Introducing the Fort Billions of people in the past, and billions of people in the future to come, have had, or will have trading as a major transaction in their lives, either through a fort like Fort Langley or modernly through a cash register in town. It was an era when flag followed trade, and fur traders frequently acted as advance guards of the empire. The first British interests were sparked by the rich supply of sea otter pelts brought back by mariners working the Pacific coast about 1793 and the abundance of fur collected by the North West Company in its exploration of the inland trade of the Pacific slope from 1811. The companies merged in 1821 At the latter end of the month of July, 1827, the work of erecting the new post to be called Fort Langley had begun under the direction of James McMillan. Founded by Hudson’s Bay Company, it was the birthplace of British Columbia and played a central role in the maritime and interior fur trade activities of the Hudson’s Bay Company west of the Rockies.
The first fort was built on the present site of Derby Reach (discovered by Simon Fraser), 20 miles up the Fraser river and became a new kind of trading post which was a part of a network of trading posts established by the Hudson’s Bay Company on the Pacific Slope in the early nineteenth century. Situated on the fertile banks of the Fraser River, forty minutes form Vancouver, the village of Fort Langley reflects the birthplace of British Columbia. Fort Langley was a focal point of west coast development, a farm, salmon processing plant, and also a warehouse were strong points. Located on the lower Fraser River in 1827 it assured a future base of operations for the Hudson’s Bay Company. It also served as a convenient trading center for a wide territory. It was the first place of continuous European settlement on the border-land of the Pacific between Puget Sound and Alaska, and was the stag in area for the 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush.
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Fort Langley had three eras it was reconstructed three times. The original fort burned down in 1840. It was immediately rebuilt on the present site, four miles down from its previous location at this particular location. The fort has been restored, and now houses, a collection of 3, 500 objects from the area have made this fort a historic land mark.
Through its trade in furs was initially profitable, its main role became a supportive one including varied economic activities. It operated a large scale farm, initiated the famous west coast salmon packing industry and began BC’s foreign commerce. Fort Langley also blazed the first useable all -Canadian route from the coast to the interior and with its sister posts helped preserve British Columbia interests west of the Rockies. The following paper is an attempt to collect together some information about the fort and its occupants during the century that has elapsed. Our examination of the establishment of Fort Langley will provide an insight into the nature of the Fur Trade and the interaction of the various groups of people involved in it. How the Europeans and the HBC o.
came about in Building the Fort There were two main reason for the establishment of Fort Langley; first, to head off the American traders whose ships were sailing up the Fraser, monopolizing the trade: and secondly, to provide a site where farm produce might be produced in abundance to feed the occupants of the various forts of the Company west of the Mountains. The Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company amalgamated as the Hudson’s Bay Company. After the union of the North West and Hudson’s Bay Companies in 1821, a Royal License was issued to the reconstituted Hudson’s Bay Company, giving it a monopoly on trade in the unorganized territories of North America, including the country west of the Rockies. Hudson’s Bay Company thus became Britain’s custodian of the Pacific North west.
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This Monopoly, however, could not exclude American competition. The Pacific region, then known as the Columbia District or the Oregon territory, had been jointly occupied by Britain and the United States since 1818 and commerce between latitudes 40. and 54. 40 was open by international treaty. Although British traders dominated the interior, furs often found their way to American Ships, which controlled the coast. During Governor George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company first visit to the Columbia District in 1824, he worked out a plan to end American competition.
He aimed by intensive hunting and underselling, to win control of the coast and the Columbia River region and to establish them as frontier zones to protect the company’s valuable resources in the northern interior. He also looked to the Fraser River to provide a new access to the interior, a reconnaissance party led by Chief Trader James McMillan made a preliminary survey of the lower Fraser Valley in November 1824. Three years later, a site on the south bank of the Fraser, near the Salmon River, was selected for a prospective depot named Fort Langley in honour of Thomas Langley, a directory of the Company. The heart of Simpson’s strategy was a new depot to be erected near the mouth of Fraser River. The existing depot, Fort George, was south of the Columbia River, which the Governor expected to become the United States border. In that event, the Company’s supply line to its inland posts might be blocked.
The area was first discovered by Simon Fraser, an explorer for the North West Fur Trading Company, in 1808. The Hudson’s Bay Company expanded on other areas of business, outside of the fur trade. In 1824 preliminary examinations were made to occupy the mouth of the Fraser River with a trading post which would also carry on the work of farming and fishing. It was not until 1827 that this plan materialized with the building of Fort Langley.
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The plans for establishing Fort Langley were pursued. One can only assume that in his contempt for North West Company management in the Columbia district, Simpson concluded that lack of efficiency implied a tendency to overestimate difficulties. The final decision to establish Fort Langley was made by the Governor and Committee on the advice of Simpson. In 1826 the Thompson and Fraser Rivers were explored above their junction, and in 1827 plans for Fort Langley were put into operation. The new post was named Fort Langley after Thomas Langley, a prominent member and stockholder of that name, who was associated with Sir J. Pelly in the management of the company.
James McMillan, a very intelligent man, a former member of the North West Company, was one of the officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company who met Simpson at Boat Encampment in the autumn of 1824. He was place in charge of an expedition to be sent in November of that same year to explore the shore line of Puget Sound, and the waters of the Fraser River. On Wednesday, June 27 th, 1827, James McMillan, who had headed the party of 1824, left for Fort Langley. James McMillan was in charge of land party made up of Canadians, mixed bloods, Hawaiians, Kanak as and Iroquois, most of whom were former employees of the North West Company. They were to explore not only for a fort site, but for soil suitable for extensive farming operation as well. Thus it was that the expedition passed up the Nicomekl to Langley Prairie.
The Indians of the party who were chiefly interested in the building of a fort beside the waterway demurred because of the long portage, which was really the best rout to examine the agricultural possibilities. Fort Langley was founded on 1827, though this was very late in the North American Fur Trade period, the natives of the Lower Fraser Valley had experienced the effects of contact only indirectly, and the operation of the land based fur trade on the Pacific slope was undergoing considerable change as the Hudson’s Bay Company established control during a period when the intrusion of the settlement frontier was obvious. McMillan had contributed a great deal to exploration in the Pacific Northwest. His life had demanded great physical stamina and courage, and McMillan was wanting in neither.
He was prepared to defend himself and his party against Indian attack, but he had also acquired several Indian languages and a reputation as an “excellent trader.” It was McMillan’s ability to lead his men by example and to endure great hardship without complaint that had won Simpson’s approval. Consequently, he was less suited to implementing Hudson’s Bay Company policies. Construction of the first Fort Langley commenced on August 1, 1827. The new fort measured 41 meters by 36. 6 meters and was solidly enclosed by a palisade 4. 6 meters high.
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Buildings in the new complex included the Big House, where the officers were quartered; a building with three compartments to house other ranks; a spacious store; one “good” house; and a smaller house with two rooms and a kitchen. Two bastions equipped with artillery completed the new fort. The following description is given by McDonald in his journal of the Governor’s journey: The fort is 135 by 120 feet with two good bastions, and a gallery four feet wide all round. A building of three compartments for the men, a small log house of two compartments in which the gentlemen themselves reside, , and a store, are now occupied, besides which there are tow other buildings, one of good dwelling house with an excellent cellar and a spacious garret. A couple of well-finished chimneys are up, and the whole inside is now ready for wainscoting an partitioning. Four large windows are in front, and one in each end, and one, with a corresponding door, in the back.
The other is a low building with only two square rooms, with a fireplace in each, and a kitchen adjoining made of slat. The out-door work consists of three fields, each planted with 30 bushels of potatoes, and looks well. The provisions shed, exclusive of table store, is furnished with 3000 dried salmon, 16 tiers salted salmon, 36 cwt. Of flour, 2 cwt. of grease, and 30 bushels of salt.
(Maclachlan, Morag. “The Company on the Coast”) Archibald McDonald took charge of Fort Langley as its second chief, in October, 1828. He, who succeeded McMillan, had come into the Hudson’s Bay Company service on the eve of the amalgamation. As clerk at Fort George he had worked with Simpson on the accounts during the winter of 1824-25 and so had become familiar with stringent economies which were expected.
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Though it was now evident that Fort Langley would not become a major depot, it was kept in operation because of the abundance of fish available and the possibilities of agriculture in the area. McDonald, anxious to prove himself, took his role as manger very seriously. The daily journal entries became longer and more informative and often the copy sent to London had additions and deletions which reveal how conscious he was of what the Committee member wanted to hear. McDonald remained in charge of Fort Langley until March, 1833, with James Murray Yale as his clerk and ultimate successor.
James Murray Yale, the third chief, who now presided over Fort Langley, retained that position for over 25 years. He entered the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company about 1815 when he was a boy, and didn’t receive any promotion until 21 years later. When furs started to become scarce, Langley became a food depot of no mean size, but it was a place where a large number of servants were employed. In 1839, the Hudson’s Bay Company agreed to lease the Alaskan Pan handle from the Russian American (Fur) Company for an annual rent in otter skins and specified farm products.
Fort Langley was called upon to produce wheat and butter for the Russian contract. In order to facilitate farming operation, the original fort, now in a decayed condition, was abandoned and a new one built four kilometers upstream, closer to the large prairie. As its immediate area became exhausted, Fort Langley’s primary function shifted from fur collecting provisioning to a network of posts and vessels that were gradually built up to expand the Company’s control of the coast and the Langley fishery and farm supplied many of their basic needs. James McMillan was an old employee of the North West Company.
This Company did not erect their forts so thoroughly as did the Hudson’s Bay Company, hence, in 1839 James Murray Yale wrote Douglas on October 14, that “we have abandoned the old fort which was in a dilapidated condition and removed into a new fort a few miles up the river.” Douglas had previously concurred with such procedure. The New Fort Langley had been occupied just ten months when it was consumed by fire and had to be completely rebuilt. In May, 1840, construction commenced on another new complex which eventually enclosed an area 192 by 73 meters and contained three to four bastions and about 15 buildings. It is on this site that the present reconstruction has been made. The “Big House” at Fort Langley provided the background for the official ceremony proclaiming the establishment of British Government of the Pacific mainland.
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The inaugural ceremony at once honored Fort Langley and signaled its decline. It was also the sight where the installation of Sir James Douglas, as first governor of British Columbia took place, by Mathew Begbie, Chief Justice of British Columbia. The Hudson’s Bay Company received title to land at Fort Langley in 1864 but the revocation of its monopoly created competition for the fishery and farm. In 1858, navigation was extended to Forts Hope and Yale, and Fort Langley’s function both as mining supplier and transshipment depot abruptly ceased.
The selection of New Westminster as the Capital pushed Fort Langley “out of the way of travellers.” In the 1860’s, the Fort Langley farm was expanded to support the Hudson’s Bay Company’s overland transport service to the Caribou. Local competition was very strong, however, and from 1870 the land was offered for sale or lease. Company officers considered it “the finest land in British Columbia” and terms were kept auction in Victoria in 1878 and the rest by private sale over the next eight years. Indians and the Affects of the Fur Trade Trading was an important Indian activity. The Indians learned much from the white comers as they exchanged goods, shared ideas and experiences. Throughout America, goods were traded along routes that existed thousands of years before the Europeans arrived.
Local Indians traded peacefully with the fort. They traded fish, furs, and cranberries in abundance, however McMillan estimated that in two months he had seen about 2000 Indians who had never had much contact with Whites. The Indians had no formal system of money. For the most part, they traded goods and services for other goods or services.
In some areas, the Indians used certain objects as a medium of exchange, such as money is used today. Many coastal Indian groups had been engaged in trading with white comers for over forty years, before Fort Langley was founded. Animal pelts were worth “made beavers,” which is a standard of value, by which traders traded with the Natives. The trapper was given wooden tokens for each “made beaver.” One beaver pelt was worth two “made beaver”, 10 mink were worth two “made beaver”, and 10 raccoons were worth one “made beaver.” The tokens the trappers received for each “made beaver” were then used as money in the shop. For example, a blanket would have cost two tokens, and a kettle would have cost one. By its very nature, the fur trade was exploited, as was the commerce.
Whether by sea or by land, brought disease and cultural change to the native way of life. Similar developments can be seen in the relationship between the Indians and the fort. In the Columbia district, the Nor ” Westerners had battled Indians and made alliances with them; the Hudson’s Bay Company followed a policy of establishing firm control over them. Initially the native population had in the Fraser valley had advantages which made the traders vulnerable and dependent on them, but the foundation of the fort, and the people maintaining it, established a pattern of dominance which became clear when settlers arrived in the territory with the gold rush. The natives of the lower Fraser valley, living in an area becoming very heavily populated by White comers, became a part of fur trade society. The local Indian culture, barely touched when Fort Langley was founded in 1827, suffered disruptive and rapid change within two or three generations.
At times, the natives were more anxious to sell than the traders to buy. The Indians were quite good bargainers, since natives from far and near came to the Fort to trade. McMillan at one time stated: These Indians, make great difficulty in bartering with us at our prices, on account of having been visited by the Americans last Spring, who supplied them with goods more cheaply than we do Indians were being introduced to the white man’s society, but at the lowest levels within the Hudson’s Bay Company. From working inadequate labor conditions on the farms; cleaning and salting fish, and unloading, loading vessels arriving at the fort. Fur Trading at the Fort From 1827 to 1833, Fort Langley played a major role in the British coastal offensive against the American traders. Gradually, but forcefully the traders imposed their value system on the Indians.
Fort Langley remained in operation in order to produce food, not only for the maintenance of the posts and carrying trade, but also to export. Initially the post traded for fish because the men experienced difficulty in catching any. By 1830, company employees worked in a fishery which exploited the food source of the native people. After the founding of the fort, Indians were added to the work force. The women worked in housing potatoes and cleaning and salting fish, working in the farms, loading and unloading vessels coming and going to Fort Langley. More than half of the 3, 000 beaver collected by the Hudson’s Bay Company on the coast in 1831, were from the new Fraser River establishment.
Under the keen directions of Chief trader Archibald McDonald, Langley systematically undersold its American competitors and soon commanded the trade with Indian tribes throughout Vancouver Island, The Fraser river and Puget Sound. Trade between Indians and whites was important in North America. The settlers needed many of the things the Indians had, and the Indians wanted guns, horses, liquor, and metal tools. The transient maritime traders, operating from ships, undoubtedly engaged in unscrupulous practices on occasions, but the Indians, they dealt with were shrewd traders as capable as the white comers at manipulating and exploiting and well able to retain a large degree of control over the trade and their own culture.
If the white men felt themselves to be at a disadvantage initially, they quickly began to overcome it. The Indians must frequently have been puzzled and dismayed at the ways of the traders. They were willing to form alliances through marriages in the Indian way, giving gifts to mark the occasion, but they failed to honour other obligations. An example is when Mr.
Yale married the daughter of the Kwantlen chief. When the girls father came to visit his daughter, the daughter gave a warm blanket, and was humiliated by having the fifth snatched from the chief by McDonald. As its immediate area became exhausted, Fort Langley’s primary function shifted from fur collecting to provisioning. A network of posts and vessels was gradually built up to expand the Company’s control of the coast and the Langley fishery and farm supplied many of their basic needs. Salmon, abounding in the Fraser River, had been a staple of coast Indian and fur trader, and could be cheaply traded with the Indians for “vermilion, rings and other trifles.” Salting and packing salmon became an industry under Chief Trader McDonald and his successor James Murray Yale. By 1838 Langley supplied all the salt salmon required by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s operations west of the Rockies.
As the Hudson’s Bay Company became linked to the wider commerce of the Pacific, Langley-cured salmon found its way to markets in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Australia. The districts outgoing exports of fur, fish, and cranberries were prepared for shipment at Fort Langley. Furs were packed into bales using a press. When the furs were tightly pressed together in bundles, worms and insects could not get between them and spoil them.
From 1833-1859, the Chief Trader was James Murray Yale. He commanded the people working at the fort. The traders depended on the Indians for fish, but when an Indian asked for food at the fort, he was dismissed and threatened for becoming rude. Langley was the original exporter of salt salmon, exported hemp, to be made into rope, sent large loads of cranberries to San Francisco. Langley was also the first to make an export of barrels.
Langley made many things from birch: Milk pans, brooms, horse collars, wedges, axe handles and small hinges. Agriculture Farming was begun on the fertile prairie 11 kilometers from the fort in the area then known as Langley Prairie. Crops were frequently washed out in the low-lying land, but the agriculture operations steadily expanded until the Langley Farm covered 800 hectares. Producing potatoes, grain, cattle, pigs, barley, peas, dairy products, and wheat thus maintaining a stock of 200 pigs and 500 heads of cattle, it supplemented the produce of many Pacific forts and provided food for the SS Beaver and other Company vessels. Two decades of intense activity followed the establishment of the new fort. Grain production increased, beef and pork were salted for the Company ships and two dairies were kept in full production.
Salted salmon continued to be popular in the Sandwich Islands and an annual export of 2000 barrels was not uncommon in the years between 1845 and 1854. Cranberries traded from Indians and packaged at Fort Langley sold at substantial profits in San Francisco. The urgent duties of brigade terminus were added to the normal occupation of fishery and farm. The foods and supplies shipped from Fort Victoria were packed at Fort Langley for distribution inland. Iron goods were manufactured for inland forts. Outgoing furs were sorted, cleaned land packed in 113-Kilogram bales for shipment to England.
Farming activities begun under McMillan were enlarged. Salmon were brought and a start was made barreling fish for shipment to Hawaii. During the winter when Indians had usually retreated to Vancouver Island or up the Fraser, small hunting parties left the fort and the men were paid a small amount for the animals they trapped. During the term of McDonald, the fur trade was at its best; his report says 2, 000 beaver skins were collected in 1834, but this trade gradually declined as the beaver became less plentiful. The development of the salmon industry and of the farm superseded it, but it was not until the last fort had been built that both these endeavors reached their peak. By 1838 the agriculture business had become so great that the Puget Sound Agriculture Company was formed to handle that end oft the trade.
A Historical Event On November 19, 1858, in the reception room at the Big House at Fort Langley, Douglas handed Begbie his commission as chief Justice of the new colony of British Columbia, and in turn Begbie, chief justice, handed Douglas his commission as Governor in the new colony. Oaths of office were taken, proclamations were read revoking the Hudson’s Bay Company’s executive privileges. The “Big House” at Fort Langley provided the background for the official ceremony proclaiming the establishment of British Government on the Pacific Mainland. On Nov. 1858, 100 people assembled in the hall to hear the announcement that the company’s license was revoked and to witness the administration of oaths to the officers of the new government. Outside, a 17-gun salute, which pierced the drizzling quiet, marked the historic transition from fur trade domain to British Colony.
This solute then proclaimed New Caledonia, a British Crown Colony; British Columbia was born. Influences of the Gold Rush on the Fort In 1858, Fort Langley achieved world fame as the starting point for the Fraser River gold field. In March of that year news reached San Francisco that gold had been discovered in the sand bars of the upper Fraser, and within months, 30, 000 prospectors had poured into the area. The Fort Langley post became crowed with strangers eager for news of the latest discoveries and its sale shop, issuing miners tools land provisions, had a daily turnover of $1500. During the rush, James Douglas, Governor of Vancouver Island and manager of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Pacific business, took prompt action to secure British sovereignty and enforce the Company’s trade monopoly.
Yet the licensing system which he introduced was clearly insufficient to permanently govern the growing population. The era of fur trade guardian ship was drawing to a close. In August 1858, the British Parliament revoked the Company’s monopoly and passed an act providing for a crown company on the Pacific Mainland. James Douglas was named first Governor of British Columbia.
Conclusion The flag was erected in the summer of 1827. Fort Langley served as a supply depot, providing food and materials for inland forts. Much of the goods were make or grown right at the fort, but most of the factory-made goods were from England. Fort Langley, is often referred to as the “First Capital of British Columbia” as it was the first outpost of civilization on the Mainland Coast, north of the 49 th parallel and south of Russian possession. This is were the salmon fisheries had developed as an export industry; timber used to manufacture barrels. After 1858, the fort fell slowly into disrepair.
The palisade was dismantled in 1864, and by 1871 the blacksmith shop had been converted into a dwelling and the cooperage to a saleshop. A year, the “Big house” was pulled down and a new residence built for the post manager. Finally, in April 1886, a new Hudson’s Bay Company saleshop was constructed in the nearby village and Fort Langley ceased operations as a company post. The Hudson s Bay Company fort still function today as a working museum with costumed staff giving demonstrations on barrel making and blacksmithing Today there is one building- the old store-standing at Fort Langley as a museum for us to remember the people who created the Furious Fur Trading Fort-Fort Langley and most all understand that this fort was the birthplace of our legendary province. Bibliography Wait, Donald E. The Langley Story: An Early History of the Municipality of Langley.
Manitoba: Don Waite Publishing, 1977. Ormsby, Margaret A. British Columbia: A History. Vancouver: Evergreen Press, 1958. Woodcock, George.
British Columbia: A history of the Province. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntrye, 1990. McKelvie, B. A. Fort Langley: Outpost of Empire.
Toronto: South ham Company Ltd, 1957. Mckelvie B. A Fort Langley: Birthplace of British Columbia. Victoria: Porceptic Books Ltd. , 1960.
Gibrard, John Edgar. “Early history of the Fraser Valley.” Diss. U of B. C. , 1937. British Columbian.
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, et al. The Company on the Coast. Victoria: Nanaimo Historical Society with the aid of a grant from the British Columbia Heritage Trust. , 1983. Nelson, Denys.
Fort Langley 1827-1927: A century of settlement in the Valley of the Lower Fraser River. Fort Langley: Art, Historical Scientific Association of Vancouver, B. C. , 1927. Murphy Paul. “The history of Fort langley.” Diss.
U of B. C. , 1929. Endnotes.