Exploring the Gulf of Georgia Cannery: B.C.’s Salmon Museum

The huge runs of sockeye earlier this summer left Vancouver flush with fresh, wild salmon.  But this year’s bumper crop hardly compares with the mega-runs on the Fraser River from 1880-1900.

It was during that era, way back in 1894, that the Gulf of Georgia Cannery opened its doors in the little fishing village of Steveston, outside of Vancouver.  Once the leading producer of canned salmon in British Columbia, the cannery survives today as a fascinating museum.  Inside, you’ll discover everything you ever wanted to know about harvesting and processing salmon, plus lots about local history.

Tickets are $7.80 for adults, $3.90 for kids, and the museum is easily accessible on mass transit ( the 401, 402, 407 and 410 buses all stop at the Steveston Terminus, right next to the cannery).   It’s open seven days a week, year-round, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photo: urban_lenny on Flickr

The Cannery is housed in a large historic wooden building built on stilts over the Steveston waterfront (about 30-minutes by car from downtown Vancouver).  Inside, the massive floorboards are scratched and stained from more than a century of abuse. Hourly tours take visitors deep inside the old building, offering an in-depth look at its history and the critical role that fishing has played in British Columbia.

Back in its heyday in the late 1800s, the site was known as the “Monster Cannery,” churning out up to 2.5 millions cans of B.C. salmon every year thanks to the hard work of a diverse group of First Nations, Chinese, Japanese and European laborers.

Photo: Jasperdo on Flickr

During the Second World War, the cannery was converted to a factory that processed herring for Allied soldiers and civilians abroad.  It also made a tasty concoction known as herring reduction: a protein-rich fish slurry used for animal feed.

Apart from learning about the cannery’s history, you’ll also get to experience some fascinating interactive exhibits.   The canning line shows the noisy, smelly process by which salmon where chopped up, processed and sealed into metal cans for export around the world.  Inside the herring reduction plant, you’ll see up-close how herring were melted down into fish oil and fish meal. Plus, there’s an informative film about the cannery shown twice every hour.

Any other fans of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery out there?  What was your favorite part of the tour?

Remy Scalza

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