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Metlakatla Cannery

Many wooden canoes are pulled up onto a long curving beach with buildings in the background.

Dugout canoes line the beach at the Metlakatla village. The Metlakatla Cannery and other industrial buildings are in the background. Image B-03571 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

The Metlakatla Cannery is an example of how B.C.'s canning industry impacted Indigenous communities.


54°20’14.7″N 130°26’23.1″W

Prior to the Indian Act of 1876, Indigenous governance determined fishing rights for Indigenous people along the coast. The introduction of the Indian Act transferred ownership of land and resources to the Crown. This law favoured the entrepreneurs and religious authorities who moved into remote areas to build and operate canneries and establish missions.

Metlakalta Cannery was built in 1882 by Reverend William Duncan, of the Church Missionary Society, on the site occupied for many years by the Metlakatla people. The community included the largest church north of San Francisco, a sawmill, tannery, printing shop, and soap and textile factories. Excluding management positions, the cannery was run entirely by First Nations people on a cooperative basis.  The cannery only operated for four years.

In 1887, after years of conflict with the local Anglican Bishop William Ridley, Duncan decided to move the cannery north to Annette Island in Alaska. Several hundred Tshimisan people followed Duncan north. They dismantled the cannery and took it with them. The cannery only operated for a few more years at its new location before it burned down in 1901.

Photographic portrait of the Reverend William Duncan. Text at the bottom of the image reads: "Rev. Wm. Duncan, Founder of the Native Mission: Metlakatla, Alaska."

Reverend William Duncan was instrumental in both the opening and the closure of the cannery at Metlakatla, B.C.. Image A-01489 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives