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The Second World War

Label features boats projecting beams of light, with a salmon jumping in the foreground.

This label was created by the Canadian Fishing Co. during the Second World War to show solidarity with the war effort. Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society Archives.

Fish canning in British Columbia had been in decline since 1930. Wartime demands revived the industry. Canned salmon and herring was in high demand because it provided an inexpensive, ready to eat, high protein food that was easily transported and stored. During the Second World War, 80% of B.C.’s canned salmon pack was sent to England for Allied soldiers and civilians.

“War has brought to us in the salmon canning industry new and largely increased responsibilities, since our product – esteemed by military leaders as a food of outstanding importance—is needed in maximum quantities for our armed forces, our allies, and our civilian populations.

– Victor H. Elfendahl, President, Association of Pacific Fisheries

Thirty-five canneries in British Columbia packed 2,240,746 cases of salmon during 1941. Two thirds of this record-breaking pack was shipped to Britain to feed the Allied forces and civilians. In 1942, Britain received B.C.’s entire canned salmon pack.

More women find employment in canneries to fill positions vacated by men serving overseas. Factory work was promoted as a patriotic way for women to contribute. Many women were equally attracted to the skills training and income it provided, allowing them to support themselves or their families in the absence of husbands, fathers, or brothers.

Fish canneries had always employed women to clean fish and pack cans. During wartime, women had more access to roles that had traditionally been held by men, including butchering fish and operating machinery.