September 2022


PC Canada

The Buck & Ear

Originally uploaded by elmada.

So Saturday Jerry, John, and I went to the south-west corner of Richmond, British Columbia, to visit the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site. Richmond is the suburb directly south of Vancouver, and taking public transportation from downtown out there took almost an hour and a half.

The Cannery was an eye opening experience—and, at the same time, a slightly painful politically correct experience. We arrived at the museum at 2 in the afternoon, just as a sprightly young lady started talking at the cannery’s dock. The guided tour gave some attention to the process by which the salmon was processed—cleaning, gutting, slicing, and canning, and more attention to the human dimensions of the story.

We learned more about the people who worked at the factory than how the factory actually operated.

As the guide put it, the color of your skin and your gender determined your job at the factory. Strong Chinese Men cleaned the fish, doing about 20 a minute, or 5 seconds per fish. Women then cleaned the fish with cold running water. Men then positioned the fish properly so that they could get sliced and stuffed in cans.

We also took a guided tour of the Herring rendering process. Our tour guide for that portion, Ben, was a bit less enthusiastic and knowledgeable than the tour guide for the salmon cannery, so I learned more from reading the signs than from Ben.

One of the more amusing factoids at the cannery and herring rendering facility was that it closed in 1979. In 1984 Parks Canada (or, ahem, “Parcs Canada”), started renovating the facility whilst preparing it to be opened to the public. It was not, apparently, a pleasant experience as when the factory had closed they hadn’t bothered to clean the fish out of the building—so it was an odorific experience for the workers.

One of the things about the cannery line tour that I found most interesting and educational was the focus on the people who did the work and not the process. It’s something reflective of Canada’s history and people. A diverse set of people: White Europeans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the “First Peoples,” and, presumably, others worked at the cannery. Certainly it was run by the Europeans. Chinese labor had been, essentially, imported to build the railroad. The Japanese, even those who had lived in Canada for multiple generations, were interred during World War II—something I thought had only happened in the States.

The celebration of diversity in Canada is something that reflects the realities of Canada today. Since arriving in Vancouver, I’ve heard English, Chinese, Japanese, German, and French spoken. The presence of other ethnic minorities is reflected in a plethora of Thai, Indian, and Korean restaurants.

But the diversity isn’t without it’s issues, and that’s Hastings Street.


1 comment to PC Canada

  • jen

    that’s more than i wanted to know about the vancouver fishing industry.

    hey, when you get back i have a little gift for you!