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Social Change


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.


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

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

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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

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

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

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

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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

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)