Had two visits to Steveston this week to check out its fishing industry heritage. What an interesting place. Starting in the 1870s and up to the 1990s, there were many salmon canning plants in this still active fishing village at the mouth of the Fraser River, at one time as many as 45 canneries! The history of these plants and the people who worked in them can be explored at two National Historic sites — the Gulf of Georgia Cannery and the Britannia Shipyards.
At the cannery museum, you are taken through the industrial history of the plant as both a salmon canning operation and then as a herring cannery. Most of the machinery used for processing the herring still remains in the building and we took a tour in which our guide explained how the machines were used at each stage. She also explained how smelly the village was from the steam released into the air from cooking the herring. Yech. There are several exhibits showing aspects of salmon fishing and processing and tours are available for these areas also.
Our second visit took us to the other end of the village, where many small communities grew around the work of boatbuilding, fishing and canning. Buildings were constructed on stilts over the water or along its edge and connected by boardwalks. There was a great deal of immigrant labour used at the sites, and they were housed in close quarters nearby to where they worked. In the bunkhouse for Chinese workers, up to 100 men could be squeezed into the sleeping quarters, consisting of triple level bunkbeds that hardly looked big enough for a child.
Steveston is still active as a fishing village where you can buy fresh seafood from the wharf. It is also a busy spot for out of towners who come to dine, stroll, and shop along the water’s edge. But it is certainly worth the effort of seeking out the historical sites, which are not right in the heart of the ”tourist” area.