Fort Langley in British Columba is named after the town’s historic fort built in 1827 as a Hudson Bay Company fur trading post. Tucked along the banks of the Fraser River, Fort Langley National Historic Site offers a unique way to learn and interact with history with live demonstrations, children’s activities, storytelling, musket shooting, guided tours, and more.
While researching I discovered that every December they have ‘A Fort Langley Christmas.’ Being a lover of history, I knew that it was something I wanted to experience. Last year, on my trip to North Vancouver and Langley, I made arrangements to go to this event and by the end of the day came away with a better understanding of how multi-cultural the fort was and its importance in history.
If you love history and culture, or have kids that enjoy history more when its mixed up with activities and demonstrations, you’ll want to put this holiday tradition on your travel itinerary.
Event days: December 21-23 and December 27-30 (2018).
Park fees: Adult ($7.80), Senior ($6.55), Children 17 and under (FREE!)
Park hours: Open seven days a week, 10 am to 5 pm. Closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
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I’d like to thank Tourism Langley for hosting me in December 2018. #LangelyFresh
A Fort Langley Christmas
As I drove from Langley to Fort Langley, the fog became thicker and thicker. By the time I made it to town, a heavy layer hung over the fort. The air was cool, but not too cold, and a layer of snow covered the ground. After checking into the visitor center and getting a small pamphlet with the daily activities, I put on my hat and gloves, zipped up my coat, and wandered the grounds. As one of the first visitors to arrive for the day, I had the fort almost entirely to myself for a short time and relished every moment.
In 1839 the fort moved upstream and much of its trade swtiched to locally sourced foods such as salmon, cranberries, and potatoes.
A Fort Langley Christmas Activities
Sample Old-School Hot Chocolate
The first interaction of the day is a tasty one – a small cup of Heritage hot chocolate. In the 1800s, this is the type of chocolate people would have consumed. It is more like dark chocolate and would have come in small flakes. As a lover of dark chocolate, I preferred this to our much sweeter cocoa.
Want to visit the fort and not sure where to stay? Read about my experience at the Sandman Signature Langley Hotel.
Discover Fort History on a Guided Tour
During this holiday event, there are two guided tours each day. One at 11 am and one at 3 pm. This tour will help you understand the buildings and the workings of the fort. I know not everyone likes guided tours, but I always learn so much more with a guide.
This tour begins near the hot chocolate stand is around one hour. It makes stops at the cooperage, blacksmith shop, the exhibit gallery, the big house and the servants’ quarters. All of these are open to visitors during the day and have staff on hand to explain and answer questions, so if you miss something during the tour, you can always go back.
Barrel Making at the Cooperage
Barrels were an important part of trading and transporting during this time period, and the fort had a handful of barrel makers who created barrels to ship salmon, cranberries, produce and other local goods. This stop is a little bit lecture and a little bit hands-on where you can try making a barrel.
Fun fact: Cranberries were considered to be life-saving medicine and one barrel (see the photo of the guide) of cranberries would trade for 1 oz. of gold!
The Blacksmith Shop
Throughout the day you’ll hear the clanging of the blacksmith in his shop at Fort Langley. Anyone can stop by to watch and ask him questions. This is a great stop because you get to see the blacksmith in action! It is all outside, so dress for it, if you plan to watch for long periods of time.
The blacksmith takes time to explain the process and shows off his techniques. He even might ask for help with manning the bellows.
Fun fact: The blacksmith is known to barter for trinkets, so bring something small and see if he’ll trade it for a piece he makes.
Furs, Beaver Pelts, and Métis
The exhibit building is all about learning about how animal skins and beaver pelts were such a huge part of Hudson Bay Trading Company. At the time, the surrounding lands supplied them with what seemed like an endless supply and one of the top commodities were beaver pelts for top hats. Why? Beaver skins could be turned into felt very easily. The serious drawback for the hatter was the mercury they used with their bare hands to make felt, it made them crazy. Hence, the term mad hatter.
Trade for axes and blankets were also important. At the time, First Nations used the hair of a woolly dog, which is now extinct, to make some of their blankets. This took them five years to weave! When the Hudson Bay Trading Company arrived, they could trade three to four beaver pelts for one blanket.
One of the main ways trappers got their furs to the fort was by hiring Métis (a mix of French and Native American). These men could mange up to 8 bales of fur at 200 lbs. They carried these furs on their backs to and from the fur traders and the company through mountains, marshlands, and across streams and rivers.
Fun fact: Métis fur carriers often developed hernias and a sash around their waist to protect their core was one of their signature pieces of apparel.
A Declaration to the Crown
As an American, I have to admit there are serious gaps in my knowledge of Canadian and British history. One of the things you’ll learn in the Big House is that Sir James Douglas proclaimed British Columbia a Crown colony on November 19, 1858, at Fort Langley.
Fun fact: Douglas was born of a Scottish father and a Creole mother and became governor of Vancouver Island.
Learn About Who Lived at the Fort
One of the facts that surprised me was that English, French, Scottish, Hawaiian, and First Nations all lived and worked at the fort. In the servant’s quarters, the lower level is split to show what each of their living quarters would have looked like based on their own customs and culture.
Fun fact: Fort Langley became a major exporter of salted salmon in barrels to the Hawaiian Islands.
More Ways to Enjoy the Fort
There are hands-on stations throughout Fort Langley for children. At the Big House, is a top hat making station. At the cafe, is a cookie decorating station ($2). The cafe sells lunch time items if you are looking for something to eat. In the cooperage, is a barrel making station. And, if you want to warm up and watch a Christmas movie head to the theater.
My Favorite Activities – Roasting Chestnuts and Storytelling
Thanks to The Christmas Song by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells, the words “roasting chestnuts on an open fire” automatically makes me think of Christmas time. If you want to learn some roasting tips or just try a chestnut, be sure to stop at the servants’ quarters for one of the demonstrations.
Roasted chestnut tips: Boil them in water for about 15 minutes. Afterward, if you are able to roast them over an open fire for the first five minutes, and then cook them for 30 minutes in a 400° oven.
People’s personal stories fascinate me, and on my visit, a First Nations Elder shared stories from her childhood about life at the village of Fort Langley.
Travel tip: This event was listed as ‘Storytelling by the Fire’ and I assumed that meant the communal fire pit and waited there for about ten minutes before asking someone. They told me it was inside the cooperage, so I, unfortunately, missed some of her stories.
Warm Up at the Communal Fire Pit
Near the center of the fort is a communal fire pit with seating (it may be wet!). The fire is started at the beginning of the day and kept going until the end of the day. Perfect spot for a quick warm up.
Walk Atop the Fortification
One thing you won’t want to miss is walking atop the walls at Fort Langley. From here is a fantastic view of the fort and the Fraser River.
Visiting Fort Langley National Historic Site
After spending the day at Fort Langley, I came away knowing so much more about its history and the people who lived, worked and traded at the fort. If you are looking for a unique holiday celebration that combines history, culture, demonstrations and hands-on activities, you’ll enjoy ‘A Fort Langley Christmas.’
Keep in mind that you’ll spend much of the day outside and will need to dress for the weather.
Afterward, there is more history to discover about the village of Fort Langely at the Langley Centennial Museum across the street. If you are hungry or would like to do some shopping, a couple of blocks away from the fort is historic downtown. I stopped at the Trading Post Brewing Company for a burger and a beer.
During my visit, I was hosted at the Sandman Signature Langley Hotel; read about my stay here. The modern hotel features standard rooms, loft, and executive rooms. I had a loft room with a kitchen and living room downstairs and the bedroom upstairs. This is the way to go if you like a lot of space and plan dine in. The hotel features an indoor pool and hot tub, a business center, free WiFi, and an onsite restaurant and bar. Book a room here.
For a unique stay in the summer season, you can stay in an A-frame cabin inside the fort! I so want to do this!
To find out more information about Fort Langley National Historic Site, visit their website.
To find out more about the village of Fort Langley, visit their website.
If you want to know more about Langley, British Columbia, go to Tourism Langley.
More Fort Langley National Historic Site Winter Events
- Louis Riel Day on November 17. This day celebrates Métis leader Louis Riel and Métis culture. Activities include storytelling, fiddle playing, jigging, and archery.
- Douglas Day on November 18. This day honors Sir James Douglas who proclaimed Fort Langley part of the British colony. The event includes guided tours for a deeper look into the story.
- Christmas by Candlelight on December 15. This event happens in the evening and festivities include musical performances, carols, readings from Dickens, and guided tours.
- Vive Les Voyageurs French-Canadian Festival on January 19-20. This two-day event is all about French-Canadian traders and voyageurs who lived at the fort. There will be French lessons, Voyageur-style music, and goodies such as maple taffy and poutine.
- Family Day on February 18. The fort was a melting pot of cultures – Hawaiian, Scottish, Metis, First Nations, French – and this day celebrates their differences and embraces their commonalities. Some activities include making bannock, a Hawaiian warrior game, and a presentation on the resources used by First Nations.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations and experiences for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.