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Fort Langley National Historic Site of Canada

History

Peak Production at Fort Langley

The Second Fort Burns Down

In 1839 the Hudson's Bay Company agreed to lease the Alaskan Panhandle from the Russian American (Fur) Company for an annual rent in otter skins and specified farm products. Fort Langley was called upon to produce wheat and butter for the Russian contract. In order to facilitate farming operation, the original fort, now in a dilapidated condition, was abandoned, and a new one built 4 km upstream, closer to the large prairie.

New Fort Langley had been occupied just 10 months when it was consumed by fire and had to be completely rebuilt. In May 1840, construction commenced on a new complex, which eventually enclosed an area, 192 x 73 m and contained three to four bastions and about 15 buildings. It is on this site that the present reconstruction bas been made.

Fort Langley in the Peak of Economic Production

Barrels
Barrels
© Parks Canada / John Gordon Photography

Two decades of intense activity followed the establishment of the new fort. Grain production increased; beef and pork were salted for the Company ships and two dairies were kept in full production. Salted salmon continued to be popular in the Sandwich Islands, and an annual export of 2,000 barrels was not uncommon in the years between 1845 and 1854. Cranberries traded from the natives and packaged at Langley sold at substantial profit in San Francisco.

Chart showing number of barrels of salmon and cranberries, and number of beaver traded
Trading at Fort Langley between 1827 and 1873
© Mary Cullen, The History of Fort Langley / 1827-96
View a detailed description of this graph in accessible text format.

The records for some years have not been found, not necessarily that no trading occurred for that year.

The number of beavers per year includes small and large beavers. The number of salmon barrels is the number of equivalent barrels cured (2 small barrels equal 1 large barrel). The numbers of cranberry barrels are by 24 gallon barrels.

When the Company established Fort Victoria as future Pacific headquarters in 1843, Langley's Chief-Trader Yale felt the importance of his post was being undermined. He so resented the supremacy of the nearby fort that he misjudged its effect. In fact, the reorganization of HBC Pacific operations occasioned by the settlement of the Oregon boundary in 1846 increased the value of Fort Langley.

The international line drawn at the 49 th parallel limited Company access to the Columbia-Okanagan supply route, just as Simpson had predicted, and forced a re-examination of the Fraser River as a possible artery to the interior. By 1848, a new route for the fur brigade was established by horse from Kamloops through the Cascade Mountains to Hope and from there by the flat-bottomed cargo boat or bateau down the Fraser. Fort Langley, at the head of navigation, became the transhipment depot for the interior finally making Simpson's plan for the Fraser a reality.

The urgent duties of brigade terminus were added to the normal occupations of fishery and farm. Trade goods and supplies shipped from Fort Victoria were packed at Langley for distribution inland; bateaux were built for river freighting to Hope; iron goods were manufactured for inland forts; and provisions and fodder were grown for the horse brigades. In addition, outgoing furs were sorted, cleaned and packed in 113 kg bales for shipment to England.