SALMON CANNERIES: BRITISH COLUMBIA NORTH COAST
Gladys Young Blyth
Reviewed by Adele Case
Reviewed by Adele Case
Volume 20 Number 2
The fishing industry on the west coast of Canada is inextricably linked to the life cycle of the five species of salmon that mature according to the pattern for each kind. Salmon Canneries: British Columbia North Coast not only gives the reader a history of the fishery, but is also replete with black-and-white photographs that illustrate the genesis of the canning industry and the many canneries that processed the valuable catch. Fast freezing of the fish and modern refrigeration have superseded the earlier methods used, but Gladys Young Blyth's meticulously researched work will serve to commemorate the many canneries on the Nass and Skeena rivers and to celebrate the industry of hundreds of fishermen who, through the century from the 1880s until the present, have fished the north-west waters.
Curator of the North Pacific Cannery Village Museum at Port Edward, just south of Prince Rupert, Blyth begins with brief notes relating to the methods of preserving the fish used by native people. Essential to the native winter diet, the salmon was ritually thanked for its generosity and self-sacrifice. Native fishermen were knowledgeable about the habits of salmon, and were ready with their weirs, nets and traps to catch the migrating fish. The catch was then dried and smoke cured.
A salting-down method of preservation was introduced by Hudson's Bay traders. The salteries, as they were called, led to the first export of a resource that then seemed endless. Change came in the 1870s, when preservation by canning was pioneered on the east coast, on the U.S. west coast and on the Fraser River. Canneries were generally situated in a sheltered bay, river mouth or inlet. Ample fresh water was crucial, and cannery villages (hectic in the fishing season, but inactive for most of the year) evolved.
Initially, all the work was done by hand. Even the cans were handmade. As the industry grew and canned goods were accepted, machinery was invented or adapted for removing fish heads, cutting the fish, and dealing with large quantities automatically. Much of the cleaning was done by skilled workers, and all was arranged in assembly-line fashion. Soon, the technology improved in all aspects of the preservation process, to prevent spoilage of the valuable harvest and to lengthen the shelf life of the tinned food source.
This very detailed account of the canning process will be of great interest to all who have had a hand in the fishing industry through the past hundred or more years. The photographs are selected to show the history of many canneries, and are themselves well annotated and explanatory.
Quite often, such specialized accounts fail to cover the entire process, but Blyth's book avoids this pitfall by beginning with a series of short chapters summarizing the many ways in which the salmon were, and are even today, caught. Gill netting, trolling, seine fishing, and the native people's riverside weirs or spearing are dealt with briefly but thoroughly, and these chapters help to set the scene for the interesting material relating to the preservation of the fish. The different canneries are illustrated and explained separately. In most cases, Blyth gives the exact location, the years of operation, the owner or owners and operators, important employees, and other details of interest to anyone checking on an historic site. All the three dozen or so canneries are shown on a map of the area.
The book end papers are bright with salmon colours, silver and gold, and many of the lovely company labels appear, or are shown within the book. The history of canning ends with end-notes, a bibliography, acknowledgements and an excellent index. This book will be a pleasure for many in British Columbia who have lived near the sea, or who have been connected with the vagaries of the fishing industry through the decades.
Adele Case, Britannia Secondary School, Vancouver, B.C.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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