Since he started working at the Fort Langley National Historic Site as a history interpreter this past June, Jonathan Fortier has taken part in a few of the fort’s events, including its annual Brigade Days in August.
But this weekend’s Vive Les Voyageurs French-Canadian festival at the FLNHS is right in his wheelhouse.
That’s because the 28-year-old Fortier is a French-Canadian, originally from Gatineau, Quebec.
“When I found out they had a voyageur program, it was something that I really wanted to get into,” said Fortier, who graduated from the University of the Fraser Valley with a degree in history and an extended minor in French.
“A lot of the interpreters here do speak French, as well.”
Vive Les Voyageurs – the FLNHS’s annual winter festival – is this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.
The festival celebrates the unique folklore and culture of the voyageurs and fur traders who lived in 19th-century Fort Langley.
Both days, visitors can learn a Métis dance, try their hand at spoons and jigging, attend a French 101 lesson, join a fur trade wedding, and fill up on maple taffy and poutine while listening to live Voyageur-style music by Rejean, Chic Soiree.
Historical presentations will also be ongoing for the duration of both days.
Regular admission fees apply ($7.80 per adult) but admission is free for annual pass holders.
A family annual pass is $39.20 until March 31.
Dating back to the early 19th century, the fort’s origins are steeped in French culture.
The first fort was built in 1827 by the Hudson’s Bay Company, to trade for furs and other local goods with the nearby First Nations peoples, and about half of the crew building the first palisade were French-speaking.
French-Canadians were also key to the fur trade, the reason the fort was created.
“The French-Canadians would have been hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company to be cheap, skilled labourers,” Fortier explained. “A lot of them wouldn’t have been educated but they would have known how to blacksmith and do some barrel-making and things like that. They were hired to come here and do a lot of the skilled work.”
Fortier, who has spoken English and French his entire life and deftly switches from one to the other, said he’s looking forward to the weekend event at a workplace that he has enjoyed, thus far.
“I always loved history and I always wanted to work with the federal government, so when I saw a [job] posting, I thought, ‘This would be so amazing to come and work here, work for Parks Canada, and work for the National Historic Site and you get to breathe in all of the history,” Fortier said.
“It’s the same thing with all the other interpreters that are here, too, they just love being here as well. You need to love history.”
Fortier is joined at the FLNHS by Rita Bruneau, a born-and-bred British Columbian who spoke French as her first language at home.
She’s from Maillardville, a neighbourhood in Coquitlam that was established by French Canadian sawmill workers lured to the West Coast by plenty of work a century ago.
“She’s the one who has been really pushing this [festival],” Fortier said.
Les Petits Voyageurs preschoolers will have a tent at the festival.
“The common theme of ‘voyageurs’ in the event’s name and in the school’s name is based on local history,” noted Les Petits Voyageurs assistant director Laura Grefford. “We look forward to celebrating Langley’s voyageur history at the festival and will be on-hand to greet families interested in learning more about our preschool program.”
In in its fifth year of operation, the preschool is situated at École des Voyageurs public francophone school in Walnut Grove.
French for students
The Langley Chapter of Canadian Parents for French is sponsoring a second week of school programs for the Vive Les Voyageurs at the fort, to fill demand from local teachers.
This year all the class places were full before a number of Langley schools could register.
With this in mind, Canadian Parents for French, Langley Chapter arranged with Parks Canada to sponsor a second week to accommodate local schools; six Langley schools are now scheduled to attend.
“When we heard from the fort that the spots had been filled before some Langley teachers were able to register, we decided to work together to allow more students to attend,” said Michele Dyck, president of Canadian Parents for French, Langley.
In addition to sponsoring the second week, Canadian Parents for French will be on site at the FLNHS on Saturday morning.
The first five families to join Langley Canadian Parents for French will receive a free annual pass for the fort.
All Langley CPF member families who visit are eligible for a draw to win one of five annual passes.
Chapter vice-president Martin Fandrich said: “I joined CPF because as a young adult I learned the value of knowing a second language. As a volunteer, I’m pleased to see our local kids have opportunities to experience that value much earlier than I did.”