The HBC – Fort Langley

This former trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company was constructed in 1827, 4 km to the northwest of where the historic site of Fort Langley is located today; the original site was renamed ‘Derby’ in 1858 and is now used as farmland.

Fur Trade

In a surprising urn from most HBC forts, and despite having several first nations members on the team which originally travelled to the site and established the fort, the occupants of Fort Langley were weary of the local indigenous people and would only allow those who were actually visibly carrying furs in through the gate.  Even those who worked exclusively with the HBC and Fort Langley were required to live in a camp located a short distance away which was established for this purpose.  When it came to trading itself, this particular fort’s main interaction was with the Sto:lo peoples and, for the first couple of years anyway, their trading numbers were very low when taken in consideration against the norms of the Hudson Bay Company.  There have been several theories put forward as to why this might have been:

  1. Boston traders controlled most of the Maritime fur trade in the southern costal British Columbia region which kept the price of furs much higher than the HBC was paying elsewhere
  2. The First Nations in this area weren’t particularly interested in hunting and trapping as the lived predominantly on salmon and didn’t have to accommodate the colder temperatures found in the more northern and eastern regions of the province.
  3. The suspicious treatment of the indigenous people by the Europeans at Fort Langley may have also (understandably) made them less eager to trade.

Although, regardless of the actual cause of these lower numbers, trade did pick up over time with 1829-1831 being this fort’s most profitable years.

Fort Langley as it looked in 1862. Image from www.fortlangley.ca.

Fort Langley as it looked in 1862. Image from http://www.fortlangley.ca.

Birthplace of B.C.

Fort Langley became known as the ‘Birthplace of B.C.’ for several reasons but the most predominant of these is based around its location.  Since it was located on the northern boundary of the Oregon Territory in the United States and in direct path of the Fraser Canyon gold rush, it quickly became the staging point for prospectors as they began heading up the canyon towards the gold fields and, as a result, saw a drastic amount of growth.  Its positioning within the region in combination with its size would also go on to play a key role in the establishment of the border between the U.S. and British Columbia at the 49th parallel.

Decline

During the height of the gold rush, the future of Fort Langley seemed secure and, with talk by some of it becoming the capital of the province as it became a British colony, it appeared that it was going to be a significant future at that.  However, it wasn’t meant to be and there are typically three key reasons given for the decline of this fort:

  1. The introduction of paddle wheelers on the Fraser River meant that river traffic could be extended to Fort Hope and Fort Yale.
  2. The Capital was instead established at New Westminster as it was deemed to be a more defensible location.
  3. The further introduction of competition for goods and services would undercut the monopoly that the HBC held on the region Fort Langley would cease to be a company post in 1886.
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