farm on the flatlands of the Fraser Valley, and barrels were used for exporting salmon, cranberries and other products - as far away as Hawaii and Alaska.  It was the local Kwantlen people that pushed the fort into taking not only furs, but salmon and cranberries in trade, so Fort Langley became more than a fur trade fort from the beginning. 

They certainly had a good display of barrels, and later we saw a young student (one of many school groups visiting that day), trying her hand at cutting a barrel stave with a draw knife.

This fort was originally built in 1827, so what you're seeing today are reproduction buildings, about 10 of them, along with the surrounding stockade.  But they are really well done in my opinion.

There are live demonstrations with appropriate period dress.  We listened for awhile to these blacksmiths explain what sort of tools would be made here and how.

Our conversation with this fur trader turned more to his (real) life back home in Ontario.

I learned the most about the fur trade.  Pelts of all kinds came into the fort, in exchange for trade goods brought from England by the Hudson's Bay Company.

The famous Hudson's Bay blankets were popular.  You can still buy them today.

Mrs. F.G. had a close look at this bolt of cloth, and regretted she didn't have a pair of scissors to surreptitiously cut off a yard or so!

A surprising range of goods were traded, from guns to grain, from axe handles to fancy dishes.

In return the furs were baled up tight and shipped back across the continent and on to England,

where a lot of them were made into the famous beaver hats, made out of felted beaver furs.

There was of course a 'big house' where the Chief Trader lived, in a fair degree of luxury I might say, for such an isolated outpost of Britain.  The United States and the British governments were arguing during the mid-1800's as to where the eventual boundary should go in the area known as the 'Oregon Country'.

At this time the Oregon Country included much of present-day Oregon, Washington and southern British Columbia.  The British argued that the 42nd parallel should be the border; the U.S. that "54-40" should be the border.  After Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific at the mouth of the Columbia, and Simon Fraser reached the mouth of the Fraser, the final compromise was the 49th parallel.  During the years following this decision, gold was discovered in the Fraser Valley.  Thirty thousand men descended on Fort Langley!  In response, Governor James Douglas declared the establishment of the Colony of British Columbia at Fort Langley.  So this in a very real way was where British Columbia started.

One of the Chief Traders, James Murray Yale.  Yale is a town up the Fraser River today.  I learned a good deal about the fur trade out here, and early B.C. history visiting this fort.  This post of course leaves out the entire 10,000+ years of native history that preceded it, but that is another fascinating story, or perhaps several.

The village of Fort Langley is also interesting, though rather a yuppy sort of place.  A bead store, clothing boutiques, restaurants, antiques, but not much that would actually be useful if you lived there - like a hardware or grocery store!  Never-the-less we had a pleasant wander around, and chuckled at the name of this store!


  1. B.C. is great with how they do historical sites.

  2. great photos, barrels, furs, and then the fabric. I would have wanted a piece as well. History was not my favourite subject, but now I so enjoy learning more.

  3. I like reading posts like this, always good to learn something new.

  4. Such a treasure and a great pictorial, FG.

  5. Hello, what a neat place to explore. I love the mural. I am sure those blankets are warm. Great tour and photos. Have a happy day and week ahead.

  6. Nice place. What is the third language? A NA one?

    1. I added that in. It's Halkomelem, spoken by the local Kwantlen band.

  7. I used to work for a blacksmith and his anvil did not look like that. Sure they use it as it looks too new. What a great place to visit

  8. I would thoroughly enjoy visiting this site. Wonderful shots!

  9. Oh I did enjoy this post.
    What a great mural and all the pictures were wonderful to see.

  10. What an interesting place to visit and thanks for the history lesson as well.

  11. Looks fascinating - not part of history I know anything about - and really well done. I have vague memories of a friend doing business with the Hudson Bay Company in London... Intrigued with the idea of entering the site through the washroom; is that a Canadian thing? Excellent post - I'm way behind with your offerings, Stew - sorry!

  12. Hubby and I both love historical places like this... In fact, we went to a similar fort (working fort---with people dressed in costume to talk to us about the history and how things were done) in Kentucky one year. SO interesting.....

    Glad you got away to visit this great place.... Thanks for sharing.

  13. Loved this post .. thank you so much. After I pick up my Escape21 in Chilliwack, I'm going to head to the Abbotsford are for sure!