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Published: July 28th 2012
The North Pacific Cannery
Arriving at the site of one of the few remaining coastal canneries in the Pacific area, I was surprised how well preserved this place was.
Rain. Rain. More rain. Prince Rupert lived up to its reputation as being the rainiest place on earth. And it is going to have to be in terms of number of days raining because the place that gets the most rain is in India and it is 23 meters or something ridiculous like that. But it apparently rains 300 or so days a year in Prince Rupert. And it was raining when I arrived on the ferry. And it was raining when I woke up the next morning in the hostel. The Black Rooster Hostel is an excellent place, by the way.
I decided to check out the North Coast Cannery, a national historic site. I expected it to be a ruined little place with maybe a few buildings that were rotting away, on the site of an old salmon cannery. What I got instead was a well-maintained site with 30 or 40 buildings that have been cared for and mostly restored, a bunch of guides to show us around the machinery and a really good tour.
I headed out towards Port Edward, a small village about 20 kilometers from Prince Rupert. Then I went
Inside the cannery, they are slowly restoring and refurbishing the various pieces of machinery that took whole fish and processed them to where they were canned fish.
past Port Edward and down an increasingly narrow and somewhat iffy paved road along the river. It was pouring rain and, except for the occasional distance markers suggesting that I was on the right track, I really wasn't sure I was heading in the right direction. But I ended up at the cannery. It was quite a sight.
I went in and paid my fee. The cannery is listed as a national historic site, but apparently the federal government won't kick in any funding for the place beyond the occasional grant. They told me they mostly scrape by with donations from concerned locals. Three of us arrived as the same time, but there was a tour in progress already, so we were asked to wait a bit for the next one to begin. In the meantime we could watch an old archival film produced by the BC fisheries ministry. It was produced in the 1950's sometime and it was hysterical. It was like an old newsreel news story, combined with a 1950's nature documentary. I was very entertained.
Then we got on a tour and were shown all the equipment that was used in
More of the canning machinery. It was amazing to think how ingenious the people who ran these places were. They invented better ways to put fish in cans, that could do it faster, and with less people.
the salmon canning process. They showed us the original machinery, that was very labour intensive, and then the innovations that came along that would eventually put many people out of work as the process got more efficient. There was one cringe-inducing moment though. One piece of equipment came along for the cleaning and gutting of fish. It could take the heads and tails off, slice them down the middle, strip out the innards and then set it on a conveyor to be sliced up and put into cans. Before this machine came along, it was mostly Chinese workers who did that job. The machine could do the same amount of work as about 30 or the Chinese workers. The workers were put out of a job and the machine was called, The Iron Chink.
Aside from these little cringes though, the innovations that made the process more efficient were absolutely genius. There were some smart people living on the coast a hundred years ago. They were the ones who worked these machines out and made the a reality.
After we were shown the working of the factory part, we were taken out to see
It may not have been the first assembly line in existence, but it was every bit as complicated and sophisticated.
the rest of the camp. There were net making areas, and repair areas. There were housing areas for the various groups, from the Chinese fish workers, to the Japanese net workers and fishermen, to the Aboriginal workers, and the Europeans. The different didn't mingle too much, except for the children. Children are always the ones who show us adults how to really behave. If only we would learn. But they all played together.
There were stores and supply shops. There was a mess hall and an office. It was a massive operation, all the more impressive for the fact that when the camp was first going, there was no road, and no railroad. The only way in was by sea. And the whole place ran for the salmon season, every year.
From the cannery, I headed back towards town. I stopped at a nature park called Butze Falls. Prince Rupert has a river running by or through it to the sea. It's called the Skeena River. Naturally, the river is tidal around the coast, and will change directions depending on whether the tide is coming in or going out. At Butze Falls, there is
This was the station where fish was put in the can. This was a manual station and mainly First Nations women worked it.
a bit of a rise of rock. When the tide reverses, the water changes directions in the river and rushes over this rocky area. It creates a rapids area where the direction of the water flow is very apparent. It would take six hours or so to get a true sense of how impressive it is. I didn't take that kind of time. I had to let my imagination tell me how impressive it would have been. The view point was fairly impressive nevertheless.
After my walk in the forest along the river was through, I headed back to the hostel, intending to get up the next day and go out to Haida Gwaii for a few days to experience what is supposed to an amazing environment. But I checked in my email, and read that my grandmother has passed away. I have decided to get myself into a position to be able to attend a funeral or memorial, which could be in the next few days. The time taken on Haida Gwaii would likely not allow me to do that easily, so I will have to leave that for another time.
This machine put the tops on the cans. It had to work perfectly, otherwise the fish could get contaminated and cause food poisoning.
I'll miss you.
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