The history of Vancouver is deeply intertwined with the history of the salmon industry. Now, a great new piece of outdoor theatre probes deep into the Lower Mainland’s fishing past – both the good side and the bad.
Salmon Row is a 90-minute production staged against the backdrop of the historic Britannia Heritage Shipyards, beside the Fraser River in Steveston. The play is produced by Mortal Coil, the same troupe that brings us Stanley Park’s Halloween and Christmas trains.
The play explores how the salmon industry has impacted the lives of a succession of peoples, from the First Nations who first inhabited the area to the Asian and European immigrants who later came to work in the massive canneries along the river. And, for the most part, the impact has been pretty grim.
First Nations were denied their ancestral fishing rights. Chinese immigrants were forced to pay head taxes and then labored in atrocious conditions. Japanese-Canadians who worked in the fishing industry suffered abuses and the indignities of internment during the Second World War.
While the subject matter is admittedly heavy, the play is enlivened by its unique production style. Over the course of the 90-minute performance, the actors and audience pick up and move from one site to another along the Britannia Shipyards. And you couldn’t really ask for a more atmospheric setting: Marshes, old cannery buildings, crumbling wharfs and meticulously preserved homesteads line the shipyards.
There’s also plenty of music (including a live, four-piece band), singing and dancing (including a great bit of First Nations puppetry), lavish costumes with stilts and masks and a great subplot on the plight of the salmon themselves.
Salmon Row will be staged nightly at 8 p.m. through Aug. 28 at the Britannia Shipyards in Steveston. A donation of $10 is suggested. Reservations are suggested and can be accessed here.
Has anyone seen Salmon Row? What did you think?