On a day that annually pays homage to Fort Langley’s past, a member of Kwantlen First Nation spoke about tolerance and understanding, today and into the future.
Kevin Kelly, husband of Kwantlen chief Marilyn Gabriel, along with his son Michael Kelly-Gabriel were among those who welcomed the arrival of re-enactors in a pair of canoes as well as a York boat to the shores of Marina Park on holiday Monday.
The traditional reenactment portrays the annual return of fur traders in the 1800s, who transported the year’s intake of furs from interior and northern trading posts to Fort Langley, later to be delivered by ship back to England.
The arrival of the fur brigades helped cap three days of Brigade Days celebrations at the Fort Langley National Historic Site over the holiday long weekend.
Before he and his son drummed and sang a welcome song, Kelly said it warmed his heart to see what a multicultural and beautiful country we live in today.
“I always say to my children, and the work I do in the schools, when I look at the crowd, I wish this was the way we got along all the time, as human beings,” he said, drawing applause from those gathered along the shoreline of the Fraser River.
Kelly said the instruments Kwantlen people use are not instruments, but medicine “for everybody that’s here.”
“Our Elders tell us every song we sing is a prayer song,” Kelly said. “Maybe today somebody in this crowd needs this song for themselves, to shed tears. Maybe you have a family member that’s in a hospital not doing well. This is what the songs are for.”
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A few minutes before the boats arrived on shore, Fort Langley National Historic Site interpreter Aman Johal, playing the role of James Douglas, governor of the brand new colony of B.C., explained the significance of the brigades during the 19th century to the crowd.
Johal said without Fort Langley “there would be no British Columbia.”
“Without Fort Langley, the other forts could not bring their furs down in an all-British route,” he added. “If you did not have Fort Langley, you close down the Hudson’s Bay operations on this side of the Pacific slope.”
In the summertime, all the other forts would bring their furs down the Fraser River from Fort Hope. In June and July, voyageurs camped inside the fort walls, helping to repackage all the furs they brought into 300-pound bundles.
Those bundles were transported via steamboats from the fort to Victoria, four days away.
A tall ship in Victoria then carried the bales on a six-month journey back to England.
“But that ship didn’t arrive empty handed,” Johal explained. “It had goods from England for us. So those goods come to Fort Langley, we divvy them up, and then the voyageurs at the end of the brigades take the goods from England up the river, back to the forts they came from.”