Without Fort Langley, British Columbia as we know it today wouldn't exist.
Famed as the "Birthplace of BC," this historic village on the south bank of the Fraser River has become one of Metro Vancouver's most noteworthy tourist attractions.
Featuring restored historic sites, heritage buildings, and museums, the village of nearly 3,000 residents showcases the authentic pride of the citizens of the Township of Langley, where Fort Langley is situated.
Early Fort Langley
The area, about 50km/31mi from the mouth of the Fraser River, was originally inhabited by the Kwantlen First Nation, who fished, hunted, farmed, and traded here with other Coast Salish nations.
In 1827, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) set up a trading post in what is now Derby Reach Regional Park. The new fort was named after Thomas Langley, a company director. Fur trading and salmon canning became staple industries, and HBC employees married local women and set up farms to sustain themselves and other Pacific forts. The multicultural workforce of Britons, Scots, Hawaiians, and First Nations people was truly distinctive.
The fort was relocated 4km/2.5mi up the river in 1839, but burned down after just 10 months, and had to be rebuilt on the same site in 1840. This remains its current location.
In 1858, the Fraser River Gold Rush kicked off, with thousands of prospectors flooding into the region. The British Parliament now chose to transform what was originally just a coastal trading zone into the full-fledged Crown Colony of British Columbia. Sir James Douglas, who would serve as British Columbia's first governor, presided over the official proclamation at the Big House in Fort Langley on November 19, 1858.
From Trading Post to National Historic Site
Fort Langley's economic and strategic importance declined after the proclamation, however. The old trade routes with California, Hawaii, and Alaska withered away. New Westminster, rather than Fort Langley, was chosen as the original BC capital, and that distinction passed to Victoria in 1871.
By 1886, Fort Langley had ceased operating as an HBC trading post, and many of its buildings had been dismantled or converted for other uses.
Fortunately, Fort Langley's rich heritage wasn't forgotten. Its historical importance was recognized with a commemorative plaque in 1925, and in 1955, it was designated the Fort Langley National Historic Site. Restoration to its former architectural glory got underway.
Fort Langley Today
Visit the fort year-round and pan for gold, touch fur pelts, and take photos with costumed interpreters. Walk the Fort-to-Fort Trail between the original location of the fort in Derby Reach Regional Park and the current National Historic Site to get a feel for what the original fur traders experienced.
Nearby museums beckon, from the art exhibitions at the Langley Centennial Museum to the gleaming tractors and logging equipment at the BC Farm Machinery & Agricultural Museum. At the heritage CN Station, view a vintage caboose and railway car.
Glover Road and Mavis Road, the tree-lined main streets for shopping, socializing, and strolling, also capture a delightful 19th-century flavour, including antique stores and artwork for sale that reflects the pioneering, wilderness spirit of Fort Langley.
Festivals and Culture
Fort Langley celebrates its rich heritage each year with a variety of festivals.
Celebrations take place each year at Fort Langley National Historic Site on Douglas Day (November 19), commemorating the birth of British Columbia.
Heritage Week (February) offers special activities, games and exhibits for kids at local museums and historic sites. A pancake breakfast, Maypole dance, and amusement park rides offer fun for the whole family on May Day.
A unique local festival is the Cranberry Festival (October), a day-long celebration of one of Langley's biggest crops, attracting up to 20,000 visitors. Sample cranberry popcorn and jam, listen to live music, and watch a canoe regatta.