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Salmon Canning in WWI: Feeding the Troops (part 1 of 2)

100 years ago, on August 4th, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany, drawing Canada into the First World War. The ensuing conflict touched the lives of millions across Canada in ways big and small, and as such, gives us an opportunity to share some of its history with the public.

In Canada, the West Coast canned salmon industry played an important, if oft-forgotten, part in the war effort. By the turn of the 20th century, after a century and a half of industrial revolution, Britain had turned to North America to replace its declining supply of Atlantic salmon. The shift had been so significant that despite having to ship their cans all the way around Cape Horn and across the Atlantic, B.C.’s canneries exported between 60%-80% of their product to Britain, where it served as a cheap (and exotic!) alternative to other canned meats. As a high source of protein, canned salmon was an ideal foodstuff for fuelling an army, and in a major coup for coastal canners, had been made a part of the British army rations.

Source: GOG Collection G2001.032.064

Source: GOG Collection G2001.032.064

When the war began in Europe, canners naturally seized the opportunity presented by a guaranteed market to expand production. A landslide at Hell’s Gate the previous year had caused a great decline in highly-prized sockeye stocks, so Fraser River canners turned to other species of salmon to meet the increased demand. Coho, pink and chum salmon now came into increased production, and with them came a greater reliance upon purse seining fishing boats, which were more adept than the smaller gillnetters at snaring schools of fish in the open ocean. Adorned with such labels as “Victory Brand” and “Ally Brand,” canned Pacific salmon proclaimed to customers at home and abroad that their purchase was in some small way contributing to the Allied cause.

To learn more about the canneries’ role in the War, or about any other aspect of cannery history, feel free to drop in to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site any day of the week between 10:00-5:00. Be sure to check out our display of can labels near the end of the reconstructed canning line where you can see labels like “Ally Brand” and “Victory Brand” first hand! Otherwise, stay tuned for part two of this post on Monday!

Sources:
Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society. Trademarks and Salmon Art: a brand new perspective.
Meggs, Geoff. Salmon: The Decline of the British Columbia Fishery.

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