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Member stories

Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society

Member since 1985

Indomitable cannery in Steveston fishing boom becomes historic site

More than 100 years ago, a long line of canneries lined the waterfront of Steveston, a small fishing village in BC. Today, one building remains: the Gulf of Georgia Cannery.

Built in 1894, the cannery operated for 85 years. Over that time it operated as a salmon cannery, a raw fish depot, and a herring cannery and reduction facility as well as offered net repair services for fishermen.1 Up until 1902, the facility was known as the “Monster Cannery” and was a leading producer of canned salmon among 15 canneries that occupied cannery row on the Steveston waterfront.

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery employed thousands of people in the area who worked tirelessly, scaling, washing and chopping fish. Workers processed 2.5 million pounds of salmon per year at the peak of production at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery.

At one point, there were 400 people working in the facility, which offered no protection from heat in the sweltering summer or the cold draft coming from the Fraser River surging under its floor boards.

The Steveston community is deeply connected to its fishing history and the fishing and canning industry that once flourished in Steveston.

The salmon fishing boom in the 1890s had led many companies to invest in the area, building canneries and packing houses, and employing local residents. It was the Steveston community that took action to protect the future of the building in 1976, before it closed production three years later. They brought it to the attention of Parks Canada, which purchased the building and land, making it a designated National Historic Site.

Over the years 1985 to 1986, members of the Steveston community organized, gathered support and worked together to form the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society, an independent, non-profit organization and registered charity. They chose a credit union to do the Society's banking: Gulf & Fraser’s Steveston Branch, located directly across the street from the cannery. Not only was the location convenient, Gulf & Fraser had a reputation for having a strong relationship with the fishing community. It was common for workers in the area to come by the branch for a coffee and a visit. This was the start of the business relationship between Gulf & Fraser and the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society, one that continues to this day.

Vision becomes reality for the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society

The Society’s objective was to provide a place where people could learn about the fishing and canning history of Steveston, something that was very important to families that had helped to build the fishing industry, people whose grandparents had worked in the cannery. The Society was able to secure a partnership agreement with the Federal Government to manage the site—a rare and very unique arrangement. The government agreed that the Society would run the museum and share their important history with visitors. Their shared objective was that all elements and exhibits at the museum were created with, and for, the community.

Though it took a full decade, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery was eventually upgraded to make it suitable to operate as a museum. It opened to the public in 1994.

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society continually works to educate the public about Steveston’s fishing industry

As of 2019, the Society has over 250 members and is a member of Gulf & Fraser’s West Richmond Branch. The Society is governed by a board of volunteer directors who bring together a wealth of expertise in community building, British Columbia history, heritage preservation, commercial fishing, business practice, education, and fundraising. Their success is seen in the increasing numbers of visitors and school children that come to explore the cannery every year.

The work of preserving a heritage site is never over, one must continue to find interesting ways to keep the stories of old alive in the collective consciousness.

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Gulf & Fraser has supported the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society a number of ways over the years. Projects included renovations to the museum archive and library as well as the administration building. Gulf & Fraser donated over $7,000 to install shelves and a new window in the library and archives.

Gulf & Fraser has helped support the museum’s connection to the community and has worked with the Society to bring community members together during seasonal events such as the winter farmers market and music at the cannery. The events help sustain and keep the cannery top of mind within the community.

In 2013, Gulf & Fraser donated a heritage anchor to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. The anchor had been displayed at Gulf & Fraser’s Steveston Branch, in the heart of the historic fishing village and had become an icon in the community. When they moved the branch to a new location in Richmond, Gulf & Fraser’s Co-CEOs, Bill Kiss and Jeff Shewfelt thought the anchor would be better served at the cannery, which they recognized as an important historic monument. As a tribute to the Steveston community’s ties to fishing, the cannery displayed the anchor at its entrance.

It is the Society’s objective to keep local families visiting and owning their heritage, the history that their grandparents may have once lived. Gulf & Fraser supports and commends the Society’s efforts to keep Steveston’s fishing history alive.

1Source: Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society. Accessed from: on July 26, 2019.

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