Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada

posted in: Alaska, Canada | 1

The Nieuw Amsterdam crossed the border into Canada to stop in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, a small port city close to Alaska’s southeast panhandle. It is known as the rainiest and cloudiest city in Canada, earning the nickname “City of Rainbows.”  We did not see a rainbow, but we had not a drop of rain or cloudy skies. Another beautiful day!

It was a relatively short hop of 90 nautical miles from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is one of the most recognizable Canadian symbols. On the dock I met Brody, a member of Canada’s famous national police force. Most of his work is with indigenous peoples, restoring relationships and building a partnership after a history that includes a role in “Canada’s most difficult and dark moments.”

We had time before our excursion to explore Prince Rupert. One of the first things you notice is the cow theme. In 1909 a German settler brought a dozen cows by barge to start a dairy farm in Prince Rupert. Without a dock the cows had to swim to shore. This sight must have had quite an impact because the waterfront became known as “Cow Bay” from that day onward.

Wherever you look, something is painted in the iconic style of the Holstein cow. It reminded me of the annual Durham Fair in Durham, Connecticut, our old home grounds.
Gift shops carry a plethora of cow-theme merchandise.
My favorite play on the cow theme is this cafe – “Cowpuccino’s.”

Continuing our stroll around Prince Rupert, we stumbled upon the Prince Rupert Sunken Gardens by accident. We took a turn through a short tunnel and stepped into a beautiful parklike setting. The hidden location was originally a courthouse which was relocated and an ammunition bunker in World War II. The enormous hole in the ground became the sunken gardens, sometimes well-kept and sometimes overgrown. Since 2003 the gardens have been maintained and are the often used for family picnics, weddings, photography sessions, and just relaxing, sitting or reading.

We boarded a bus for the excursion to the North Pacific Cannery, the oldest intact cannery. It was a very interesting excursion, combining industrial/technological history and social history in an outdoor setting. Salmon canning was a major economic industry on the West Coast from the mid to late 19th century, numbering over 200 at the peak.

The North Pacific Cannery was formed in 1888, operating from 1890 -1968. In the beginning all of the tasks were done by hand –  the netting, butchering, cleaning and cooking of the salmon. The can-making, packing and filling the cans was also very labor intensive.

Canneries were built near fishing grounds so that the fish could be quickly transported and processed to prevent spoiling.
The net loft was the center of repairs for machinery on the lower level and the nets on the second floor.
Inside the net loft. Women and children mended and repaired the fishing nets. I asked about the Japanese glass float (lower left) because we have three at home. Our guide explained it had nothing to do with the cannery but looks pretty here on display. That’s similar to mine – nothing to do with our actual life, but they look pretty. 😉

The remote locations on the salmon rivers also meant that the canneries were built to be self-sustaining with employee housing. The multi-cultural labor force was segregated, divided according to race and culture in tasks and housing. The Japanese fished and mended nets, First Nations men fished and the women cleaned on the cannery line, Chinese butchered the salmon and cooked, and Europeans fished and served in management roles. 

Across from the net loft were two replicas of houses for First Nation workers, 75% of the work force. There were originally 100 along the board walk each one housing 6-12 family members.
The interior of the recreated house.
Most of the worker housing has been lost through neglect and age. There were bunk houses for Japanese workers. The housing for Chinese employees was across the railroad tracks.
A boardwalk connected the housing and the operational facilities.
It’s hardly a surprise to anyone that the housing for European employees was much, much nicer.
After the early 1900s, machines replaced much of the the hand labor in the canneries. This butchering machine cut off the head, tail, and fins of a fish; split it down the belly; remove the entrails; and cleaned one salmon every second, much much faster than the 2,000 salmon per 10 hour shift butchered by workers.
I cringed at the name plate – “The Iron Chink.” These machines stole their jobs and insulted them.
The old fuel dock has seen better days.
Al always notices curious things. He was concerned about the support under this one building and laughed at the disposal unit in the floor of another building.
The company office. Sometimes it is disconcerting to see things in a museum setting that you recognize and once used, like the old telephone and ancient typewriter.
Old-time stores have a certain charm.
The old mess building is now the Yaga Cafe. I tried the Rushbrook Trail Bar – very earthy and healthy, I suppose? Ice cream would have been more satisfying.
The cannery had two large displays of the can labels from the years it was in operation. At the end of the tour, the guides gave us each a can as a souvenir. An empty can because who would want salmon that is over 50 years old?? Nice gesture, but we did not bring the can home.

The visit to the North Pacific Cannery was worthwhile and interesting, but the exploitation and segregation characteristic of the time period is so depressing. All the more reason that it not be forgotten.


  1. Rob Lentz

    What an amazing trip you are on! I’m thoroughly enjoying your posts.

    It appears as though the exploitation of large groups of people is universal. I agree that we need reminders of this, lest we forget.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *