The Fisgard Lighthouse

At the entrance of Esquimalt harbour near Victoria on Vancouver Island, stands a red and white brick structure which once acted as a beacon for the British Royal Navy’s Pacific Squadron known as the Fisgard Lighthouse National Historical Site.

The Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site. Image from www.fogwhistle.ca

The Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site. Image from http://www.fogwhistle.ca

Built by the British in 1860 this was the first lighthouse on Canada’s west coast and, although it hasn’t had a keeper since it became automatic in 1929, it is still in operation today.  At the time of its construction, the Fisgard Lighthouse worked in conjunction with the Race Rocks Light which was constructed within the same year in order to assist naval ships into Esquimalt harbour and merchant  vessels to Victoria harbour. Furthermore, the construction of these lighthouse stations were viewed by the European inhabitants as a significant indication of the British government’s commitment to the Colony of Vancouver Island.  They also sent a similar message to the roughly 25,000 American gold miners who had travelled into the region of British Columbia throughout 1858 heading to the Fraser Valley gold rush.

The light itself is a white isophase light that shines out at 21.6 meters above the mean sea level from the 14.6 meter tower of the lighthouse.  While a legend has persisted that the bricks used for the construction of the structure came from Britain the materials were in fact obtained from local quarries and brick yards. Although, it is true that the lens, lamp, and lantern room were brought from England by the first keeper of the lighthouse, Mr. George Davies, and the iron staircase which runs up the building was actually made down south in San Francisco.

A beautiful shot of the Fisgard with a full moon. Photo by dondenton.ca

A beautiful shot of the Fisgard lighthouse with a full moon. Photo by dondenton.ca

While the lighthouse is still used for its original purpose today, both in its capacity of lighthouse and in its position as acting home base for the Royal Canadian Navy, it is also now utilized as a historical site.  Inside the building are two exhibition floors containing information and artifacts relating to shipwrecks, storms, and the everyday equipment which would have been used to run the lighthouse a century age.  Possibly the most captivating part of this exhibit is a video which captures the isolation that would have been experienced by the lighthouse keeper back when it was still manually run.

The building was designated a National Historical Site in 1958 and it has also been classified as a Federal Heritage building which, when combined with the fact that it is a stunning site that lends itself to some spectacular photographs, means that this is a site that should definitely be visited if you ever get the chance.

Seriously; it doesn't even look like a real place. Photo from  flickrhivemind.net

Seriously; it doesn’t even look like a real place. Photo from flickrhivemind.net

Keepers of the Lighthouse:

George Davies, 1860-1861
John Watson, 1861
W.H. Bevis, 1861-1879 *he actually died at the lighthouse
Amelia Bevis, 1879-1880
Henry Cogan. 1880-1884
Joseph Dare, 1884-1898 *his death was due to drowning in Esquimalt harbour
W. Cormack, 1898
John Davies, 1898
Douglas MacKenzie, 1898-1900
Andrew Deacon, 1900-1901
George Johnson, 1901-1909
Josiah Gosse, 1909–1928

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Xa:ytem Historical Site and the Hatzic Rock

Situated on 18 acres, just east of Mission, is a site believed to be one of the oldest yet found in British Columbia, dating to somewhere between 5,000 – 9,000 years old; which, if it does end up belonging to that outer date, would mean that it was constructed within only a few thousand years of the first human arrival in North America.  The site itself is known as the Xa:ytem historical site and it has been described by archaeological teams as having “evidence of rectangular pit/longhouses of long-term occupation with remains of post, hearth and floor features, trade goods, storage, food, and spiritual activity.”

A historical photo of the Transformer Stone; image from ccca.concordia.ca

An older photo of the Transformer Stone; image from ccca.concordia.ca

The historical physical remains of the site itself consist of an archaeological habitation site containing the remains of a pit house alongside an ancient transformer stone which has been connected to the Sto:lo people (who might ring a little bell if you stopped by this site on Tuesday). The Hatzic Rock is known as ‘transformer site’ to the First Nations people. the meaning of which has been passed down through the legends of the Sto:lo people.  My research into the history of the rock resulted in two stories which, although similar, do have some noticeable differences – if anyone knows if one is more common or if the variation is based on different group beliefs please let me know!

The basic outline of the two legends are as follows:

  1. There were three chiefs who decided to challenge the Creator and were turned into stone for their rebellion.
  2. The transformer god Xa was travelling through the land and encountered a man mistreating his wife and so, in order to teach him a lesson, Xa turned the man to stone.
The Hatzic Rock as it appears today; image from www.historicplaces.ca

The Hatzic Rock as it appears today; image from http://www.historicplaces.ca

While both a pit house and a transformer stone sound like rather dramatic features they are, in fact, rather difficult to spot once they are no longer in use and nature has been given the opportunity to overrun them again for a period of time. Without knowledge of the historical stories and mythologies of the First Nations given to the transformer stone in question it simply appears as a large, moss covered bolder while a pit house is exactly what it sounds like; a pit covered with logs to form a house.  Unfortunately, over time, the logs begin to disappear either through natural decomposition or through removal by humans during land clearing activities while ends up leaving the site with a pit which gradually begins to disappear back into the landscape.  Because of this, the site was used as a pasture for the long stretch of years between the time of European arrival and establishment and the discovery of the significant ancient attributes of the site.

Following the discovery of the historical features of the site, the government arranged to transfer the land to the Sto:lo first nations as they were determined to have the greatest historical claim in that region of the province.  The Xa:ytem site and Hatzic Rock would be designated as a National Historic Site in 1992.

The plaque designating the location as a National Historic Site; image from www.historicplaces.ca

The plaque designating the location as a National Historic Site; image from http://www.historicplaces.ca

The Fort Langley Storehouse: BC’s Oldest Surviving European Structure

In a way, today’s post is an extension of the one from Tuesday on the National Historic Site of Fort Langley.  While the site today is actually located on different land from its historical site and the majority of the buildings are newer constructions then those built at the fort’s inception in 1827 there is one building there that deserves special attention.

The Fort Langley Storehouse. Image courtesy of: www.fortlangley.ca

The Fort Langley Storehouse. Image courtesy of: http://www.fortlangley.ca

Believed to be the oldest building constructed by Europeans still standing in the province today, the storehouse of Fort Langley has obtained a far higher historical value than its original function would have suggested. While the building does not date as far back as the origin of Fort Langley itself it is still a remarkably long lived structure seeing as how it is a wooden construction located in the damp, rainy region of the Pacific Northwest Coast.

Within the initial construction of Fort Langley, the location within the compound where this building was to be constructed was originally the site of a blacksmith’s shop.  However, and this is entirely legend with no hard facts to back it up, it is claimed that sometime in the early 1840’s an unnamed individual decided that this was an excellent place to cook their dinner.  It appears that something went wrong and pretty much the entire post was burnt to the ground.  I think its probably safe to assume that the reaction to this was something along the lines of an 1800’s Gordon Ramsay style rant.

The Storehouse in 1931; image from Wikipedia

The Storehouse in 1931; image from Wikipedia

After this disaster, one of the first buildings to be built was a storehouse which was required for the storage of goods that the HBC employees used in their trading with the local First Nations and it is this building that was the only one to survive the demise of the fort itself as an active trading post.

In the roughly 170 years between its construction and today, the building has remained almost entirely unchanged although it has undergone two relatively minor adjustments; at some point in those years the storehouse was painted white and electricity was added to the building in 1967.  Other than those appearance-based changes, the building has seen a few status changes in the past 90 years:

  • In 1923 the building was declared to be of national historic importance
  • It was opened as a museum in 1931
  • Finally in 1955 the compound of Fort Langley as a whole was named a National historic Site
A more modern photo, taken after the building was painted white. Image from www.historicplaces.ca

A more modern photo, taken after the building was painted white. Image from http://www.historicplaces.ca

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.

Kootenai House: A National Heritage Site

Location:

Located close to the border of Alberta, in the eastern region of the province, just north of what is, today, Invermere, BC.

Invermere B.C. Map image from: www.nstarhw.ca

Invermere, B.C. Map image from: http://www.nstarhw.ca

Importance:

Established in the Columbia Basin in 1807, Kootanae House was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1934.  As a former North West Company post, this site is significant due to its position as the first trading post to be established in the Columbia Basin and its role in establishing trade with the Ktunaxa people.  In fact, contact and friendly relations with this first nations group was essential to the survival of Europeans in this region of Canada and without them there would, at the very least, have been a massive set back in the European inhabitation of the west.  On their arrival, in the summer of 1807, the European explorers were dangerously short on food and supplies, a problem which was remedied by the Ktunaxa people trading provisions with them despite being reported to be short on food supplies themselves.  In addition to this initial generosity and assistance, the first nations group also traded horses to the Europeans which enabled the expansion of the fur trade and general exploration throughout the area.

The current look of the site, image from:  wikimapia.org

The current look of the site, image from: wikimapia.org

It is this assistance with exploration that furthers Kootanae House as a significant feature in British Columbian history as the founder of this site was none other than David Thompson the fur trader, surveyor, and map-maker who, over his lifetime, mapped over 3.9 million square kilometers.  While he was undertaking his surveys throughout this region from 1807-1812, Kootanae House was used as his base location and the several of the first nations people he had come into contact with at the site went on to act as his guides as well as providing valuable information about the landscape, the environment, and the inhabitation of the region.

The Kootanae House Parks Canada Map  (www.pc.gc.ca)

The Kootanae House Parks Canada Map (www.pc.gc.ca)

These explorations in the Columbia Basin would go on to have several key impacts on the future development of British Columbia.  First of all, they resulted in the establishment of additional trading posts which allowed for a further expansion of the fur trade in this area and increased the population of Europeans in the west.  But most crucially, Thompson’s explorations throughout this area (as well as the development of additional posts and forts that appeared as a result of his surveys) also promoted and established the British presence in what would become go on to become the British colony of British Columbia as this presence would prove to be essential in 1846 when the international boundary was set between America and British Columbia at the 49th parallel.

The site plaque, image from wikimapia.org

The site plaque, image from wikimapia.org