The first salmon canneries on the B.C. coast were established in the early 1870s on the Fraser River near New Westminster. The industry quickly spread toward the mouth of the Fraser River. The main product was Sockeye salmon, and by the 1880s, canneries were built on other rivers with large Sockeye salmon runs including Rivers Inlet on the central coast and the Nass and Skeena Rivers to the north.
The industry grew quickly from the 1870s to the 1890s. By 1901, 76 salmon canneries were operating on the B.C. coast. During the next few years many independently owned canneries were amalgamated and subsequently closed by larger companies.
In 1911, the industry began canning five species of Pacific salmon. Canneries were built in new areas of the coast including Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island, and the Central Coast near Pink, Chinook, Coho and Chum salmon bearing streams.
The first and second world wars created an increased demand for canned fish. The industry peaked with 94 canneries in operation in 1917.
The Great Depression in the 1930s caused a decline, as did the invention of refrigeration, which created a new market for fresh and frozen fish and reduced the demand for canned salmon.
After an increase in demand caused by the Second World War, the industry began a slow decline in the 1950s that saw companies consolidate their holdings and reduce the number of fish plants operating along the coast.
The last large industrial cannery in B.C., Oceanside, located in Prince Rupert, closed its doors in 2015. Fish processing for fresh and value-added products continues in B.C. The only remaining commercial fish cannery in B.C., St. Jean’s, is a small boutique cannery located in Nanaimo.