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Cunningham Cannery | Skeena

Four men stand in front of five open, empty retorts.

Retorts at the Cunningham Cannery. Prince Rupert City & Regional Archives & Museum of Northern BC, Wrathall Collection, WP996-69-11052

Robert Cunningham built a canning facility in his name in 1883 which was considered ahead of its time.


54°09’35.3″N 129°58’04.3″W

Robert Cunningham opened a trading post at Port Essington issued his own currency – “Cunningham dollars” – stamped out of brass or bronze which became the medium of exchange between Port Essington and nearby Hazelton. This was not an uncommon practice in more remote areas of the province where there was often a shortage of official government currency.  

In 1883 Robert Cunningham built a salmon cannery at Port Essington starting with forty gillnet boats and two hundred and twenty-five cannery employees. Cunningham added a cold storage and freezing plant in 1892. The freezing plant was considered ahead of its time and ultimately the venture failed because the markets hadn’t yet been established for frozen product.  

BC Packers Association purchased the site in 1902 but in 1904 the property transfer was found to be incomplete and it was not made official until 1907.  

In 1923 the cannery was managed by M.K. Dickinson. The machinery on the site consisted of an iron butcher and gang knives, clincher, exhaust box, double seamer, and four retorts. There was housing for the manager and cottages for employees with separate Japanese dwellings and a Chinese bunkhouse. The cannery remained operational until 1926. In 1937 the property was abandoned and ultimately sold for taxes.  

View of the village of Port Essington from above. Commercial buildings are visible along the waterfront.

The village of Port Essington on the shore of the Skeena River in the early twentieth century. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives 1997.017.017