Background of the West Coast Fishery

Salmon canning has been a very 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.