James McMillan – the Founder of Fort Langley

The Scottish born James McMillan was fur trader and explorer who worked for both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company who led a number of the first surveys completed on the lower Fraser River.  It was in his capacity as an employee of the HBC that he founded Fort Langley in 1827 in the role of its first Chief Trader.

Born in 1783, McMillan moved to North America at the age of 20 arriving to work with the North West Company in the position of a clerk in what is now Saskatchewan before joining David Thompson’s 1808 expedition across the Rocky Mountains.  Following the merging of the North West Company and the HBC in 1824 James travelled to the lower Columbia River to Fort George where he remained for a mere 10 days before being sent off in command of an expedition to survey the mouth of the Fraser River in order to determine its navigability and the settlement/agricultural capabilities of the region.  This particular expedition reached as far up the river as Hatzic Slough before returning to the fort.

The Hudson's Bay Company's Fort George. Image from wikipedia.

The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort George. Image from wikipedia.

A short while later, in 1827, James McMillan was again dispatched out from Fort George but this time it was sent north from the Columbia River in order to establish the HBC’s presence on the lower Fraser River.  Leading 25 other men, McMillan arrived at the mouth of the Fraser River by boat and, while looking for a suitable location to establish the new fort, completed an in-depth survey of this part of the river which led to the naming of McMillan Island, Barnston Island, and Annacis Island.  Slightly more than month after leaving Fort George, at a location just west of the Salmon River’s confluence, on the south side of the Fraser, the first post of Fort Langley was cut and McMillan was established as Chief Factor.

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.

In the time immediately following the construction of the fort, the wilderness conditions of the area made the living conditions less than ideal but James McMillan was able to keep things running successfully.  However, after only a year at Fort Langley he was transferred out of the area and it has never been established if he was simply assigned to another location or if McMillan himself requested the transfer.

Following his one year stint at Fort Langley, McMillan went on to become the Chief Factor at the HBC’s Red River Colony and made attempts at managing an experimental farm at St. James.  With the failure of this endeavor, he transferred one final time into the Montreal area but, in the end, he returned to Scotland.  He married the Scottish Eleanor McKinley and the two had eight children before McMillan died in Perth, Scotland in 1858.




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