After seeing the 2006 fantasy film Night at the Museum, it became every kid’s dream – including mine – to see what happens after all of the landmarks, monuments, and galleries closed their door for the evening.
Would anything really come alive? Would time travelling be part of the experience?
I received that opportunity this summer when I was lucky enough to lay my head for a night in an oTENTik at Fort Langley National Historic Site.
Don’t worry, I had trouble pronouncing my camping quarters at first too. An oTENTik is exclusively available through Parks Canada at 26 sites across the country.
Described as a “prospector style” tent, as transportable dwellings were prevalent during the 19th century Gold Rush, canvas walls rest over an A-frame where a row of six-person bunk-beds await (just make sure to remember your own sleeping bag).
By no means are the comforts comparable to prospecting quarters in the brisk B.C. mining mountains. Nancy Hildebrand, promotions officer at the historical site, said the experience was designed for “nervous campers.”
“We’ve offered the oTENTiks at the fort since 2013, and they’re really for people who might not have all the equipment. It’s closed in so parent’s like it because it’s safe for kids. They’re private and its definitely not rustic camping.”
“Not rustic” hardly begins to scratch the surface of describing a Fort Langley stay; each tent is equipped with both a heater and a fan.
A table with chairs and a mini-fridge make the space more than livable, while a basket filled with roasting sticks, cutlery, and cooking gear fancier than my own home’s pots and pans collection are free to use.
There are indoor bathrooms just across the way behind the lelem cafe while an outdoor kitchen contains three heavy duty barbecues for guests to grill away.
Kelly Yates, the fort host, lives just on the other side of the fort’s wall to facilitate the grounds and keep an eye on guests. He said the only thing that makes his campsite a four-star-stay instead of five, is that there are no showers.
With keeping myself cleanly while camping not being a concern, Yates showed me to my quarters and literally handed me the keys to the historic site’s gate. The park closed at five, but me, my girlfriend Mariana, and four other families were free to roam the the whole night through.
The last bit of advice Yates and Hildebrand left us with was that the grounds were haunted.
“I’ve had a few occurrences of keys going missing and then appearing again in real strange places,” Yates said.
Hildebrand pointed to a row of windows on one of the buildings and simply said to keep a look out. I wondered if the experience was going to be more like Night at the Museum than I had anticipated.
Though I think everyone tried giving them a good tug, the landmarks buildings are all locked up tight with the exception of the theatre. Guests can wander freely and keep watch atop the palisade or visit with goats and chickens housed inside a small farm area.
Guests can also come and go – people are by no means fenced in. The key gets you in and out to explore Fort Langley’s streets or grab some dinner if you please. But with a fire pit and a bundle of wood (which can be purchased through the fort), of course we had other plans.
When you stay at the fort, the central gathering spot becomes all yours to roast smokies and marshmallows. My girlfriend – born and raised in Mexico City – proudly devoured her very first S’more.
The gathering does still continue after hours, the fire acted like a beacon to let all the guests know it was an opportune time to get to know each other. Campers ranged from neighbours like us who live right down the road to families travelling all the way from Victoria.
Tara Browman came with her family from Vancouver, first hearing about the experience from a friend who had been.
“It’s so easy. You get everything, pots, dishes. We brought everything, not knowing that. We came with a camp stove and chairs. But you don’t need any gear,” Browman said. “As a parent, it’s so good for kids. You don’t need to worry.”
Steve Jaltena said he grew up in the area and was home visiting family. “We were here a few days ago and saw that you could rent tents. It’s a good place to catch up with family. How cool is this? We get to sleep in a museum!”
Guests swapped descriptions of their oTENTik themes – each one is decorated and named in it’s own unique way. Ours was the Stromness, influenced by Scottish ship-builders.
Children zipped up and down the Fort’s massive lawn, playing Frisbee and acting out fantasies of being explorers.
Bats and bunnies emerged for a visit after the sun went down.
The only crux of the whole set-up is the train that toots it’s horn all evening long as it passing just meters away. For some, it may give comfort and transport them to another time and place. For others, ear plugs are supplied.
I know I woke up to sunlight and the fresh morning air – more rested than I had been all week. The canvas walls come with removable flaps to let the natural scents flow in.
No ghosts… to my knowledge… but the whole time-travelling/history coming alive Night at the Museum did very much come true.
The ground I was lucky enough to camp on is a part of history. The buildings right next to my bed were over a century old.
When the sun goes down and you have the site all to yourself, Fort Langley looks and feels like it did when it gave birth to B.C. Signs and powerlines dissapear - you stop noticing it’s 2019.
“It’s the third coolest place in the world, ” assured the park host. “Just behind NYC and Disneyland.”
Langley is lucky to have this place when the gates are open, but this experience proved just what I had hoped in the beginning.
When the museum closes its doors for the evening, that’s when the real fun begins.
Is there more to this story?