25 Years, 25 Objects

In honour of the 25th Anniversary of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society, officially established in 1986, the Collections Team has hand-picked a series of memorable artifacts that represent the Cannery’s important contribution to the preservation of the West Coast fishing industry.

Each month, four objects will appear on the Cannery website and in the “Treasures of the Collection” display case located in the main Cannery lobby. Keep your eyes peeled for new surprises as we re-visit 25 years of collecting from the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society!

Steam Whistle

Did you know that the Gulf of Georgia Cannery has its very own working steam whistle? Donated by Donald McLeod of Canfisco, the whistle was originally used at Sunnyside Cannery, located on the Skeena River in the Inverness Slough of Northern BC. Steam whistles were intended for communication purposes and were commonly found on railway locomotives, steamships, and even lighthouses. These warning devices were particularly useful in factories such as salmon canneries, notifying workers of the start and end of daily shifts.

How does it work?

The Sunnyside whistle is a ‘plain’ whistle, consisting of an inverted cup mounted on a stem. It is defined by a loud shrill; a single note that sounds when the valve is opened and steam escapes through the orifice. The frequency (pitch or tone) of a whistle is altered by many variables, including the blowing pressure, size or length of whistle, and how far the valve is opened.

Shhh…can you hear it?

In 1991, the Sunnyside whistle, made of brass, was added to the Cannery’s collection and now sits on the side of the workshop roof outside of the Cannery. Be sure to listen for the whistle at 10am, noon, or 5pm, which signals the opening, noon hour, and closing times of the Cannery.

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IBM Punch Clock

(2000 17 1)

This IBM (International Business Machines Company Limited) punch clock, also known as a dial recorder, was recovered from the 1957 Paramount Cannery by notable society member, Gordie Ball. The Paramount Cannery contained six canning lines capable of producing as much canned salmon in a day as an 1890 cannery could produce in a year!

This clock was originally used by employees at Nishi Boatworks in Steveston to record their time worked and may have also been used by employees at Nelson Brothers Fisheries Ltd.

It’s more than 90 years old!

A label on the clock indicates that it was manufactured by International Time Recording Company of Canada Limited, and the design was patented in 1907. However, the American company IBM did not enter the Canadian market until 1917, suggesting that this particular clock was made after 1917.

After the clock was donated, it was restored by Parks Canada and then transferred to the Society’s collection in the year 2000. It now sits and can be viewed in the board room of the Administration Building, located east of the Cannery in the parking lot.

How does it work?

The IBM clock is fully automatic so no levers need to be shifted in order to register dates and times. Each night, when the clock strikes 12 (midnight), the printing carriage shifts spaces to allow for the correct recording for the following day. These devices were capable of recording daily, weekly, and eight day pay periods for up to 150 employees. As you can see, this was a high tech and complex piece of machinery for its time!

To learn more about the inner workings of the punch clock, click here.

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Cartoon Slides on Can Handling


Retrieved from the Fisheries Council of British Columbia (FCBC) collection, these one-of-a-kind images illustrate various procedures on can handling. Dating back to 1960, the 35 mm colour slides were produced by the Laboratory for Research in the Canning Industry at the University of California. These slides, which would have been shown to cannery workers, stress the importance of can handling as well as the processes and machinery used in the canning of fish.

Can you handle it?

The safety of cannery workers was always at risk as the combination of manual machines and fast-paced repetitive labour allowed little room for error. The process of canning salmon took shape through an assembly line of various stages. With a large volume of salmon cans produced per day, it was not uncommon to discard damaged or unsatisfactory cans. Most canneries on the Fraser River, including the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, produced their own cans during the off season, beginning in February. In a canning loft, as many as 1,000,000 cans were needed for the salmon season, depending upon projected salmon stocks!

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Workmen’s Compensation Safety Signs


The following two posters were kindly donated by Canfisco in 1997 and represent Workmen’s Compensation Board (WCB) safety notices for cannery workers. WCB, now called the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, was founded in 1914 to provide medical benefits for workers injured while on the job. Our records suggest that these artifacts were produced prior to 1958 by Amalgamated Lithographers of America and Smith Lithographers Limited Company.

Watch your fingers!

Life in a cannery posed many dangers for workers with loud, exposed machinery, sharp knives, and a continuous pressure for production. Before automated butcher machines were introduced, Chinese labourers were expected to butcher fish by hand at high speeds with razor sharp knives. As the mechanization of the canning process increased, so did the dangers to its workers. Fingers and even limbs were lost from the gang knives and iron butcher, and hearing loss was common from the deafening roar of countless machines along the canning lines. The use of lead for capping cans and open acid baths added additional danger while working in the cannery. As you can imagine, safety posters like these two, which were at one time located at the north end of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, would have filled the walls of many canneries.

What’s a greenhorn?

The word “greenhorn,” mentioned in one of the posters, is a term still used to describe a new or inexperienced worker. The term was originally used for cattle that had green or young horns. This poster not only acknowledges the dangers of cannery work, but also stresses the importance of experienced workers as role models for new workers.

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Herring Sounder Reel


This herring sounder reel is an example of early fish finding technology. During WWII, Allied soldiers required convenient and nutritious food on and off the battlefields. Responding to these demands, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery and other B.C. canneries produced canned herring, cleverly added to tomato and mustard sauce.

Feeling for the Fish…

In the days before SONAR, finding herring to fish could be quite a challenge. As a result, fishermen developed a technique called “feeling” to locate schools of herring. A scout would be sent out ahead of the herring seine boats in a small skiff. The scout would attach a weight to the end of a reel of long, thin wire and drop it into the water. Believe it or not, experienced fisherman could tell when they were over top of a school of herring, simply by the feeling of vibrations from the wire caused by passing fish!

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Upon first glance, one may think this artefact is a memorial plaque. If you take a closer look, you will notice that the design is backwards, as if you were staring into a mirror. This is because it was used as a ‘dye-cut’ or template during the 1950s when fonts and images were pressed onto newspapers and magazines. Donated by Wally Paulik, the wood and metal dye cut describes the evolution of radar equipment, as follows:

“Thar they Blip!”

“Men have long had only signs, instinct and eyesight to help them find fish. But nets came in empty because instinct errs, signs can be false, no eye is sharp enough to see six fathoms deep. Today the lookout is coming out of the crow’s nest onto the bridge. He scans a screen, not the sea. A certain pattern of blips on a radar screen shows there are fish, where, how deep, how many. Science and electronics are giving the fisherman a piercing third eye, to make fishing more secure, more rewarding. They help us gather a full harvest from our great, food-giving, nature resource…The Fisheries.” – Department of Fisheries, Ottawa, Ontario-Hon. James Sinclair, M.P. Minister; George R. Clark, Deputy Minister.

From sight to SONAR…

Today, fish finders use active SONAR (SOund Navigation And Ranging) and are a type of fathometer, a device designed to show depth. A transducer emits sound signals in the water and if fish are in the path of these signals, the sound returns as an ‘echo,’ displayed on an LCD or CRT screen. To learn more about fish finders, click here.

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Gillnet Twine Tester

(G2010.006.001) donated by Gordon Hannay

This piece of machinery was recovered from the Nelson Brothers net shed in Steveston and used from approximately 1970 to 1990. A twine tester is used for testing the strength of nets by looping mesh around the screw and mesh guide. While turning the handle, the gauge was monitored to see where the mesh breaks. Nets with a tension measurement of over 20 lbs were acceptable for use on fishing boats.

Nothing but Net(s)

Nets were one of the most important pieces of a fisherman’s gear and also the most expensive. Before the 1880s, gillnets were made by hand using linen, making for a long and tedious process. As a result, it cost a fisherman more money to purchase a net than a boat!

In order to remove bacteria and debris, nets had to be handled with care and washed on a weekly basis. Each cannery had a net boss that was in charge of maintaining and repairing used nets. In the offseason, they were hung in net lofts or net houses with cork and lead lines.

The length of gillnets could measure close to 900 feet, allowing for larger catches, and also more frequent tangles. To fix this problem, the ‘winding drum’ was introduced in 1931 and enabled fishermen to automatically release their nets and haul them in each day. Twenty years later, fisherman began using nets made from synthetic twine, which were stronger, easier to handle, and less absorbent than before.

Today, tensile strength is measured with elaborate machines that require a click of the mouse to provide instant analysis of fishing nets, ropes, and cables. Most of these common items are now made of polyethylene fibre.

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Rope Making Machine


This handmade wooden rope making machine represents three generations of the Capadouca family who were Greek pioneers of Deas Island, located east of Steveston village.

The Greeks of Deas Island

Few people are aware that Deas Island was home to a vibrant Greek community, beginning in the 1890’s. Drawn by the early gold rush and emerging fishing industry, the Greeks lived a relatively isolated existence as they struggled to communicate with other settlers. Their culture remained strong through their language, floating white houses, and colourful gardens. According to Jim Capadouca, when Greek freighters spotted their flag flying from Deas Island, they would exchange greetings as they sailed down the Fraser River towards the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. Jim’s father, Peter (Pantelis) Capadouca built this rope making machine at the turn of the century and it was donated to the Cannery over 100 years later!

Click here to view pictures of a few of the Greek pioneers including members of the Capadouca family.

Roped into Action…

Did you know that rope making began over 7000 years ago? It has taken shape through many materials such as hide, plant fibres, silk, and hair. Rope used in the fishing industry was often made from old gillnets that were cut into different sizes. For this rope making machine, three strands were attached at one time. One person wound the rotating arm which braided the strands together while the other person hammered the rope with a wooden mallet to tighten the knots. Pictured with this machine is rope made from a used net, donated by Lynne Waller.

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Net Cart


In the heyday of the fishing industry, almost every fisherman had a net cart. Their sturdy wooden frames and metal wheels were built to last – some fishermen still use the same net carts today! This net truck was collected by Britannia Heritage Shipyard and transferred to the Society in 1990. It is believed to have been built sometime in the 1940s and the name “Hy Boy” painted on it suggests it was owned by Tony Paiger, who operated a boat (also pictured) of the same name. The letters “n.w.” were added to the licence number and stand for New Westminster, the location where the boat was moored.

The truck’s primary use was to transport nets; however it was important for the nets to be properly placed, otherwise the lead corks would be in the wrong direction and the net would be tangled. Not only were these transporters hard to slow down, they often doubled as a play toy for nearby children on the wharves!

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Stencil Cutting Machine


This human powered stencil machine was designed to create stencils that were used to mark packing boxes. In order to create a stencil, each letter was individually punched by a spinning metal plate. When the desired letter was in place, the top portion was pressed down and the letter was punched onto the cardstock.

This machine was recovered by 2009-10 Society chair Loren Slye, following the closing of the BC Packers headquarters in 2001. The office headquarters, built in 1968 and pictured here under construction, was located on Moncton Street in Steveston. The new BC Packers HQ was a perfect location, as it reminded nearby residents that Steveston continued to play a large role in the west coast fishing industry. The building joined the Imperial Cannery on site, which was operated by BC Packers from 1903 up until 1992.

A stencil of the past?

Marsh Stencil Machine Co (which made this stencil machine you see here) began making stencil cutters in 1923 and still sells a similar manual-powered stencil cutter today. It just goes to show you that some inventions and techniques (like the net cart and steam whistle) are better left unchanged!

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Box Stencil


The Gulf of Georgia Cannery was a hard-working plant, packing tens of thousands of salmon cases per year. A busy cannery meant a busy exporter, like Birks Crawford Ltd. Metal stencils, such as the one pictured here, were used to mark salmon and herring cases, before they were exported within Canada and overseas.

Established in the 1920s, Birks Crawford Ltd. was a leading salmon exporter in Vancouver. They together with Calkins & Burke Ltd and Shafer-Haggart Ltd, both of which are still in operation today, were the major exporters of fish products at the time. These brokers acted as “middlemen,” often receiving salmon cases from various canneries and then distributing them to retailers around the world.

The Boxer

On the off months of the canning salmon season, Chinese contract labourers were hired to hand-make wooden cases used for packing canned salmon. By the 1940s, as contract labour decreased, cardboard boxes replaced wood cases. Cardboard not only reduced labour costs (eliminating the box-making crews), but also lowered shipping costs as it was lighter than wood to transport. Further advancements eventually allowed for the cardboard boxes to be filled, code-stamped, glued, and sealed by machines.

Made by, Packed by, Printed by…
Apart from salmon and herring cases, the Birks Crawford Ltd. name was also printed on several salmon can labels. The distributor name is not to be confused with the company brand name or printer name. For example, the Sylvan Salmon (pictured) is the brand, while Birks Crawford is the distributor and Smith Litho (in the yellow tab of the label) is the printer.

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American Can Company Sign


Situated at 611 Alexander Street, in the heart of historic Japantown stands the Vancouver office of the American Can Company, originally one of the largest concrete reinforced structures in Vancouver. ACC, now called Ball Packaging, was established in New Jersey in 1901 and considered one of the leaders in the can-making industry at the time. Following its opening in Vancouver, it soon became a major employer for residents in the East End.

More than just salmon cans…

American Can was a major can supplier for not only BC Canneries, but other industries that required cans for their products. It also manufactured canning machinery that can be found on the Gulf of Georgia Cannery’s reform line!

The sign, made of brass and cement, was mounted following the construction of the head office in 1925. In 1969, it was removed and replaced with bilingual signs that complied with the Official Language Act. There was a second sign on the building which was sent to the North Pacific Cannery, located just outside of Prince Rupert in Port Edward, BC (pictured).

Today, the building is occupied by Anne Starr Agencies, a supplier of textiles and accessories for interior designers. The close proximity of the American Can Co building to the Canadian Fishing Company’s Home Plant at the Foot of Gore Avenue symbolizes its once strong relationship with the west coast fishing industry.

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Membership Book and Charter Certificates


Official Recognition
1986 marked the year of the Society’s official incorporation, and one of its most special accomplishments to this day. The book you see here lists the founding signatories and chairman of the Society in 1987. It is important to note, that despite the Cannery receiving National Historic Site recognition in 1976, there were no official plans yet to open it to the public. Read on to find out how the Society evolved and was able to make this ambitious goal a reality!

The Society’s Beginnings…

During the late 1960s and early 70s, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery was used as a seine and gillnet storage space, which was run with only a handful of workers. This was a sign of the times, reflected in a number of other vacant and deteriorating canneries along the west coast.

As Steveston’s fishing history slowly faded into the Fraser, members of the Steveston Historical Society formed a new committee that saw great potential in the Gulf of Georgia Cannery as a site to interpret the history of the west coast salmon industry. When the committee achieved independent society status in 1986, many more years of letters to parliament, development of public awareness, and meetings at Dave’s Fish and Chips were required in order to reach their goal of opening the Cannery to the public. Read our next artifact to find out how the Society made this possible!

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GOGC Opening Day Flag

(2000 25 5)

Project 94

This memorable flag was raised for the first time on June 25th, 1994 to celebrate 100 years since the construction of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. This opening day was the culmination of Project 94 which was the Society’s aspiration to have part of the Cannery open for public viewing by 1994. During a work bee the previous year, it was decided that eight committees would help contribute to the opening of the East Wing of the Cannery (now the gift store and reception) for visitors. (four years later saw the opening of the Canning Line Exhibit and several other displays).

A day to Celebrate Steveston’s Fishing History

Project 94 was a flourishing success as it was able to showcase the significance of the west coast fishing industry in Steveston. Totes and other cannery items were pushed aside to make room for several exhibits highlighting ‘100 Years of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery.’ The East Wing was filled with historic photographs, videos, text, and a handful of American Can Co machines, included the striking Iron Butcher.

More than 3300 people attended the official opening day weekend of the Cannery, including many former Cannery workers. The steam whistle sounded on both days, this time signalling the start of the celebrations rather than the start and end of a work day. It was an extremely special event for members of the Society and for the community of Steveston as a whole.

Further Accomplishments
Major achievements following Project 94 included the opening of the Canning Line and Fishing the West Coast Exhibits in 1998, the Society becoming the full operator of the Cannery in 2000, and the opening of the Herring Reduction Exhibit in 2001.

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Plans of Salmon Canneries


A Rare Piece of History…

This entirely hand-drawn book was passed through many hands before it was obtained by the Society in the summer of 2009. Only a handful of copies were published in 1924 by the BC Fire Underwriters Association, making this rare item an important part of the Society’s archival collection.

The book contains a wealth of information about B.C. salmon canneries including floor-plans, housing locations (noting ethnicity) and outbuildings. Each cannery has a full page map that is accompanied by a detailed inspection report completed in 1923 regarding cannery demographics and safety inspection data.

How did the Gulf of Georgia Cannery stack up in the report?

In 1923, the Cannery was considered in a ‘good’ location and valued at $52 000 (machinery included). However, the Cannery lacked fire extinguishers, hydrants, hoses, barrels, pails – basically any fire precautionary fire device! The Cannery’s fire record was marked as ‘good’, despite it boasting 41, 500 square feet of wood pilings, wood floors, and a shingle roof! Some may say it’s a miracle that the Cannery’s buildings did not burn down, given that its structure was an extreme fire hazard – not to mention the countless fires in Steveston during the 1900s!

Beating the odds…

This picture, taken in the mid 1930s, shows the Cannery with barrels evenly spaced out on the roof of its main building. If a fire were to break out, a cannery worker would climb on the roof and pull on a rope that would tip over a barrel filled with water. No one knew how effective these low cost rain-barrel extinguishers were, but that’s okay, because they never had to be used!

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“Portable” Fire Extinguisher


Last June, the Collections Team was given this unique fire fighting device as a gift from the Steveston Ice House, located at the foot of Trites Road on the site of the old Paramount Plant.

Hand-wheeled portable fire extinguishers were introduced in 1946, and this particular device was likely rolled out onto the docks in front of the Paramount Plant to service fires on boats. Wheeled fire extinguishers are even more effective than hand-held portable ones because they provide larger amounts of extinguishing agents at a higher flow rate.

Steveston, Salmon, and…FIRE?!

Salmon canneries were no stranger to the possibility of fire. Steveston was known as ‘the wooden town’ for a reason and had its fair share of fire tragedies. As nearly all canneries were made of wood, one small flame could soon lead to insurmountable damage. In 1907, an uncontrollable blaze destroyed the Lighthouse Cannery and several cannery houses at the foot of Second Avenue. More fires occurred in 1908 and 1910, wiping out sections of Steveston’s Chinatown and leaving many homeless. It wasn’t until 1918 that the greatest Steveston fire unleashed a heat wave over the village, east of Moncton Street. Three hotels, three canneries, and countless shops were destroyed in its path. Fortunately, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery was saved by its dyke and a favourable westward wind!

Fighting fires for over 90 years…

General Fire Guard, which made this fire extinguisher, was founded in 1903 as the National Belting & Hose Company. The company went through several name changes and operated until 2001, when it was auctioned off. The label on the body of the extinguisher reads, “General Quick Aid ‘Sno Fog’ Fire Guard” which meant it contained C02, a common fire-fighting agent.

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Dorigo Box Compass


This flat-top marine box compass was made by Dorigo Compass, a well known company founded in 1907 in Seattle, Washington. Dorgio is Latin for “I Direct” or “I Guide” which is fitting as these compasses were placed on commercial vessels which transported goods like salmon all over the world. The small wooden box that houses the compass is made from tongue and groove lumber and secured by 12 nails and two wooden dowels.

Changing Directions

This compass was donated by the Steveston Historical Society in 1991 and is one of only a few marine compasses in the Society’s collection. Liquid compasses, such as this one, have been used on sailing ships since the early 1800s. They were modified for the US Navy and subsequently introduced into the British Royal Navy at the turn of the 20th century. These types of compasses were more reliable than dry compasses because they could withstand vibrations from gunfire and handle rocky seas. Liquid compasses have since been adapted for use in aircrafts, and today’s models are generally smaller and contain lighter-weight liquids.

Still Leading the Way…

Dorigo Compass Company is still in operation today with its headquarters in Belluvue, Washington, a growing city just outside of Seattle. Their compasses continue to be hand-made from the highest grade marine materials possible.

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This large artifact greets visitors as they pass through the glass doors into the exhibition area of the Cannery. The red and white gillnet skiff has been on loan from the Vancouver Maritime Museum since 1990 and happily serves as a focal point in the Gulf of Georgia Cannery.

More than just a Skiff!

Complete with two life size fishermen, lantern float, whale marker float, and bilge pump, the skiff and its components are an authentic early west coast fishing display! Most of these artifacts were originally used at the Great Northern Cannery in West Vancouver, which was built in 1900, and owned by Francis Millerd & Company 1935 until its closure in 1967.

Life on a Skiff

Flat-bottomed skiffs like this one were often referred to as Rivers Inlet skiffs because they handled well in the long protected inlets like Rivers Inlet and other areas along the BC Central Coast. Before the introduction of marine engines in the early 1900s, these fishing skiffs had to be rowed or towed out to sea by a steam tug (see attached picture) and often stayed on the water for a week at a time! Surviving on hardtack biscuits, rice, bacon, coffee, and a stove, fishermen worked long, tiring days in order to bring home a boat full of salmon.

Thankfully, most of these boats were fitted with small, three-sided canvas cabins which kept the fishermen protected while on the water. These boats were essentially the beginnings of fishing boats; eventually evolving into large, twin-engine aluminum vessels that are common in today’s fishing industry!

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Easthope Drum Drive Cover and Support Core

(2000 7 1A+B)

These two artifacts that you see here were used as early as the mid 1940s. The drum drive support core (pictured in front) and cover (pictured in the back) were used as a mould to create parts for a gillnet drum drive.

The Society was fortunate to add these objects to the Easthope collection which includes a ten horsepower engine, belt tightener, trolling blocks, and other various objects.

The Gillnet Drum Drive

Motorized gillnet drum drives, invented in the early 1930s, were a great benefit to the fishing industry. Fishermen no longer had to spend unwanted time hauling in their nets each day as powered drums could set and retrieve nets ten times faster than by hand! A gillnet drum drive, which was controlled by a foot pedal, used engine power to turn the drive mechanism, which in turn engaged the drum.

A Brief History of the Easthope Family

The Easthope family arrived in Canada by ship in 1889 after leaving Wolverhampton, England. After settling in Vancouver, Ernest Easthope partnered with his son Vincent to start a marine engine business. Their first engine was built in 1900 and was attached to a First Nations dug-out canoe, making it the one of the first motor-powered boats on the Fraser River. In 1914, after some early trouble with the business, the company was taken over by brothers George and Percy Easthope, who began building two and four cycle marine engines. Many BC canneries took note, and added Easthope engines to their traditional row-sail boats. Engine-powered boats meant that fishermen could travel further distances in shorter time periods without having to row the boats themselves. As a result, more of the fishermen’s energy could be put into the actual catching of the fish, which in turn increased the success of the west coast fishing industry. The Easthopes received high praise for their marine engines, known for their simplicity, reliability, and quality. They over 6000 of them until 1968.

The Easthope Legacy Lives On

From 1930 all the way until 2000, the Easthope family operated a marine repair and assembly shop on No. 1 Road in Steveston. Bill Easthope (who was the last member of the family working in the fishing industry) donated a large collection of his family’s machinery, including this drum driver cover and support core, in 2000. Next time on your way to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, take a scenic detour down Easthope Avenue, fittingly placed near the old Imperial Cannery site between No. 1 Road and Bayview Street!

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BC Packers flag


The flag you see here was a variation of the third flag flown by BC Packers. This version includes all three colours adopted by the company (green, white, and orange) as well as a clover leaf to symbolize the company’s ownership of the Clover Leaf Brand. This flag is one of many from the Society’s collection of flags used by a number of Steveston-based canneries.

The evolution of the BC Packers Flag

The original BC Packers flag dates back to 1902. This was the same year that the British Columbia Packers Association was formed through the amalgamation of several smaller canneries and the Anglo-American Packing Company. The Irish origins of this company may be the reason behind choosing green and white colours for the flag.

By 1908, BC Packers acquired the rights of the Clover Leaf name and began selling canned salmon under that brand name. Fittingly, a clover leaf was added to the original BC Packers flag.

BC Packers’ next flag was introduced around 1968. At this time, BC Packers amalgamated with Nelson Brothers Fisheries, whose flag featured an orange and green combination. To honour their fellow associates, BC Packers added the colours of Nelson Brothers to form a new green-white-orange flag.

Eventually, the clover leaf design was again added to reflect the company’s ownership of the Clover Leaf Brand.

Packed full of History…

BC Packers Limited boasts a long and unique history as one of the largest fish processing companies in British Columbia. The company prided itself on a multicultural workforce, which included people of Japanese, Chinese, First Nations, and European descent. At one time, BC Packers owned as many as 44 canneries, and several cold storage plants, shipyards, and salteries. Its largest operation was the Imperial Cannery in Steveston, which boasted four canning lines – the largest in the British Empire. This plant ran for an impressive 89 years (1903-1992)!

BC Packers made an enormous impact on the community of Steveston and its history is preserved through the GOGC Society’s collection. Although BC Packer flags no longer fill the sky, their contribution to BC’s fishing industry will always be remembered.

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Net Needle Filling Machine


This hand-cranked net needle filling machine was made by Letson & Burpee Ltd. of Vancouver, BC. During the early 20th century, this company was a major manufacturer of cannery equipment such as canning machines, retorts, and automated gang knives. When the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site opened its East Wing in 1994, this machine was part of the original display along with other artifacts like the Rivers Inlet Skiff.

How does it work?

A spool of twine was fed into this machine and when the handle was turned the twine would be wound onto the inserted net needle. Once the net needle was filled, it was removed and used to mend and make nets, or to attach cork-lines and lead lines (see attached photo).

Net Needles and Net Menders

Net needles are a very handy tool and are still used today; however with the creation of more durable nets, fewer skippers know how to mend their own nets! Needles are sold (or crafted at home) in many styles and are often made of materials such as nylon, plastic, wood and metal.

Did you know that during the late 1800s women in Aboriginal communities along the west coast were the primary makers and menders of nets? With a wooden net needle wrapped with net twine held in their right hand, and a wooden net gauge in their left, they would create each mesh on the net by looping the needle around the gauge and then tying a double knot using mesh from the previous row.

Filling Machines Today

Today’s net filling (or winding) machines have since been automated and are produced by companies such as 3S Technical Services. According to this company, about 20% of a net-makers’ time is saved if he or she switches to an automatic filling machine!

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Hanging Bench


This 1950’s hanging bench was used for attaching either a lead-line or cork-line onto a salmon gillnet web with a “hanging” needle. A support post at one end of the bench holds the webbing and gear necessary for making a gillnet shackle. The bench was built by Albert Wigglesworth, a neighbour of the Capadouca family which donated this bench to the Society in 2003.

The Greek Connection

The Capadoucas were a prominent Greek fishing family who arrived at Deas Island (south of Steveston) in the late 1890s. The Society has several hanging benches in its collection; however, this particular bench is considered to be a bit more significant because of its association with the Capadouca family, who have been actively involved in the fishing industry for many years. Scroll up to check out another Capadouca donation: a 100-plus year old handmade rope making machine!

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Fish Counter


This artifact was discovered in the Main Mezzanine inside the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. It was donated by Harry Czepil, a former member of the Society who was a key member in putting together the Cannery’s canning line exhibit. For many years after the opening of the exhibit, Harry volunteered and acted as the main “go-to guy” for fixing and maintaining these machines.

The End of the Line

This particular fish counter was attached to a vacuum sealer to track the number of cans of fish processed by the machine. After the salmon had traveled through various stages on the canning line, it reached the vacuum sealer, or vacuum closer. This machine sealed each can after it was crimped and before it reached the retort oven. After the fish was cooked, the cans were washed in a lye bath to remove grease and grime, then rinsed with hot or cold water and left to cool. All cans were tested by tapping them with a nail- a trained ear could detect an improperly sealed can!

A Bumper Catch

One of the highest packs recorded by the Gulf of Georgia Cannery was in 1897, when it produced a whopping 2,433,936 cans of one-pound salmon! Given the cyclical nature of the salmon run, the following year tallied only 727 184 cans, less than half that of the previous season.

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Fish Cleaning Spoon


This artifact was donated in 2001 by long-time Society board member, Geoff Matheson. It was used in the Imperial Cannery in Steveston during the 1960s. This tool was added to the Society’s collection of over 30 cleaning spoons, consisting of four distinct styles.

A Dirty Job

“Slimers” had one of the dirtiest jobs on the canning line and would use spoons like this one to assist them in scraping scales and cleaning off excess blood, offal, or fins left behind from the butchering process. The butchers, who were often Chinese workers, appeared first on the canning line process where they either manually butchered the fish, or sent it through an Iron Butcher machine. Either way, the heads and fins of each fish were removed, the bellies sliced open, and the guts scooped out. After the excess blood, offal, and scales were removed by the slimers, the fish continued down the canning line.

Stylish Spoons

Fish cleaning spoons appeared in a variety of shapes and styles. Some spoons were made from materials found inside a cannery, like a broom handle and tape. Other spoons, like the one pictured here, were more intentional in their design. This hollow metal cleaning spoon was designed so that a fabricated nozzle could be attached at the bottom of the handle. A hose was then connected to the nozzle, allowing running water to flow through the handle and assist in the cleaning of the fish. What a clever invention!

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Origami Pinwheel


In 2001, while visiting the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre in New Denver BC, a Richmond resident was given this origami pinwheel from a tour guide on site. When thinking of origami, one does not immediately think of the west coast fishing industry. However, the art of paper folding has a much closer connection to B.C.’s past.

A Double Entendre

This origami pinwheel is no ordinary piece of art – it is made from Clover Leaf Salmon labels, paying a special tribute to the west coast fishing industry. Furthermore, its art form is fittingly Japanese, a demographic that played an enormous role in the success of BC’s fishing industry.

The Long Awaited Redress

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the federal government repatriated all Japanese-Canadians affected by the Japanese Internment imposed during World War II. Sites such as the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, situated in the New Denver Internment Camp, were created to educate visitors about this dark time in Canada’s history. In 2007, the Nikkei Internment Memorial was designated a National Historic Site by Parks Canada.

Salmon Labels as Art

In 2002, the Cannery with help from two university students, published a book critique on BC salmon can labels from 1890-1950. During that same year, a temporary exhibit was opened in the Cannery to display several artists’ response to the Society’s can label collection. The exhibit showcased various 2D and 3D displays, with several different mediums. If this pinwheel was donated a year earlier, it would have fit perfectly with the display as it holds significant meaning to the Japanese and their involvement in the fisheries, all while looking stunningly beautiful!

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