Editor: Have you ever wondered what would be the first site in the Lower Mainland where a group of people coming from nearly everywhere first over-wintered, first made enduring contacts with the local native population, established first lasting trade relationships (including farming and fishing, beyond the fur trade) and opened the way to countless waves of newcomers in years to come?
What would then be our southern/western B.C. equivalent of Fort Clatsop where Lewis and Clarke over-wintered in 1805 near the Columbia? Or do we have something along the line of Champlain Habitation in Québec City (1608) or Port-Royal (1605) or comparable in importance to New Plymouth (1620) where the first pilgrims established shelter in the original 13 colonies?
Perhaps you have also wondered how such a B.C. site is recognized, promoted, taught in school or is known among teachers and genealogy hobbyists?
You may be interested in finding out that the Derby site, or the initial Fort Langley (1827) located on the Fraser River, four kilometres west of Fort Langley, represents such a location even though it became quickly abandoned after 1859 when the mainland colony ended up getting temporarily established in New Westminster.
The initial fort itself had moved over much earlier on to its current national park location. Derby is indeed the first location in the Lower Mainland where French Canadians, Scottish, Irish, Métis, natives from elsewhere in the Pacific (Hawaii) or from eastern Canada, — often via our southern neighbour Fort Vancouver, Washington — established the first B.C. roots for a new Canadian society. Without these people, B.C. would have turned out much differently.
You may also be interested in finding out that the site has recently undergone renovation mainly under the radar after the Plexiglas interpretative panels documenting some of the initial location history had become damaged and vandalized.
No groups were consulted — at least publicly — and no media has noticed so far as new panels have already been installed while the previous ones were removed.
The emphasis has been much shifted toward the colonial ghost town aspects of the first mainland capital of B.C. It is true that Derby did not lead to a permanent establishment as others did, including Fort Kamloops (1812), Fort Victoria (1843) or Fort Yale (1848) , but it seems that Derby would deserve more attention, if a better knowledge of our B.C. history matters.
The renovation of the Derby site located in the Derby Reach regional park managed by Metro Vancouver would have been a good opportunity to share such precious history, rather than further bury it during our 150th and all this talk on reconciliation, alternate history narratives, etc.
Let’s all hope that the unique opportunity is not further missed.