The Proclamation of British Columbia
The 1858 Gold Rush
In 1858 Fort Langley achieved world fame as the starting point for the Fraser River gold fields. In March of that year, news reached San Francisco that gold had been discovered in the sand bars of the upper Fraser, and within two months 30,000 prospectors had poured into the area. The Langley post became crowded with strangers eager for news of the latest discoveries, and its sales shop, issuing miners' tools and provisions, had a daily turnover of $1,500.
During the "rush" James Douglas, Governor of Vancouver Island and manager of the Hudson's Bay Company's Pacific business, took prompt action to secure British sovereignty and enforce the Company's trade monopoly. Yet the licensing system that he introduced was clearly insufficient to permanently govern the growing population. The era of fur trade guardianship was drawing to a close. In August 1858 the British Parliament revoked the Company's monopoly and passed an act providing for a crown colony on the Pacific mainland. James Douglas was named first Governor of British Columbia.
British Columbia is Proclaimed a Colony
The "Big House" at Fort Langley provided the background for the official ceremony proclaiming the establishment of British Government on the Pacific mainland. On November 19, 1858, 100 people assembled in the hall to hear the announcement that the Company's licence was revoked, the proclamation , and to witness the administration of oaths to the officers of the new government. Outside, a 17- gun salute, which pierced the drizzling rain, marked the historic transition from fur trade domain to British Colony. The Victoria Gazette newspaper reported on the ceremony.
The inaugural ceremony both honoured Langley and signalled its decline. The Hudson's Bay Company received title to land at Fort Langley in 1864, but the revocation of its monopoly created competition for the fishery and farm. In 1858 navigation was extended to Hope and Yale, and Langley's function both as mining supplier and transhipment depot abruptly ceased. The selection of New Westminster as the capital pushed Langley "out of the way of travelers".
The Decline of Fort Langley
A four-page poster put out by the Hudson's Bay Company to advertise the auction sale of Langley Farm on June 17, 1878 © Hudson's Bay Company Archives/June 17, 1878
In the 1860s, Langley farm was expanded to support the Hudson's Bay Company's overland transport service to the Caribou. Local competition was very strong, however, and from 1870 the land was offered for sale or lease. Company officers considered it "the finest land in British Columbia", and terms were kept stringent. Since no one could pay enough for the whole property the farm was subdivided. Four lots were sold at auction in Victoria in 1878 and the rest by private sale over the next eight years.
After 1858 the fort fell slowly into disrepair. The palisade was dismantled in 1864, and by 1871 the blacksmith shop had been converted into a dwelling and the cooperage to a sale shop. A year later, the "Big House" was pulled down and a new residence built for the post manager. Finally, in April 1886, a new Hudson's Bay Company sale shop was constructed in the nearby village, and Fort Langley ceased operations as a company post.
Fort Langley as a National Historic Site of Canada
In May 1923 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada declared Fort Langley to be of national historic importance and erected a commemorative plaque near the surviving fort structure. Fort Langley was established as a National Historic Park in May 1955, and the process of restoration was begun for celebration of the centennial of the Colony of British Columbia.