Historic Fort Langley lights up during Heritage Holidays in the Cooperage building. (Parks Canada/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Christmas the way it used to be, at historic Fort Langley

Traditional festivities are based on actual documents from the early days of the fort

Letters and journals from the early days of historic Fort Langley show what Christmas was like, living in a fur trade outpost in a remote wilderness environment, where temperatures would plummet, and letters from home could take more than a year to arrive.

Christa Hanson, interpretation coordinator at the fort, was struck by the “sense of distance” revealed in the hand-written entries that recorded day-to-day events at the fort, as well as letters home.

“It really transports you to another world,” Hanson related.

“The idea of being in this vast wilderness and the loneliness people felt.”

Hanson reviewed the texts as part of her research for the annual heritage Christmas event at the historic fort which gets underway this Saturday, Dec. 21.

Featuring recreations of Christmas events from those days, the holiday festival runs until the end of the month, except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s day.

Back then, winters were considerably colder, noted Fort Langley National Historic Site promotion officer Nancy Hildebrand.

“It was frozen enough that you could walk across the Fraser River,” Hildebrand remarked.

A Fort Langley journal entry from Tuesday, 18 December, 1827, the first year the fort was built, reveals how much harsher the winter could be back then, in what was sometimes referred to as the “little ice age,” a time of below-normal temperatures in Europe and North America.

“Pierre Charles went off early. All the men at the Fort occupied as yesterday. The cold is increasing, and the river is frozen across so solidly that the tide does not as usually break it up.”

The next day, it was even colder.

“Severe cold. The ice is so strong that the river may be crossed. The men have now finished hauling the wood for the mess house.”

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Fort Langley Christmas tree lighting an emotional experience for volunteer

Longing for home and loneliness fills almost every line of a letter William Cromarty, the master cooper (a maker of casks, barrels, buckets, and tubs) at Fort Langley, sent to his brother in Scotland, dated March 18, 1852, almost pleading for news.

“I received a letter from John about Christmas, he told me you was all alive but my parents are very feeble. I hope the fishing is doing better now. I heard that Peter was home and had gowen (sic) out to Canada. I wish him well but I would rather he had come here.”

A full version of the letter will be on display at the fort when heritage holidays get underway.

“Visitors will be able to reflect on Canada’s history and culture as they enjoy the peaceful setting of Fort Langley National Historic Site,” Hildebrand commented.

Attendees will be able to taste a roasted chestnut, watch demonstrations, hear live music, and take a guided tour along the lantern-lit pathway to the different buildings in the fort.

Hot drinks and heritage-inspired treats and lunch are available at lelәm’ at the fort café on site, and unique gift ideas await at šxwimelә Boutique & Gifts.

Heritage Holidays at the fort takes place December 21-23, and 27-30, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission is $7.80 per adult, $6.55 per senior, and annual site passes are on sale for $15.70 per adult and $13.20 per senior.

On Dec. 25, 26 and Jan. 1 the site will be closed.

READ MORE: Photo: Photographic Memories

Activity Schedule:

10:00 a.m. Site opens

10:30 a.m. Guided tour (Cooperage)

11:15 a.m. White Glove talk (Big House) where visitors will have the opportunity of hands-on contact with heritage documents that require wearing gloves to prevent damage.

11:30 a.m. Pen & ink (Big House)

12:00 p.m. Guided tour (Cooperage)

12:45 p.m. White Glove talk (Big House)

1:00 p.m. Pen & ink (Big House)

3:00 p.m. Guided tour (Cooperage)

3:45 p.m. White Glove talk (Big House)

4:00 p.m. Pen & ink (Big House)

4:30 p.m. Flag lowering

5:00 p.m. Site closes

Music Schedule:

Saturday, Dec. 21

1 p.m. to 3 p.m. – Lisa Shepherd and Keith Hill (Servants’ Quarters)

1 p.m. to 5 p.m. – Mount Pleasant Brass Band (Theatre)

Sunday, Dec. 22

12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. – Vita Quartet carolers (Theatre or fire pit)

1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Harpist Leanne Page and Conner (Big House)

Monday, Dec. 23

1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Harpist Leanne Page (Big House)

Friday, Dec. 27

1 p.m. to 3 p.m. – Lisa Shepherd and Keith Hill (Servants’ Quarters)

Saturday, Dec. 28

1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Harpist Leanne Page (Big House)

Sunday Dec. 29

12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. – Vita Quartet carolers (Theatre or fire pit)



dan.ferguson@langleyadvancetimes.com

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Historic Fort Langley heritage interpreter Hazel Gludo, a Kwantlen elder, demonstrated chestnut roasting during Heritage Holidays in the Cooperage building. (Parks Canada/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

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