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Pre-1870

Since Time Immemorial

Archaeological evidence and oral histories confirm that salmon have been central to the subsistence, economic, and cultural practices of coastal Indigenous people for thousands of years.

Aerial view of long houses with canoes and drying racks in the foreground

Quatsino First Nation village c. 1866. Image A-06122 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

Aerial view of long houses with canoes and drying racks in the foreground

Quatsino First Nation village c. 1866. Image A-06122 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

1827

Salmon is traded with the Hudson’s Bay Company

Indigenous people were fishing and trading salmon long before contact. By the 1830s, the Stó:lo and other local Indigenous groups begin trading salmon with the fur traders at Fort Langley. 

Two First Nations men fishing with dip nets on a rocky river bank. Several salmon are visible lined up on the bank.

Indigenous fishermen using dip nets to catch salmon on the Fraser River in the late 1800s. Image A-06077 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

Two First Nations men fishing with dip nets on a rocky river bank. Several salmon are visible lined up on the bank.

Indigenous fishermen using dip nets to catch salmon on the Fraser River in the late 1800s. Image A-06077 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

1830

Salmon from BC is sent abroad for the first time

By 1829 salt is used to preserve salmon at Fort Langley. In 1830 two hundred barrels of salted salmon are shipped abroad from Fort Langley.

A figure standing on a riverbank outside the walls of a wooden fort. Handwritten text at the bottom of the photo says: "Hudson Bay Post- Langley- 1862."

Hudson Bay Post, Langley, 1862.Image A-04313 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

A figure standing on a riverbank outside the walls of a wooden fort. Handwritten text at the bottom of the photo says: "Hudson Bay Post- Langley- 1862."

Hudson Bay Post, Langley, 1862.Image A-04313 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

1867

Salmon is canned in BC for the first time by James Syme

In 1867 Entrepreneur James Syme cans salmon at Annieville, across the Fraser River from New Westminster. He exhibits the product at the Agricultural Exhibition in New Westminster in the same year. This innovation marks the beginning of the BC salmon canning industry.

Black and white scan of newspaper page with three columns of text. Close up on "Miscellaneous – Salmon, best ½ bbl., J. Syme $3".

A portion of a page from The British Columbian newspaper from Wednesday October 16, 1867 listing the winners from the agricultural exhibition. Courtesy Google News.

Black and white scan of newspaper page with two columns of text. Close up on "Miscellaneous – Salmon, best ½ bbl., J. Syme $3".

A portion of a page from The British Columbian newspaper from Wednesday October 16, 1867 listing the winners from the agricultural exhibition. Courtesy Google News.

1870-1890

The Boom Years

British Columbia’s salmon canning industry grew rapidly from 1870 to 1890. Canneries were mostly owned by British investors while Indigenous, Japanese, Chinese and European labourers caught and processed the fish.

During this period, many steps of the canning process were mechanized to increase speed and efficiency. By the end of this period of rapid growth and mechanization, conservation measures and government regulations were enacted to address declining salmon stocks.

Group portrait with 5 men seated and 5 men standing behind. Four additional people are peeking out the windows of the building behind the men.

Group portrait of prominent owners of fish canneries in the Delta area in the 1800s. Front row: D. Munn, E.A. Wadhams, Alex Ewen, W.W. English, Ben Young. Standing (back row): Mike Leary, H. Harlock, T.E. Ladner, J.H. Laidlaw, R. Matheson. At window (left): E.A. Rousseau and E. Ferriere. 1887. Image 1982-014-001 Courtesy of the Delta Museum and Archives.

Group portrait with 5 men seated and 5 men standing behind. Four additional people are peeking out the windows of the building behind the men.

Group portrait of prominent owners of fish canneries in the Delta area in the 1800s. Front row: D. Munn, E.A. Wadhams, Alex Ewen, W.W. English, Ben Young. Standing (back row): Mike Leary, H. Harlock, T.E. Ladner, J.H. Laidlaw, R. Matheson. At window (left): E.A. Rousseau and E. Ferriere. 1887. Image 1982-014-001 Courtesy of the Delta Museum and Archives.

1870

First commercial salmon cannery opens in BC

The first commercial salmon cannery in BC, Annieville Cannery, was built by Alexander Loggie, David Hennessy, Alexander Ewan, and James Wise. It was located across the river from New Westminster. The United States was already shipping canned Chinook salmon to England and Australia creating a market for the product. Fraser River sockeye salmon, both canned and salted, was well received in these new markets.

Cannery buildings in the distance with the Fraser River in the foreground.

Ewen and Co.'s Salmon Cannery near New Westminster, 1887. William McFarlane Notman, Image  VIEW-1781 courtesy of McCord Museum.

Cannery buildings in the distance with the Fraser River in the foreground.

Ewen and Co.’s Salmon Cannery near New Westminster, 1887. William McFarlane Notman, Image  VIEW-1781 courtesy of McCord Museum.

1876

The industry expands to other rivers

The salmon canning industry grows quickly. Canneries soon line the shores of BC's main sockeye salmon producing river systems along the coast. Inverness Cannery, the first cannery on the Skeena River, was built in 1876. Others were soon built on the Nass River (1881) and Rivers Inlet (1882).

Can label for "Fresh Skeena River salmon packed at Inverness Cannery, Skeena River, British Columbia."

The icicles on the letters on this 1900s can label use Canadian stereotypes to tell consumers that the salmon is from the north. Image I-61289 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

Can label for "Fresh Skeena River salmon packed at Inverness Cannery, Skeena River, British Columbia."

The icicles on the letters on this 1900s can label use Canadian stereotypes to tell consumers that the salmon is from the north. Image I-61289 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

1877

Retorts are introduced

Large steam-heated pressure cookers called retorts replace hot water baths in 1877. This change increases the consistency of the product. Trolleys of filled cans are cooked for 90 minutes.

A man pushes a stack of seven trays of cans into an open retort oven. Four other ovens are in the background.

A worker slides trays loaded with one pound cans into a retort for cooking. Retorts improved the consistency of the cooking, allowing for increased production.Gulf of Georgia Cannery Collection courtesy of the Canadian Fishing Company CFC 3-19-3

A man pushes a stack of seven trays of cans into an open retort oven. Four other ovens are in the background.

Chinese cannery worker loading a tray of one-pound cans into a retort. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society courtesy of the Canadian Fishing Company CFC 3-19-3

1877

Japanese immigration to Canada begins

Manzo Nagano arrives in 1877, beginning Japanese Immigration to Canada. Among the early Japanese immigrants was Gihei Kuno, a master carpenter from the village of Mio in the Wayakama Prefecture, arrives in Steveston 1887. He soon returns to Mio to encourage others to leave the poverty of their village and come to Steveston to fish. By the early 1900s nearly 2000 Japanese men and women immigrate to fish and work in canneries during the yearly salmon runs. Several of the men also become wooden boat builders along the Steveston waterfront. By the 1940s two thirds of the fishermen in Steveston are Japanese.

Posed family portrait of Manzo Nagano with his wife and family.

Manzo Nagano is seated (centre) with wife Sayo (right), elder son Tatsuo George (left) with his wife (seated) and younger son Teruo Frank, 1911. Photograph by Charlie Wong, Image 1994.85.1.a-b courtesy of the Nikkei National Museum

Posed family portrait of Manzo Nagano with his wife and family.

Manzo Nagano is seated (centre) with wife Sayo (right), elder son Tatsuo George (left) with his wife (seated) and younger son Teruo Frank, 1911. Photograph by Charlie Wong, Image 1994.85.1.a-b courtesy of the Nikkei National Museum

1877

Columbia River Skiff is introduced

By 1877 Fraser River canneries replace flat-bottomed Fraser River skiffs with more stable and sturdier round-bottomed Columbia River skiffs. The more stable boats allow fishing to extend further into the Strait of Georgia. Collection boats begin collecting salmon from the fishermen on the fishing grounds eliminating the need for fishermen to return to the canneries to unload their catch daily.

An indigenous man and women rowing a skiff on the Fraser River 1913. A steam powered tow boat is in the background alongside a fish collection scow.

An Indigenous couple fishing in a Columbia River skiff on the Fraser River, 1913. Image E-05024 Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

An indigenous man and women rowing a skiff on the Fraser River 1913. A steam powered tow boat is in the background alongside a fish collection scow.

An Indigenous couple fishing in a Columbia River skiff on the Fraser River, 1913. Image E-05024 Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

1879

Soldering machine is invented

Until 1879 tins are cut from tin plate and sealed by hand with lead solder by Chinese workers. The soldering machine mechanizes this process by rolling cans through a trough of molten lead solder to seal the can.

Worker watching one pound salmon cans passing on a conveyor belt through the soldering machine.

Soldering machine at Ewen & Co. Salmon Cannery, near New Westminster, BC, 1887. Image VIEW-1784 courtesy of McCord Museum.

Worker watching one pound salmon cans passing on a conveyor belt through the soldering machine.

Soldering machine at Ewen & Co. Salmon Cannery, near New Westminster, BC, 1887. Image VIEW-1784 courtesy of McCord Museum.

1881
Two men load salmon into baskets on an endless chain which takes the fish up and through a set of round blades.

Two workers feeding salmon into the gang knives machine at a cannery. The different spacing of the blades on these two machines corresponds to different sizes of cans: one man is cutting fish for half pound cans, and the other is cutting for one pound cans. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives courtesy of the Canadian Fishing Company CFC 3-21-12.

Two men load salmon into baskets on an endless chain which takes the fish up and through a set of round blades.

Two workers feeding salmon into the gang knives machine at a cannery. The different spacing of the blades on these two machines corresponds to different sizes of cans: one man is cutting fish for half pound cans, and the other is cutting for one pound cans. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives courtesy of the Canadian Fishing Company CFC 3-21-12.

Canning line mechanization begins

The desire for a more efficient process leads to mechanization. Conveyer belts are introduced in 1881 to speed up the canning line. Other machines, including the gang knives and filling machines, are introduced soon after.

Learn Moreabout Canning line mechanization begins
1883

First salmon hatchery in BC

Built in 1883, across from New Westminster, the Bon Accord Hatchery is established to address the issue of declining salmon stocks and increase the number of salmon returning to the Fraser River.

Men posed in the process of collecting roe from salmon. Two men are holding dip nets with a salmon in each one. Two men are sitting with bowls in front of them for collecting the eggs. A fifth man stands holding a salmon.

Men stripping salmon for eggs at a Fraser River fish hatchery, 1890s. Bailey Bros. Photo, Image 19960 courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library.

Men posed in the process of collecting roe from salmon. Two men are holding dip nets with a salmon in each one. Two men are sitting with bowls in front of them for collecting the eggs. A fifth man stands holding a salmon.

Men stripping salmon for eggs at a Fraser River fish hatchery, 1890s. Bailey Bros. Photo, Image 19960 courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library.

1885

First industry downturn

The number of canneries on the Fraser River declines for the first time since the industry began because of an international economic slow down. Only 9 salmon canneries operate on the Fraser River in 1885, down from 24 in 1883.

Black and grey map of the mouth of the Fraser River showing portions of Richmond and Delta. Dots indicate the locations of 8 of the Fraser River canneries operating in 1885.

Black and grey map of the mouth of the Fraser River showing portions of Richmond and Delta. Dots indicate the locations of 8 of the Fraser River canneries operating in 1885.

1885

Canadian Pacific Railway is completed

The Canadian Pacific Railway takes four years to build and is part of Canada's promise to British Columbia when it enters Confederation. Once complete, the CPR provides access to central and eastern Canadian markets and shortens the shipping distance for canned salmon to European markets. With the completion of the railway, many of the men who built it found work in the growing salmon canning industry.

Two men stand looking at a Canadian Pacific train engine on a track. The train car reads "Canadian Pacific 3213."

A train is seen on the CPR track. c. 1894 Image D-01476 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

Two men stand looking at a Canadian Pacific train engine on a track. The train car reads "Canadian Pacific 3213."

A train is seen on the CPR track. c. 1894 Image D-01476 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

1885

Head Tax Introduced

After the Canadian Pacific Railway is completed a $50 tax is placed on all immigrants from China. This was done to restrict the number of Chinese workers entering British Columbia. Despite the tax, large numbers of Chinese immigrants continue to come to Canada. This prompted the Canadian Government to raise the tax to $500 in 1904.

Original head tax certificate belonging to Chong Lee. Head Tax certificate #07326 issued December 6 1916

This is the head tax certificate for Chong Lee (also called Quon Dock Fon) from December 5, 1916. These documents functioned as receipts of payment, as well as personal identification. Library and Archives Canada, R1206-178-X-E

Original head tax certificate belonging to Chong Lee. Head Tax certificate #07326 issued December 6 1916

This is the head tax certificate for Chong Lee (also called Quon Dock Fon) from December 5, 1916. These documents functioned as receipts of payment, as well as personal identification. Library and Archives Canada, R1206-178-X-E

1887

Typhoid outbreak in Steveston

From the late 1880s to early 1900s typhoid fever is common in Steveston and is linked to the disposal of fish waste (offal) from canneries. The Japanese community responds by building the Japanese Hospital in Steveston.

Single storey white building with a small porch situated behind a picket fence

Japanese Hospital, Steveston, BC. Image 1978 14 10 courtesy of the City of Richmond Archives.

Single storey white building with a small porch situated behind a picket fence

Japanese Hospital, Steveston, BC. Image 1978 14 10 courtesy of the City of Richmond Archives.

1889

Government limits fishing licenses

In 1889 the federal government decreases the number of fishing licenses in an attempt to reduce over-fishing. Some cannery owners build dummy canneries to obtain additional fishing licenses.

A man is tossing a fish from a skiff to the cannery floor. Skiff is labelled Dumfries No. 5.

Dumfries Cannery on the Fraser River, c. 1890s, Image CVA 256-02-.10 courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives

A man is tossing a fish from a skiff to the cannery floor. Skiff is labelled Dumfries No. 5.

Dumfries Cannery on the Fraser River, c. 1890s, Image CVA 256-02-.10 courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives

1890

Wilmot Commissions of 1890 and 1892

Some of the first regulations in the fishing industry come from the Wilmot Commissions of 1890 and 1892. Government investigator Samuel Wilmot's extensive inquiries result in recommendations on boat and cannery limits, annual closures, and fishing net size. Before regulations were placed on the fishing industry, there were often hundreds of boats on the Fraser River at a time.

Several small fishing boats on the Fraser River. Text at the bottom of the image says: "926- Fishing fleet, Fraser River, B.C."

Fishing skiffs at the mouth of the Fraser River c. 1890s Image B-07395 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

Several small fishing boats on the Fraser River. Text at the bottom of the image says: "926- Fishing fleet, Fraser River, B.C."

Fishing skiffs at the mouth of the Fraser River c. 1890s Image B-07395 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

1891

First amalgamation of independent canneries

Henry Ogle Bell-Irving founds the Anglo British Columbia (ABC) Packing Company in 1891. The company is a merger of 9 independent canneries. During its first year, it becomes the largest packer of sockeye salmon in the world, packing slightly over 25% of all product.

An ABC Brand label of Choice Fraser River salmon. The Anglo-British Columbia Packing Co. Ltd. The label art features a woman in a long flowing yellow dress.

This salmon label from c. 1900 features elements that were common at the time, such as bold type, bright colours and illustrations. Image I-61092 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

An ABC Brand label of Choice Fraser River salmon. The Anglo-British Columbia Packing Co. Ltd. The label art features a woman in a long flowing yellow dress.

This salmon label from c. 1900 features elements that were common at the time, such as bold type, bright colours and illustrations. Image I-61092 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

1891

Half pound cans introduced

A new can size makes the cooking process more efficient. Bon Accord Cannery is the first to use the half pound can for salmon which reduces cooking time.

A huge stack of half pound cans is seen stacked up to the roof beams of a warehouse.

Half pound cans stacked to the roof beams in a warehouse. c. 1913 Image E-05060 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

A huge stack of half pound cans is seen stacked up to the roof beams of a warehouse.

Half pound cans stacked to the roof beams in a warehouse. c. 1913 Image E-05060 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

1900-1920

Mechanization

The canning industry continued to grow through the first two decades of the 20th Century to the industry peak of 84 canneries in 1917.

By 1911 canneries were being built in new locations along the coast as the industry expanded its focus from sockeye salmon to five species of salmon.

Innovations and new machinery continued to speed up the canning process. By the 1920s, the canning line was almost fully automated.

Interior of a salmon cannery, with mechanized canning line.

Around 1900, this cannery was already highly mechanized with a series of drive belts criss-crossing the large interior. Image B-02943 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

Interior of a salmon cannery, with mechanized canning line.

Around 1900, this cannery was already highly mechanized with a series of drive belts criss-crossing the large interior. Image B-02943 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

1900
Men walk in a long line on a path on the dike along the Steveston waterfront.

Striking workers march in lines on the Steveston boardwalk. Henry Joseph Woodside, Library and Archives Canada, PA-017207

Men walk in a long line on a path on the dike along the Steveston waterfront.

Striking workers march in lines on the Steveston boardwalk. Henry Joseph Woodside, Library and Archives Canada, PA-017207

The Steveston Strike

In July 1900 workers from 47 canneries call a general strike marking a turning point in BC's fishing industry.

Learn Moreabout The Steveston Strike
1900

Gasoline engines introduced to commercial fishing boats

First used on the Fraser River in 1900, the gasoline engine has a significant impact on the fishing industry. It allows fishermen to cover greater distances in less time, venture further out, and fish in rougher weather. By 1910 50% of the Fraser River fleet have gas engines, increasing to 80% in 1913. Gas-powered engines are banned on the north coast until 1923 for European and First Nations fishermen, and until 1930 for Japanese fishermen. Northern Cannery owners resist the new technology so that they don't have to invest in upgrading their fleets.

Business card for the Easthope Bros. Ltd., sellers of marine engines. Text on the card reads: "Easthope Bros. Ltd. Phone Marine 6635 1747 West Georgia St., Vancouver 5, B.C. Marine Engines Made in B.C."

The Easthope family began making gas engines for boats shortly after moving to the west coast of Canada. They operated for many years in Steveston. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives. 

Business card for the Easthope Bros. Ltd., sellers of marine engines. Text on the card reads: "Easthope Bros. Ltd. Phone Marine 6635 1747 West Georgia St., Vancouver 5, B.C. Marine Engines Made in B.C."

The Easthope family began making gas engines for boats shortly after moving to the west coast of Canada. They operated for many years in Steveston. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives.

1902

BC Packers Association is formed

Originally named BC Packers Association of New Jersey, BC Packers Association is an amalgamation of thirty-nine independent canneries. By absorbing the competition, the amalgamation alleviates the industry from overproduction and too many canneries. In 1903, BC Packers Association produces 41% of BC’s canned salmon. BC Packers Association closes most of the plants they purchase as a response to the over investment in canneries.

The Imperial Cannery complex in the distance with the Fraser River in the foreground

One of many canneries purchased by BC Packers in 1902, Imperial quickly became one of the largest. Image C-04950 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

The Imperial Cannery complex in the distance with the Fraser River in the foreground

One of many canneries purchased by BC Packers in 1902, Imperial quickly became one of the largest. Image C-04950 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

1903

Weighing machine introduced

Hand scales are replaced by weighing machines beginning in 1903. These machines could detect underfilled filled cans and automatically divert them from the assembly line to the patching station. There, salmon would be removed or added to bring the can to the proper weight.

Three female workers are working at a table beside a machine where cans are weighed on a circular mechanism.

Women correcting the amount of salmon in cans that have been ejected by the weighing machine. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives courtesy of the Canadian Fishing Company CFC 3-21-15

Three female workers are working at a table beside a machine where cans are weighed on a circular mechanism.

Women correcting the amount of salmon in cans that have been ejected by the weighing machine. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives courtesy of the Canadian Fishing Company CFC 3-21-15

1905
Three men clothed in full length raingear with rain hats and rubber aprons are operating the Iron Butcher. The floor is covered in offal and the men’s outfits are wet. Other workers are visible in the photograph.

Iron Butcher being used to cut fish at the CeePeeCee Cannery, Esperanza Inlet, Vancouver Island 1946 Image I-26239 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

Three men clothed in full length raingear with rain hats and rubber aprons are operating the Iron Butcher. The floor is covered in offal and the men’s outfits are wet. Other workers are visible in the photograph.

Iron Butcher being used to cut fish at the CeePeeCee Cannery, Esperanza Inlet, Vancouver Island 1946 Image I-26239 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

Invention of the Smith Butchering Machine

The Smith Butchering Machine revolutionizes the salmon canning industry.

Learn Moreabout Invention of the Smith Butchering Machine
1906

Chinese Labour Shortage

A shortage of Chinese cannery labour in 1906 results from the increase in the Head Tax from $50 in 1885 to $500 in 1904 and the increasing number of canneries seeking Chinese workers. The shortage allows Chinese cannery crews to negotiate better wages, up to $65 per month. The combination of the labour shortage and increasing wages encourages canners to buy butchering machines. The butchering machines eliminate the need for human butchers, a position held by Chinese workers.

Chinese men butcher fish inside a cannery. Salmon is piled on the floor by their feet.

Chinese men cutting fish at the Annieville Cannery, 1905. Image 1980-052-173 courtesy of the Delta Museum and Archives

Chinese men butcher fish inside a cannery. Salmon is piled on the floor by their feet.

Chinese men cutting fish at the Annieville Cannery, 1905. Image 1980-052-173 courtesy of the Delta Museum and Archives

1911

Companies diversify product

Chum or “dog” salmon was considered a lesser quality product compared to sockeye. Nevertheless in 1911 canning companies began processing all five species of salmon of the B.C. coast, including chum, to keep up with high demand in years of low sockeye returns.

Hundreds of chum salmon lying on the floor of a cannery.

Chum salmon awaiting processing 1910s, Leonard Frank photography, Image 1998.006.002/8, Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society collection.

Hundreds of chum salmon lying on the floor of a cannery.

Chum salmon awaiting processing 1910s, Leonard Frank photography, Image 1998.006.002/8, Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society collection.

1912

Invention of the sanitary can

The machine-made can eliminates the use of lead solder to attach the tops and bottoms of the cans.

A worker operates a machine putting lids on cans. There is steam above the machine.

"Capping the Sanitary Can" c. 1913 Image E-05054 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

A worker operates a machine putting lids on cans. There is steam above the machine.

“Capping the Sanitary Can” c. 1913 Image E-05054 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

1913

Largest sockeye salmon run

1913 is a dominant year of the sockeye salmon’s four-year cycle and more sockeye salmon return to the Fraser River than previously recorded. The huge run results in a commercial pack of 2,392,895 cases of canned salmon.

Cannery floor covered in salmon with butchering tables and workers in the background.

Salmon awaiting processing at a Fraser River cannery, 1913. Image E-05031 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

Cannery floor covered in salmon with butchering tables and workers in the background.

Salmon awaiting processing at a Fraser River cannery, 1913. Image E-05031 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

1914
Loose boulders and rocks cover the river bank and have slid into the river, making the river narrower.

Rock slide at Hells Gate 1914. Image A-04680 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

Loose boulders and rocks cover the river bank and have slid into the river, making the river narrower.

Rock slide at Hells Gate 1914. Image A-04680 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

Hells Gate Slide

Blasting to create the Canadian Northern (later the Canadian National) Railway line through the Fraser Canyon causes landslides at Hells Gate partially blocking the river and causing millions of returning salmon to die before spawning.

Learn Moreabout Hells Gate Slide
1914

The Great War

A cheap, portable, ready-to-eat source of protein is needed for allied soldiers and civilians. During the war years the majority of canned salmon from BC is sent to England.

Label reads "British Columbia's Gift to the Imperial Government Best Pink Salmon"

Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2017.035

Label reads "British Columbia's Gift to the Imperial Government Best Pink Salmon"

Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2017.035

1914

Completion of Grand Trunk Pacific Railway

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway connects Prince Rupert with the rest of Canada through Winnipeg and opens a land-based transportation route for canned salmon from northern canneries.

A celebration at Fort Fraser for the linking of the steel on the Grand Pacific Railway. Text on the image reads: "Linking up of steel on G.T.P. Transcontinental 1914."

Completion of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Image B-00326 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

A celebration at Fort Fraser for the linking of the steel on the Grand Pacific Railway. Text on the image reads: "Linking up of steel on G.T.P. Transcontinental 1914."

Completion of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Image B-00326 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

1914

Completion of the Panama Canal

The completion of the canal shortens the steamship route from Vancouver to Liverpool by over 9000 km or 23 days.

Black and white photograph of a construction site with five railway tracks going through it.

The excavation and removal of dirt at the Culebra Cut, during the construction Panama Canal in 1907.

Black and white photograph of a construction site with five railway tracks going through it.

The excavation and removal of dirt at the Culebra Cut, during the construction Panama Canal in 1907.

1917

Peak of the canning industry

The summer of 1917 marks the peak of the salmon canning industry in BC with 84 canneries in operation.

Cans are stacked to the rafters inside a wooden building.

Cannery can loft stacked with thousands of cans waiting to be filled with salmon. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2002.003.001aa

Cans are stacked to the rafters inside a wooden building.

Cannery can loft stacked with thousands of cans waiting to be filled with salmon. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2002.003.001aa

1918

Steveston Fire

In 1918 a fire burns much of Steveston village from No 1 Road to No. 3 Road. The fire destroys three canneries, several residences and hotels, and good part of the retail district.

Expanse of burnt pilings stretch along the waterfront with cannery buildings in the background.

Charred pilings of the Lighthouse, Steveston and Star Canneries after the fire of 1918, with the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in the background. Image 1971-1-242 courtesy City of Richmond Archives

Expanse of burnt pilings stretch along the waterfront with cannery buildings in the background.

Charred pilings of the Lighthouse, Steveston and Star Canneries after the fire of 1918, with the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in the background. Image 1971-1-242 courtesy City of Richmond Archives

1920-1950

Modernization

The canning industry underwent several changes between 1920 and 1950. The canning process became more streamlined and efficient. New technologies, such as refrigeration and the power gillnet drum were introduced. Companies diversified their activities to keep their workers employed through the tough economic times of the Great Depression.

The Second World War briefly revitalized the industry by providing an important market for canned salmon. But the effect was short-lived. The demand for canned fish fell after the end of the war marking the beginning of the steady decline of the industry.

Women clean fish at cleaning tables. Several of the women are looking at the camera and smiling.

Women cleaning fish at the Imperial Cannery. 1943 Image CVA-586-977 courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives.

Women clean fish at cleaning tables. Several of the women are looking at the camera and smiling.

Women cleaning fish at the Imperial Cannery. 1943 Image CVA-586-977 courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives.

1929

The Great Depression

The Great Depression results in the closure of many fish plants reducing the numbers of canneries from 63 in 1929 to 35 in 1931.

A large open room is filled with nets both hanging and piled on the floor.

The net loft at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. 1948. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Collection courtesy of the Canadian Fishing Company CFC 3-8-2

A large open room is filled with nets both hanging and piled on the floor.

The net loft at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. 1948. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Collection courtesy of the Canadian Fishing Company CFC 3-8-2

1931

The power gillnet drum is invented

Laurie Jarvelainen, a Finnish immigrant to BC, invents the first powered drum to haul in gillnets. Along with the gas-powered boats, the gillnet drum means that fishermen can fish faster and in areas they had not fished previously.

Man on gillnet boat removing salmon from his net.

Fisherman removing salmon from a gillnet after it has been wrapped on the drum. The net was wrapped on the drum at the end of a fishery to comply with regulations to have nets out of the water by a certain time, 1950s. Image 2001-9934-009-0184 courtesy of the City of Richmond Archives.

Man on gillnet boat removing salmon from his net.

Fisherman removing salmon from a gillnet after it has been wrapped on the drum. The net was wrapped on the drum at the end of a fishery to comply with regulations to have nets out of the water by a certain time, 1950s. Image 2001-9934-009-0184 courtesy of the City of Richmond Archives.

1937

The Pacific Salmon Treaty is ratified

The first formal salmon agreement between Canada and the United States is a convention for the protection, preservation and extension of the sockeye salmon fishery of the Fraser River system signed in 1930 and ratified in 1937.

Black and white photograph of seven men sitting around a long table.

The original members of the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission. From left to right: Edward W. Allen, William A. Found, A. J. Whitmore, B. M. Brennan, T. Reid, A. L. Hager, Charles E. Jackson. Image courtesy of Pacific Salmon Commission

Black and white photograph of seven men sitting around a long table.

The original members of the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission. From left to right: Edward W. Allen, William A. Found, A. J. Whitmore, B. M. Brennan, T. Reid, A. L. Hager, Charles E. Jackson. Image courtesy of Pacific Salmon Commission

1939
Label features boats projecting beams of light, with a salmon jumping in the foreground.

This label was created by the Canadian Fishing Co. during the Second World War to show solidarity with the war effort. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives.

Label features boats projecting beams of light, with a salmon jumping in the foreground.

This label was created by the Canadian Fishing Co. during the Second World War to show solidarity with the war effort. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives.

The Second World War

From 1939-1945 the industry grows to fill the demand for canned fish by Allied soldiers and civilians.

Learn Moreabout The Second World War
1940

The collapsed can is introduced

Collapsed cans are shipped flat and shaped at the canneries, resulting in a reduction in shipping costs and storage space.

closeup view of a stack of flat cans

A stack of collapsed cans at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site

closeup view of a stack of flat cans

A stack of collapsed cans at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site

1942
Confiscated Japanese-Canadian fishing boats on the Fraser River.

These Japanese-Canadian fishing boats at Annieville dike on the Fraser River are only a fraction of those seized in 1942. Image C-07293 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

Confiscated Japanese-Canadian fishing boats on the Fraser River.

These Japanese-Canadian fishing boats at Annieville dike on the Fraser River are only a fraction of those seized in 1942. Image C-07293 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

Japanese Internment

People of Japanese ancestry are ordered removed from the coast.

Learn Moreabout Japanese Internment
1943

Sammy Gold Seal is introduced

While many men are away at war, the Canadian Fishing Company begins marketing directly to children. The company commissions Walt Disney Studios to create a set of cartoon characters including Sammy Gold Seal. Sammy Gold Seal and his friends have adventures in this and other similar comic books in the 1950s that are distribted to schools.

Colourful comic book image features cartoon animals being threatened with a revolver.

The Silver Treasure comic book cover. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives.

Colourful comic book image features cartoon animals being threatened with a revolver.

The Silver Treasure comic book cover. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives.

1945
17 colourful pins, arranged by year from 1974-1995.

UFAWU Pins issued yearly with the union membership renewals Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives.

17 colourful pins, arranged by year from 1974-1995.

UFAWU Pins issued yearly with the union membership renewals Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives.

United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union is formed

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union is formed in 1945. The union helps bring about significant workplace changes.

Learn Moreabout United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union is formed
1945

Fish ladders are built at Hells Gate

Cement ladders are built to make it easier for salmon to pass the narrowest section of the Fraser River. The ladders reduce the speed of the current within the structures making it easier for spawning salmon to reach their spawning grounds.

two men with are working on the platform of a fish ladder

Construction of fish ladder at Hells Gate. City of Richmond Archives 2001-34-9-672

two men with are working on the platform of a fish ladder

Construction of fish ladder at Hells Gate. City of Richmond Archives 2001-34-9-672

1950-2017

The Modern Era

In the past 60 years, the salmon canning industry in BC has declined on many fronts including consumer demand, fish stocks, and number of operating fish canneries. However, commercial fishing and fish processing continues to play an important role in the economy.

In 1976, the Federal Government declared the Gulf of Georgia Cannery a National Historic Site, preserving the important history of the west coast fishing and canning industries for future generations.

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery with a seine boat at the dock. The boat's name, Viking Pride, is on the stern. The buildings at the cannery have Canadian Fishing Co. and Gulf of Georgia Cannery painted on them.

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery and neighbouring Canadian Fishing Company seine loft. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2009.024.001t

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery with a seine boat at the dock. The boat's name, Viking Pride, is on the stern. The buildings at the cannery have Canadian Fishing Co. and Gulf of Georgia Cannery painted on them.

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery and neighbouring Canadian Fishing Company seine loft. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2009.024.001t

1951

Rockslide at Babine Channel

Already in decline, the canneries on the Skeena River are impacted when a natural rockslide blocks the Babine River in 1951. The rockslide is discovered too late to clear before the arrival of the Sockeye salmon on this important tributary to the Skeena River. An estimated two-thirds of the year's sockeye runs are lost.

Photo taken from a plane showing the path of Babine Channel cutting through treed landscape with a rockslide visible on the left side of the river.

Aerial view of Babine slide, 1951. Image 199003-004 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

Photo taken from a plane showing the path of Babine Channel cutting through treed landscape with a rockslide visible on the left side of the river.

Aerial view of Babine slide, 1951. Image 199003-004 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

1953

Tripartite agreement signed

An agreement is forged between Japan, the United States, and Canada to manage Pacific Salmon fish stocks in their respective countries.

Newspaper clipping with image of the Tripartite Agreement negotiations. Headline reads "After dinner at Canada's Legation in Tokyo," with the caption "Left to right, the Hon. R. W. Mayhew, Prime Minister Yoshida of Japan, William Herrington, head of the United States delegation, and Sadao Iguchi, member of the Japanese delegation and Vice-minister for Foreign Affairs."

Newspaper clipping showing government officials from Japan, Canada and the U.S.A. negotiating the Tripartite agreement in 1953. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives (from the Fisherman Newspaper).

Newspaper clipping with image of the Tripartite Agreement negotiations. Headline reads "After dinner at Canada's Legation in Tokyo," with the caption "Left to right, the Hon. R. W. Mayhew, Prime Minister Yoshida of Japan, William Herrington, head of the United States delegation, and Sadao Iguchi, member of the Japanese delegation and Vice-minister for Foreign Affairs."

Newspaper clipping showing government officials from Japan, Canada and the U.S.A. negotiating the Tripartite agreement in 1953. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives (from the Fisherman Newspaper).

1954

First artificial salmon spawning channel built

The International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission conducts studies of fish spawning success rates at its Quesnel Field Station in the early 1950’s. The Canadian Department of Fisheries builds the first artificial spawning channel in 1954 at Jones Creek for pink salmon. Five sockeye spawning channels are built between 1963 and 1973 at Pitt River, Seton Creek, Weaver Creek, Gates Creek and the Nadina River.

An artificial channel winds back and forth to increase spawning area

Weaver Creek spawning channel, PSF.org

An artificial channel winds back and forth to increase spawning area

Weaver Creek spawning channel, PSF.org

1954

Companies consolidate

During the 1950s the larger companies consolidate their resources, shutting down plants considered non-essential. Only 20 fish canneries are operating in B.C. in 1954.

Infographic chart showing many smaller cannery companies merging into BC Packers

BC Packers was one of the largest canning companies after acquiring many smaller canneries in the 1940s and 1950s. Information courtesy of North Pacific Cannery

Infographic chart showing many smaller cannery companies merging into BC Packers

BC Packers was one of the largest canning companies after acquiring many smaller canneries in the 1940s and 1950s. Information courtesy of North Pacific Cannery

1959

Union-wide strike

In 1959 all fishing and cannery worker unions agree to strike. No one in the industry works from July 26th - August 9th during the time the salmon runs are highest. The workers negotiate a two-year deal with a pay increase.

Portion of a newspaper article with the title "Salmon with a Strike Relief Label" and a photo of male workers in a cannery

The Tulloch-Western cannery on the Vancouver waterfront canned as an independent company during the 1959 UFAWU strike, and sold the cans in support of the strike efforts. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives (the Fisherman Newspaper)

Portion of a newspaper article with the title "Salmon with a Strike Relief Label" and a photo of male workers in a cannery

The Tulloch-Western cannery on the Vancouver waterfront canned as an independent company during the 1959 UFAWU strike, and sold the cans in support of the strike efforts. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives (the Fisherman Newspaper)

1968

Number of canneries in Northern BC declines

By 1968 only four canneries remain on the Skeena River. Most others have closed due to lack of investment or fires. The remaining canneries are Port Edward, Cassiar, Sunnyside, and North Pacific.

Aerial view of cannery buildings and dockyard.

Port Edward Cannery. Image 2001 34 3 359 courtesy of the City of Richmond Archives.

Aerial view of cannery buildings and dockyard.

Port Edward Cannery. Image 2001 34 3 359 courtesy of the City of Richmond Archives.

1970

Cannery closures

The demand for canned fish decreases as the popularity of frozen fish increases. More canneries are forced to close. Some are re-purposed to process fresh or frozen fish.

Blue label with yellow Angler brand name.

Frozen fish label for The Canadian Fishing Company's Angler Brand products. The image of the fisherman leaning off the shore to catch the salmon in his net implies local, high quality fish. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2001.039.009

Blue label with yellow Angler brand name.

Frozen fish label for The Canadian Fishing Company’s Angler Brand products. The image of the fisherman leaning off the shore to catch the salmon in his net implies local, high quality fish. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2001.039.009

1976
Statues are of a net mender sitting on a bench and two standing workers facing him. Gulf of Georgia Cannery is in the background.

Three bronze figures of cannery workers in front of the Gulf of Georgia facade. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2010.031.005

Statues are of a net mender sitting on a bench and two standing workers facing him. Gulf of Georgia Cannery is in the background.

Three bronze figures of cannery workers in front of the Gulf of Georgia facade. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2010.031.005

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery becomes a National Historic Site

Built in 1894, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery now serves as a museum to share the importance of the west coast fishing and canning industries.

Learn Moreabout The Gulf of Georgia Cannery becomes a National Historic Site
1985

Pacific Salmon Treaty is ratified

In 1985, Canada and the United States sign the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The agreement provides a framework for the two countries to work together to manage Pacific salmon. It outlines ways to share the resource, prevent over-fishing, and ensure that both countries profit from the industry. The Pacific Salmon Treaty is the first comprehensive treaty between Canada and the United States that includes all 5 species of pacific salmon. The treaty establishes a Pacific Salmon Commission. The commission is made up of members from both Canada and the US and continues to be an important way for the two countries to communicate and cooperate.

Pacific Salmon Commission logo featuring a salmon and the coastline of North America

Pacific Salmon Commission logo

Pacific Salmon Commission logo featuring a salmon and the coastline of North America

Pacific Salmon Commission logo

1985

North Pacific Cannery is designated a National Historic Site

Established in 1889, the North Pacific Cannery cans salmon for almost 90 years. When it closes its doors in 1981, a group of local community members and historians save this unique piece of history from demolition. It is declared a National Historic Site in 1985, and today it is a museum.

Boardwalk and row of small cannery housing buildings.

North Pacific Cannery buildings, 2016. Image courtesy of the Georgia Cannery Society Archives

Boardwalk and row of small cannery housing buildings.

North Pacific Cannery buildings, 2016. Image courtesy of the Georgia Cannery Society Archives

1996

Imperial Plant closes

In 1996 Imperial Plant closes its doors, putting and end to a century-long history of salmon canning in Steveston, BC.

Aerial view of cannery complex.

Imperial Plant, Steveston, BC, 1980s, Image 2001-34-9-103 courtesy of City of Richmond Archives.

Aerial view of cannery complex.

Imperial Plant, Steveston, BC, 1980s, Image 2001-34-9-103 courtesy of City of Richmond Archives.

2015

The last industrial cannery in BC closes

Oceanside, owned and operated by Canfisco, ends its canning operations to focus on fresh and frozen fish products.

Several workers at stainless steel fish washing sinks wearing hair nets and hats, and rubber gloves and aprons.

Workers clean fish at the Oceanside Cannery in Prince Rupert in 2007. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2009.029.016

Several workers at stainless steel fish washing sinks wearing hair nets and hats, and rubber gloves and aprons.

Workers clean fish at the Oceanside Cannery in Prince Rupert in 2007. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives G2009.029.016

2016

The present and the future of the industry

Commercial fishing and fish processing remain important economic activities in British Columbia but industrial scale salmon canning no longer occurs in BC. The one remaining fish cannery in BC, St. Jean’s on Vancouver Island, operates on a much smaller scale than the large fish plants of the past. Fish processing companies that have survived the decline of salmon canning industry have diversified their products to include a variety of fresh, frozen, and value-added options for consumers. As we have seen since its inception, British Columbia’s commercial fishing industry will continue to respond to changing conditions and markets in years to come.

Two seine boats travelling at sunset with many seagulls around them.

"Buddy Boats" by Angus Straight. 2016 Fishing the West Coast Photography Contest Collection, image G2017.001.007 Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives.

Two seine boats travelling at sunset with many seagulls around them.

“Buddy Boats” by Angus Straight. 2016 Fishing the West Coast Photography Contest Collection, image G2017.001.007 Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives.