The Last Cannery Standing

The British Columbia coastline once pulsed with action around salmon canneries. Today, guided by Indigenous leadership, only one cannery processing wild salmon remains. Hakai Magazine, August 14, 2018.

“The stench of fish offal and the screams of gulls: a century ago, the presence of a cannery on the British Columbia coast was unmistakable, even with your eyes closed. Open them and you saw gulls and eagles circling and diving to pluck discarded fish heads and entrails from the ocean around the wooden buildings perched on pilings. A steady parade of fishing boats navigated the bloodied water to pull alongside the cannery and offload their catches. Inside, an ankle-deep layer of slippery salmon awaiting butcher knives covered the gut shed’s plank floor, and the production line operated at a dizzying pace as ranks of workers scaled, washed, and chopped up the salmon, before sealing it in tin cans.

“British Columbia’s salmon runs seemed infinite in those days, and businessmen determined to profit from this bounty by turning it into a commodity that could be shipped worldwide staked out their ground along the coast. In 1918, shortly before the industry began to consolidate, the number of canneries peaked at 80. Now, 100 years later, only a single commercial cannery dedicated to processing wild British Columbia fish remains on Canada’s west coast. Far from being an archaic relic, St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse is at the forefront of a new era in the province’s fishing industry—an era in which First Nations communities are regaining control of the marine resources that have sustained them for tens of thousands of years.”

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“The Last Cannery Standing” was also featured on the Great Canadian Longform website.

The writer at work (© Frances Backhouse).