A procession leaves the Fort Langley National Historic Site and heads to the Fraser River waterfront for the annual Arrival of the Fur Brigades each August.

Langley’s Brigade Days are a glimpse into the past

Langley does up B.C. Day like no other community in this province.

Piper Colin Fraser first set foot in British Columbia around 1839.

And people can meet him during Brigade Days on the August long weekend.

The ‘modern’ Colin Fraser is portrayed by Colin Barrett.

When Barrett was asked to be part of a new activity at the Fort Langley National Historic Site in 1984, he ended up portraying Fraser with whom he shares many similarities.

Aside from the first name, Barrett is also a piper and uses that skill as a volunteer at the site.

Brigade Days, a way for the community to mark B.C. Day, features the arrival of voyageur canoes on the Fraser River shoreline.

“They wanted to celebrate the BC Day weekend by having a group of volunteers portraying what life might have looked like during the return of the brigade,” Barrett explained.

Well, that first year there weren’t too many visitors but the event has become an annual tradition.

“The following year a number of volunteers set up primitive tents to stay over and the visitation was better. In 1986, Expo year, the fort exploded with over 5,000 visitors over the Saturday and Sunday,” he said.

Fraser came to the New World after winning a contest but may not have ended up liking the prize.

“George Simpson Sr. back in Great Britain, felt that because his son now held such a high position, as governor of the Hudson Bay Company, he needed to have his own piper. A competition was held, where the pipers were to march while playing for two miles,” he said. “The winner was Colin Fraser.”

Fraser sailed from Scotland to York Factory.

“Having never been off land before, he had a miserable trip over,” Barrett noted.

Once in York Factory he was introduced to Governor Simpson and plans were made for Simpson’s “review” of the Hudson Bay outposts from Upper Canada to New Caledonia, and to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, around 1839 or 1840.

But Fraser found the voyageur’s rigourous lifestyle difficult. Simpson wrote in his journals that Fraser wan’t much when it came to bale or paddle but had no equal when it came to jigs and hornpipes.

Barrett has even convinced people from Scotland that he’s a son of Edinburgh when in his character.

In the early years of portraying Fraser, Barrett met his descendents.

“These encounters were very special for me,” Barrett said. “The relatives expressed how grateful they were knowing someone was keeping the memory of Colin alive.”

Brigade Days keeps the history of Fort Langley alive with special voyageur activities Aug. 1, 2 and 3 and the special Arrival of the Fur Brigade which happens on Monday, Aug. 3 at 1 p.m.

The volunteers help at the historic site year-round, giving the public, including those from around the globe, a chance to learn more about life around the time when this province was proclaimed.

“I think we have a special privilege in being able to bring the Fort alive for the visitors,” Barrett said. “People are intrigued by our clothing, food, our camps. ‘You actually stay here?’ is something I have heard many, many times.  Some find it hard to believe we would ‘subject’ ourselves to this hard living. Hey, don’t you camp? There isn’t much difference other than we don’t use a Coleman stove to cook on.”

















Brigade Days

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2 and 3, enjoy stories, music and displays of traditional skills such as carding and spinning wool, and musket firing. Regular admission rates apply.

• The Arrival of the Fur Brigades is at 1 p.m. on Monday.

• Enjoy a free BC Day concert at 6 p.m. Monday. Feel free to bring a picnic.

Entertainment will be by the Langley Community Music School Fiddlers and Swing Patrol.

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