Fort Langley: Fur, Gold, and the Birth of British Columbia

Fort Langley National Historic Site of Canada – the massive wooden walls, the sound of the hammer on the anvil, the smell of the fire and fresh sawdust, the creaking floors of the old houses… A place where everything once began, ended and continues to this day.

An hour’s drive from Vancouver, the towers of an old 19th-century fort rise above the Fraser River. Fur trade, beavers, salted salmon barrels, Hudson‘s Bay, indigenous peoples, the gold rush, the birth of British Columbia. It all fits on a small piece of land, a museum called the Fort Langley National Historic Site.

Fort Langley Historical Walk

For ten thousand years, the Fraser River valley belonged to indigenous peoples. But in the nineteenth century came groups of Europeans, buying up furs and actively exploring new lands. This is how Fort Langley, the trading post of Hudson’s Bay Company, came into being.

Hudson’s Bay is the oldest and largest company in North America. It was created in 1670, when the king of England allowed investors to trade with the indigenous peoples.

fort langley historic site

The first Fort Langley, with two watchtowers and a four-foot high palisade, was built on the banks of the Fraser River in 1827 in the span of four months.

Ten years later, the dilapidated old fort was abandoned. And the new one was moved several miles upriver and functioned for only 10 months before it burned to the ground.

Fort Langley old
Hudson’s Bay Post, Langley, 1862, Vancouver Archives, A-04313

Finally, a large third fort with 15 buildings and four bastions was built in 1840 near the ruins of the second. It can still be found in the same place today. However, after all these years and the reconstruction of the 1950s, only two towers remain. You can climb the narrow ladders and enjoy stunning views of the Fraser River, mountains, and fort from the gallery.

Don’t miss at the gate, in the thick log wall, the trading window through which the indigenous peoples exchanged furs, fish and produce.

Bastions Gallery, Fort Langley
Bastions Gallery, Fort Langley
Bastions Gallery, Fort Langley
Bastions Gallery, Fort Langley

Servants’ Quarters

To strengthen trade relations, Hudson‘s Bay Company encouraged marriages between Native workers and women. These alliances allowed the fort to develop trading networks and the indigenous people to gain priority access to European goods. Native women also had knowledge of local conditions and taught strangers how to survive in a new land.

Families lived in small, modest houses like the Servant’s Quarter.

old fort
старый дом

The fort’s multinational workers (French, English, Hawaiians) and Indians communicated with each other in “Chinook jargon,” a specially invented and common trade language at the time.

In the middle apartment of Servants’ Quarters lived the family of an interpreter. Find some chinook jargon words on the table.

Servants' Quarters, Fort Langley Historic Site

Storehouse

Only one building remains of the original 1840 Fort Langley: the Storehouse. It holds hides, blankets, ropes, barrels – everything Hudson’ s Baytraded and bought from Native peoples.

Storehouse

In the beginning, Fort Langley’s fur business grew and prospered. But American trading companies lowered prices and began to ask for two “made beavers” for one wool blanket instead of four. Then all the native peoples carried the furs to the Americans, leaving the fort without skins.

Made beaver – a beaver pelt in good condition that was used as currency. Later coins with the same name “made beaver” were minted and exchanged.

Storehouse, fort langley
Storehouse, fort langley

Cooperage

While Hudson’ s Bay was looking for skins, the local Kwantlen Indian clan came up with a new offer – to supply salmon and cranberries. The company pondered and found a way to send edible products all over the coast instead of fur, increasing revenue several times over. Salted fish and berries were rolled up in barrels where they could be stored for a long time.

Cooperage, fort Langley historic site
Cooperage, fort Langley historic site
Fort Langley

Inside, the Cooperage house is littered with tools, barrels, and wood. The master worked there six days a week for 12-14 hours, manually adjusting the pine planks to each other. In the mid-19th century, barrels were the most popular type of packing and shipping, and coupers were the highest-paid workers.

On one of the tables try to assemble a barrel by yourself.

Cooperage, fort Langley historic site

Blacksmith

Next to the cooperage is one of the Fort’s favorite places, the Forge. There are always children crowding in and watching the blacksmith with excitement. A rugged man with a hammer talks about his work, sometimes asks someone to help with old forging furs and may give a freshly forged warm nail as a keepsake.

кузнец, Форт Ленгли (Fort langley)
кузница, Форт Ленгли (Fort langley)

Fort Langley blacksmiths made metal tools for trade with indigenous peoples and the fort’s needs. A little later their list of products was supplemented by devices for gold prospectors.

Blacksmith

Golden Fever

By the way, when gold was found in the Fraser River in 1858, the modest Fort Langley was in the midst of a fever and no longer worried about the fur and salmon trade. It had to feed and clothe the 30,000 gold miners who stopped at the fort on their way to the mines. The entire riverbank was strewn with tents, and Fort Langley was making up to $1,500/day (about $47,000 these days).

Find gold at the Gold Panning station (next to the tents).

gold panning
gold panning

Big House

Thousands of Americans flooded the Fraser River in search of gold. Fearing a takeover of the resource-rich region, the British government took drastic measures and proclaimed the territories an official colony, “British Columbia,” on November 19, 1858.

The ceremony took place at the Fort Langley Great House and is pictured inside the building.

Big House, Fort Langley
british columbia ceremony

In the Big House lived the managers of Fort Langley. Today, the rooms with white walls recreate the interior and original items of those times.

Be sure to go up to the second floor, the attic, and assess the view from the windows of the fort’s courtyard.

Big House, Fort Langley, inside
интерьер
Big House, Fort Langley, view
Big House, Fort Langley, view

The Kitchen Shelter of the Big House is located in the back, on the street. With a stove, a pot, a small vegetable garden and pens for animals.

Meet the goats, chickens, and rabbits of Fort Langley.

Kitchen Shelter
Kitchen Shelter

Cafe lelem’ at The Fort

The cafe is closed for the time being indefinitely.

Although no one has used Fort Langley National Site’s kitchen in a long time, visitors of the museum will not be left hungry. There is a wonderful traditional cafe called Lelem ‘At The Fort. Decorated with totems and symbols of the Kwantlen clan, which has supplied food to Fort Langley since 1827.

In addition to the usual sandwiches, poutine and delicious ice cream, you can also dine on salmon soup, Tourtière meat pie and traditional Bannock buns.

The recipe for the Fort Langley Tourtière pie can be viewed at this link.

cafe, Fort Langley Historic Site

What else to do at Fort Langley Historic Site

As time passed, the fur harvest, salmon transportation, and gold rush waned, Fort Langley’s trading business declined. In 1923 it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark, and in 1950 it was extensively restored.

In addition to the places described above, several other sites have been restored on the fort, which will be interesting to get acquainted with.

Download a map of Fort Langley National Historic Site or pick one up at the information point.

Volunteers and museum organizers run an endless number of tours, activities and historical shows. Daily demonstrations of the blacksmith’s work, the making of a barrel and the solemn raising/lowering of the flag.

Spend the night in the fort

Perhaps the most incredible experience one can have at Fort Langley is to spend the night there. There are five oTENTik tents to choose from, each representing a different nation that lived outside the walls of the old fort:

  1. hǝn Ɂǝ́mǝt – Indian tent
  2. The Aloha – Hawaiian Tent
  3. Chez Louis – French-Canadian awning
  4. What Cheer House – A Tent of North American Gold Diggers
  5. Stromness – Scottish Boat Builders Tent

Inside each tent: beds (up to 6 people), table with chairs, electricity, mini fridge. Outside: barbecue, toilets.

Details about the tents and videos are here, to book, click here.

oTENTik, fort langley, camping

Fort Langley Festivals

In the Fort celebrate all the national holidays in a big way: with music, dances, children’s quests, dressing up in traditional costumes. There are also several special festivals:

  • The French-Canadian festival Vive les Voyageurs is a two-day event in mid-January. Dancing, wedding reenactment in the fort, live music
  • Spring Break at the Fort – March. Special programs for children
  • Fort Langley Food and Beer Festival – mid-May
  • Brigade Days is the beginning of August. Reconstruction of the days of the old fort
  • Cranberry Festival – mid-October
  • Douglas Day is an annual celebration on November 19. On this day in 1858, Sir James Douglas officially proclaimed the colony of British Columbia at Fort Langley

A complete schedule of all Fort Langley National Historic Site events is at this link.

Walk from fort to fort

From the Fort Langley National Historic Site Museum, you can walk to the ruins of the very first fort in 1827. The uncomplicated Fort-to-Fort trail stretches along the scenic Fraser River for four kilometers. Download the map at the link.

Lunch in the Village of Fort Langley

Fort Langley is not only an old wooden fort, but also the charming village in which it is located. Antique stores, original boutiques, atmospheric streets, great restaurants, cozy cafes…

There’s a chance that all of this will seem familiar to you. Fort Langley has been the setting for popular TV series such as The X-Files, Supernatural, Once Upon a Time, and others.

fort langley village

Info/Travelhacks

Office hours

The fort is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost of admission ticket 2022

Ticket typePrice (CAD)
Adult (18+)8.5
Adult (65+)7
Children (under 17 inclusive)free

For the cost of quests, parties, excursions, annual and national passes, see this link.

How to save money

Visit the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Steveston and get 50% off admission to the Fort Langley Museum!

Parking

The Fort has a large free parking lot at the end of Mavis Avenue

How to get there by public transportation

From the Surrey Central Station SkyTrain stop, take buses #501, 502, 503 to the Carvolth Exchange stop and then change to bus #562 to the fort.

Fort Langley

Download Canada travel itineraries in PDF format

With descriptions of places for each day, maps and recommendations of restaurants and activities!

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