Visit North Pacific Cannery - the Oldest Intact Salmon Cannery on the West Coast
Excerpt from the North Pacific Cannery Website...
Background of the West Coast Fishery
Salmon canning has been an important economic force on the West Coast since the mid to late 19th century. Enterprising individuals built salmon canneries along the coast, numbering over 200 in the industry’s heyday. These canneries were built to exploit the untapped resources of the huge salmon runs on the west coast rivers, and were a powerful force that shaped the history of the coast. On the more isolated northern salmon rivers, canneries were built as self sustaining entities with employee housing, and all of the supplementary activities that enabled the cannery to make a profit for its owners. Salmon canning was an important stimulus to economic development of the Coast, as it provided jobs as well as a market for goods, and the justification to build infrastructure such as roads and railways.
North Coast Canneries
Salmon canning on the North Coast developed along different lines than those in the south. One of the most important differences was the physical isolation. On the Skeena and Nass Rivers, canneries had to be built near the fishing grounds. This was for two primary reasons. The first is that prior to the advent of refrigerated boats, the catch had to be transported and processed with the utmost speed to prevent spoilage. The second reason was to take advantage of the nearby First Nations villages and their millennia of fishing expertise.
The Longest Running Cannery in BC History
North Pacific Cannery’s history is unique and is comparable to few if any of the other canneries on the west coast of North America. North Pacific Canning Company was formed on November 28, 1888 by Angus Rutherford Johnston, John Alexander Carthew, and Alexander Gilmore McCandless. In 1889, the trustees received a crown grant for 183 acres of land at a cost of $32 and the plant was constructed. It had almost 90 years continuous salmon production and fish processing until ending in the late 1970s.
By 1891, John Alexander Carthew sold the plant to Henry Ogle Bell-Irving and the The Anglo-British Columbia Packing Company, which was founded the previous year. Bell-Irving recognizing the advantages in of consolidation of canning operations and went to England to raise the required capital, and on December 22, 1890 formed the ABC Packing Company to acquire and operate the canneries. He began securing options on several British Columbia fish canneries in the fall of 1890, NPC being one of them. In 1891, the company accounted for more than one quarter of British Columbia’s total salmon pack, and was the foremost packer of sockeye salmon in the world.
ABC Packers owned and operated North Pacific Cannery until 1968, when the company was folded and its assets sold off. The history of NPC is also unique because of its almost continuous ownership by a single firm for over 76 years; this is remarkable in an industry marked by acquisitions, mergers, bankruptcies and restructuring. North Pacific was purchased by Canfisco of Vancouver BC in 1968.
Technology & Labour
In the early days, all of the labour was done by hand, from netting the salmon to cleaning and butchering, to can-making, to canning. As the 20th century progressed, advances in canning technology would be introduced to save time and work. Early examples of cannery technology at North Pacific include the gang knife and the can soldering machine. As technology changed, so did the appearance of the Cannery. Mechanization of the canning process made the Chinese tinsmiths’ jobs obsolete, followed by those of the butchers as the Iron Butcher grew in popularity. These machines greatly increased the efficiency of production and saved a good deal of hard labour. This made the Cannery more profitable, but of course resulted in the loss of many jobs.
Infrastructure technology also had a huge impact on the Inverness Passage canneries. After the railway was put through in 1914, the canneries on the Slough side of the passage profited from their easy rail access, while those on the other side quickly foundered due to the increased costs of transporting their products across the Passage.
Workforce & Ethnicity
In these isolated locales, accessible only by boat or rail, there was a need for staff housing to provide lodging for the workers, who would live on site through the canning season. At most of these canneries, labour was divided according to race and culture, with Japanese fishing and net mending, First Nations fishing and working on the cannery line, Chinese on the cannery line and cooking, and Europeans fishing and managing. This multicultural but segregated arrangement is characteristic of the early north coast canneries. North Pacific has much of its village intact, although all of the First Nations and Chinese houses, as well as most of the Japanese buildings, have been lost through obsolescence and neglect.
For more information about hours of operation, tour prices, etc. visit their website at www.northpacificcannery.ca