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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 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.


First commercial salmon cannery opens in BC

The first commercial salmon cannery in BC, Annieville Cannery, was built by Alexander Loggie, David Hennessy, Alexander Ewen, 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 Annieville Cannery near New Westminster, 1887. William McFarlane Notman, Image  VIEW-1781 courtesy of McCord Museum.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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

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

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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

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


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.


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