Rolling down the Fraser River: Fort Langley style
By Patricia Roussel
2022-2023 Parks Canada Youth Ambassador
An enthralling history that runs through time like the water that rushes down the Fraser River – this is the legacy emanating through the walls of Fort Langley National Historic Site in the town of Fort Langley, BC – traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples.
Following our wonderful visit to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, we followed the Fraser River upstream to the town of Fort Langley. Driving into the town, we felt like we’d arrived on a movie set with the quaint downtown stripson and picturesque city hall, all leading up to the palisade walls of the Fort. Once at the site, we had the pleasure of visiting and experiencing all it had to offer, including the Grave Tales tour, the fort’s guided tour, the Brigade Days activities, and a stay in one of their themed oTENTiks!
With Vancouver about an hour away and the town of Fort Langley so close, this national historic site is extra special because it allows those living around the site to have a place to reconnect with nature. Due to the site’s rich cultural value, its land has remained untouched by urbanization for everyone to enjoy its beautiful green spaces, wild apple orchards, and views of the Fraser River. In fact, our Grave Tales tour ended in a large field beside the Fort which, after making some furry friends, we learned was the town’s unofficial dog park!
Throughout our wandering of the site and exploring downtown, we soon learned how connected the site and the town’s history are interwoven with the importance of the Fraser River. For thousands of years, before the Fort was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company, the river was used as a major source of resources and transportation for Coast Salish peoples. The reconstructed fort now stands in the same place as when it opened in 1839. As the Hudson’s Bay Company strengthened their relations with local Indigenous communities, the focus of Fort Langley’s operation shifted from furs to salmon and cranberries trading to become an affluent trading stop until its ultimate abandonment in 1886. This reliance on the salmon and cranberry trade was on full display when we stopped at the Cooperage where barrels were filled to the top with salmon, cranberries, and other farm products.
Between the Grave Tales tour and the general site tour, we were fortunate to stay in one of the Fort’s themed oTENTiks! This was super lucky as we got an ‘urban camping’ experience so close to the town of Fort Langley and Vancouver. The oTENTik was super spacious, had everything we needed inside (except sleeping bags), and the facilities were very close. It was lovely to enjoy our morning instant coffee while walking through their vegetable garden and visiting the goats and bunnies! Being able to stay on-site overnight and visit these cute littles animals, which also acted as a natural alarm clock, took living history to the next level!
An extra special part of our visit was that it landed on the Fort’s annual Brigade Days festival. This three-day festival is spearheaded by dedicated historical re-enactors that dress in period clothing and stay on-site in canvas encampments to showcase the Hudson’s Bay Company era. The site was pulsing with the iron clanging from the Blacksmith shop, the bagpipes sounding from the grounds, and the mighty musket fires from outside the palisade walls. All of these activities commemorate the brigaders who came from interior BC to channel their furs in York boats along the river to the fort to be repackaged for shipment. It was a real privilege to see the fort’s history come to life in the stories, music, and traditions of skilled re-enactors!
Our trip to Fort Langley National Historic Site was one for the books! Being introduced to its multidimensional story gave us many angles to better understand the cultural and natural significance of the fort. To their amazing Parks Canada staff, thanks so much for hosting us at your ‘mainstream’ site!
Fort Langley National Historic Site was the last Parks Canada administered stop on our Youth Ambassador summer adventures. I speak for all of us when I say this summer has been like none other, having traveled from coast to coast of this beautiful country in just over three months! Seeing and experiencing these sites through our work as Youth Ambassadors gave a whole new meaning to the Parks Canada mandate: to engage, educate and protect natural and cultural heritage. It is so hard to pick a favourite memory from our summer road trips from shrieking for joy when spotting our first beluga whale at the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, QC, to being left speechless when gazing up at the Dark-Sky Preserve at Kouchibouguac National Park, NB, and finally, hearing the muskets fire at Brigade Days at Fort Langley National Historic Site, BC. But, overall, it is the people of Parks who have dedicated their careers to protecting these national wonders that left us amazed and inspired.
Thank you for following along with our blog updates! We hope that sharing our summer adventures has inspired you to go out and explore all the wonders our beautiful country has to offer! Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter platforms for fall and winter updates, and remember, if you’re living your #ParksLife, you’re living right!