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Years ago I visited the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Steveston village as a part of my elementary school education. I vividly remember the horrible stench inside and I couldn’t wait to get out and breathe some fresh air. It’s the only memory I have of my visit. Not the best one to remember! Since then I’ve wandered past the cannery many times whenever I’m in Steveston and was always curious as to what exactly was inside.
With Open Richmond, the Cannery was opening its doors to the public to tour by donation so I decided to go check it out and see what was within its walls.
Steveston started as a fishing village and at its centre was the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, the largest cannery among more than 15 others in the area. The cannery was built in 1894 and was the largest until 1902. In the height of its operations, the cannery was the leading producer of canned salmon in British Columbia. In 1897, it packed more than 2.5 million cans of salmon! Mmm, who wants some salmon?
Salmon processing ended in the 1930s with the advent of modern machinery and processes. As the world headed into World War II, herring became hailed as a great source for protein for soldiers overseas and the focus switched towards herring processing. Herring reducing became the cannery’s predominant activity in the late 1940s until the cannery closed its doors in 1979. The cost of maintaining the aging machinery was simply too high. The building was eventually purchased by the federal government and turned into a museum. Today it is a National Historic Site of Canada.
Inside you can experience what it would be like to work on the line of a salmon processing company. The interactive display demonstrates the process of salmon canning. While you can wander the exhibits yourself, the best thing to do is join a guided tour which occur every hour on the hour.
I had just missed the start of a tour, but ended up running into it during my explorations. I listened in for a little while. The guide was able to make the processing line come to life much better than the descriptive panels.
Checking out how they did their canning was really fascinating, especially as I work with a food manufacturer. It’s interesting how food safety and machinery has evolved!
Those who worked at the cannery were a diverse group with First Nations, Chinese, Japanese and individuals of European descent working together. Displays talk about what life was like on the line and what different ethnic groups were faced with when working in a foreign land. Combined with a visit to the nearby Britannia Shipyard and you get a very comprehensive understanding of day to day life.
On the other side of the building you can explore the herring reduction plant. Here you see how herring was transformed into fish oil and fish meal. By this time I was getting really tired and ended up walking through this area quickly so I’m not too clear on the whole process.
You can also watch the short film Journey Through Time in the Boiler House Theatre which serves as a great introduction to the cannery and its exhibits.
I have no claims to being interested in fishing or in canning food either. Regardless, a wander through the cannery is a wander through an important part of history. It is what makes Steveston what it is. I normally think of Richmond as not having too much interesting history, and a visit to the cannery dispels that theory easily.
Gulf of Georgia Cannery
12138 Fourth Avenue, Richmond, BC
Open Daily: 10 am to 5 pm
Admission: Adult $7.50; Youth $3.50 (6-16yrs).
Would this be something you’d be interested in visiting? Do you like fishing?