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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.

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


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.

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.

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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

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.


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.


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 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

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Invention of the Smith Butchering Machine

The Smith Butchering Machine revolutionizes the salmon canning industry.

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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.


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.


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