The first cannery in B.C. marks the start of the beginning of not only the 20th century but also one of the most prosperous entrepreneurial endeavours to reach B.C. since the Gold Rush, bring an economic boom to the shores of the Lower mainland and the coast of B.C.
Status: Still Exists in Part
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|Although there were many canneries that lined the coastal shores, the one at Annieville was the first on the Fraser River and in B.C., it also founded the community that surround it. The very first to person to start canning at Annieville was James Syme in his home; he took his experimental cans to the 1867 Agricultural Exhibition in New Westminster and sold his home cooked wares in lots to merchants. He created a salt fish complex at Annieville, however he was unable to sustain the operation and returned to San Francisco by 1870. In June 1870, Alexander Loggie & Co, founded by Alexander Ewen, James Wise, Alexander Loggie and David Hennessey, established the Annieville Cannery. By 1878, Ewen was the last remaining owner of the cannery and the Annieville Cannery was sold to B.C. Packing Co. in 1902. One of the unique features of the original cannery was that it was built with all wooden nail, rather than metal. The cans were made entirely by hand there was little to no machinery in the first canneries. The cans were shaped on iron covered wooden cylinders then hand soldered sides and top and bottom and only 60 cans per person per day wher produced. The fish was preserved by boiling the cans (once filled) in large vats to cook the fish; salt was added to the water to raise the temperature enough to preserve the fish. In the first season 300 cases of salmon were exported to England, each case held 100 cans weighing 1 lb. each. Out sourcing of the cans and mechanized processing was introduced in the early 1900s.
The real success of the cannery and Alexander Ewen relied on the fact that Ewen ran a fish saltery that had been operating next to the cannery (since before the start of the cannery). This allowed for the quality of the salmon being canned to be graded and anything not up to standard was salted and sold as salted fish, creating very little waste and more profitability. The first salmon to be canned was the “spring salmon” or “Chinook” rather than the sockeye which is common today, sockeye became popular in the early 1900s.
Fishers brought the salmon by boat to the dock of the cannery and the fish were pitched with a single pronged fork on the deck. The workers inside the cannery were primarily Chinese men and First Nations Women. These two groups of individuals worked in very specific areas of the cannery, the Chinese workers were “slitters” and canned the fish, the would roughly chop and clean the fish to be passed to the women who would do a thorough clean and descaled the fish, these were then passed to a new set of Chinese men to chop and can the fish. The conditions in the cannery were often hot due to the concern of contamination by a draft entering the facility, so the cannery was kept sealed up as much as possible.
The cannery was in operation until the 1940’s, and went through multiple changes in owners from 1902. The area that the cannery once occupied is still a major part of the fishing community, with a vibrant marina and reminders of the cannery life, the original net houses, a scow house and commemorative sign marking the location of the cannery are all part of the cannery complex. There are some changes to the local environment, the construction of the railway and River Road have cut off much of the cannery area from the residential sites, although some of the first houses still loom over the site from atop the hill behind the cannery. Talking to the local people who still remember the cannery and who’s families helped create it, you feel as though the cannery is still a major part of the community. The Annieville Cannery is an important part of British Columbian History it marks the beginning of the coasts global recognition for its unique heritage in salmon fisheries.
There was a second cannery on Gunderson Slough that operated from 1878 to 1891. It was by the British Columbia Packing Co and was absorbed by the Anglo-British Columbia Packing Co. in 1891 and renamed the BC Cannery. The property was sold to Jens Gunderson the same year.