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The Steveston Strike

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

The Steveston Strike marks a turning point in BC’s fishing industry. Lasting almost a month, the strike unites European, Indigenous and Japanese fishers. It starts the movement towards unionization and the establishment of season-long minimum pricing.

In 1900 BC cannery owners form the Fraser River Canners Association to collectively negotiate with fishermen and workers to set the price of fish. That year, the Canners offer 15 cents per fish for the season, down from the 20 cents per fish paid the previous year. Indigenous, Japanese, and European fishermen find common ground by rejecting this price. They join together and call a general strike for all 47 canneries on the Lower Fraser on July 8, 1900 during the height of the canning season.

Fearing eviction from their cannery housing, Japanese fishermen agree to a settlement of 20 cents per fish on July 23. To protect them from other strikers who are holding out for 25 cents, cannery owners call in the militia. A regiment, quickly dubbed the Sockeye Fusiliers, sets up in Steveston.

The strike continues until July 31, 1900, when the canners and fishermen settle on a fixed price of 19 cents per fish for the entire season. This compromise is largely a result of the positions taken by the Japanese and Indigenous fishermen. The agreement is reached partly because the Japanese fishermen decide against strike breaking and hang up their nets and the Aboriginal chiefs threaten to return home if a settlement is not reached.

The strike of 1900 ends the preferential treatment canneries show toward some fishermen and begins the movement towards unionization.

Soldiers stand together in front of tents on a grassy field. A building is in the background with Malcolm and Windsor Ltd. in large letters on the roof.

Soldiers pose behind the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Steveston. Image AM54-S4-: Mil P39 courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives.