Chapter 1: The Oregon Boundary Treaty of 1846
| It was in the 1840s
that the company realized that the soon to be established
boundary between British and American possessions could
close off the Columbia- Okanogan
brigade route from the interior to the coast. As
early as 1825 the Company had informed McLoughlin that
British claim would not extend south of the Columbia
As a result Simpson asked for a volunteer to search out a possible route from the interior to the coast by an all British route. Alexander Caulfield Anderson, Chief Factor in charge of Fort Thompson (Kamloops), took up the challenge and established (19) two possible route. One was down the Upper Fraser and then across a chain of lakes--later to become the Harrison-Lillooet route to the Cariboo--and the other was the overland route through the Fraser Canyon and then overland to Kamloops. The boundary was set at the 49th parallel by the Oregon Boundary Treaty of 1846.
In 1848 Anderson brought the interior brigades out to the coast after a hazardous and exhausting trip through the mountains to the mouth of the Fraser Canyon. Here Allard had built a fort--named Fort Yale in honour of the Fort Langley commander--to assist the brigades coming out of the mountains. That fall he also built Fort Hope, the name of which breathed an inspiration and a hope, at the junction of the Coquihalla and Fraser Rivers. Bateaux capable of transporting three tons of cargo were built at Fort Langley to bring the brigades downriver (22) from Fort Hope. Robert Robertson, a cooper at Fort Langley, was the Chief Boatsman.
Just up-river from Fort Langley the brigades would beach their bateaux on an island opposite the Whonnock Indian Village. Here the men would don their best clothes and decorate themselves with ribbons and fingerwoven sashes from Assomption, Quebec. The different bright colours in the sashes indicated the district in which the wearer was posted. The men would then return to their fur laden bateaux and begin firing their weapons. The fort cannons on the bastions would return the salute as the visitors pulled in to wharf.
It was a Robertson not related to the Chief Boatsman that assisted Allard in the construction of Fort Hope. Samuel Robertson was the only man that stayed with Allard to build the post. The other men deserted when they learned that the Indians in that vicinity were not friendly. Robertson had come to Fort Langley as a cabinet maker and boat builder in 1843. He had (24) come out directly from Scotland in the employ of the company to Victoria where he met Julia Sanich, the daughter of a Cowichan Chief. She had accompanied him to Fort Langley.
As the salmon industry at the fort grew, the fur trade ebbed. In 1852 a prime beaver pelt sold for next to nothing due to the popularity of the Derby hat. The well-to-do Englishman no longer felt in style wearing a beaver hat.
The growth of the salmon industry brought on the need for additional coopers. Two rather reluctant coopers at the fort were Kenneth Morrison and John McIver. In 1853 the two young men arrived at Fort Langley in rags with a brigade that had travelled via the Yellowhead all the way from Fort Carlton by snowshoe and canoe. By the time they reached Langley the fur trade had lost all of its glamour and adventure. The two conspired to breach their four year contract with the company and escape to greener pastures. Yale had the pair caught and imprisoned for deserting. He then, not knowing what to do with them, put the two to work in the cooperage under Cromarty.
Both men were from the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Morrison's home was called Barvas while McIver came from Stornoway. The two men had left Scotland upon joining the services of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1852. The day they sailed for Canada Morrison's mother gave birth to a baby daughter. McIver promised her that he would some day return and marry the child. They were landed at Fort Churchill on Hudson's Bay where Morrison was saved from starving and freezing to death by friendly Indians. Their first winter was spent at Fort York. The following summer they helped build Fort Carlton on the Prairies and even roped a buffalo before joining the brigade bound for Fort Langley.
It was in October 1853 that Russian expansionist pressures led Turkey to declare war; the following March England and France became allies of the Turks. Ironically, the war between England and Russia did not carry over to the Pacific Northwest. England made a special agreement with the Russians whereby the Hudson's Bay Company would continue to supply food to the Russians residing in the Panhandle. One commodity which was obtained at Fort Langley which was in great demand in the Crimean War was isinglass, a food preservative, made from the membrane of the float bladder of the sturgeon. Yale was able to obtain upwards of 800 pounds of this substance which fetched $14 a pound during the war years. The Fort Langley preservative was used both by the Russian and English armies at the front lines.
The fort's importance as a fur-trade, salmon shipping depot, as well as exporter of farm produce, decreased with the expiration of the Russian American Company. It was the discovery of gold near Fort Kamloops in 1856-57 that gave Fort Langley a new lease on life. In 1858 major events mushroomed at Fort Langley which were beyond the belief of the fort's occupants. During a one year period 30,000 men passed up the Fraser and past the fort. Many of the miners passed through the fort's gates for outfitting. Supplying these men with food and clothing put Fort Langley back on the map. The events which followed earned Fort Langley an enviable position in history for all time.
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Copyright © Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan