Fish Cannery

Classified Federal Heritage Building

Steveston, British Columbia
General view of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. (© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada)
General view
(© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada)
Address : 1 Fourth Avenue, Steveston, Steveston, British Columbia

Recognition Statute: Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
Designation Date: 1986-05-22
  • 1894 to 1894 (Construction)

Other Name(s):
  • Gulf of Georgia Cannery  (Other Name)
Custodian: Parks Canada
FHBRO Report Reference: 85-13
DFRP Number: 56486 00

Description of Historic Place

The Fish Cannery, also known as Gulf of Georgia Cannery, is prominently located at the western end of Steveston’s Cannery Row on Moncton Street in Richmond, British Columbia. Projecting over the north bank entrance to the south arm of the Fraser River, the complex of buildings is set on a timber, post and beam wharf. The large, wood-frame structure consists of a combination of low, wide, and long gable-roofed sections with shed-roofed additions, including a main block, east wing, main block extension and various outbuildings. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Fish Cannery is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.

Historical Value
The Fish Cannery dates from a period of intensive growth in the fishing industry during the mid-1890s. As the Gulf of Georgia became the centre of fishing and processing, a large number of canneries emerged along the two-kilometre waterfront strip adjacent to the village of Steveston, including the Fish Cannery in 1894. Unlike most of its contemporary neighbors, the Fish Cannery managed to survive the numerous fluctuations of the industry and remain in continuous operation as a major fish processing facility for over eighty years, until its final closure in 1979.

Architectural Value
The Fish Cannery is celebrated for its good aesthetic qualities and excellent functional design. The cannery underwent numerous alterations throughout its history, mirroring changes in mechanization and reflecting transitions in the commercial fishing industry and the operations of the cannery itself. The complex is comprised of the main block (built in 1894), east wing (built in 1897), main block extension (built in 1906) and various additions and outbuildings constructed after 1940. An early industrial facility, its walls are clad in cove siding and in plain and corrugated cement board. A variety of roof elements that include clerestories, ventilators, catwalks and chimneys, add visual variety to the functional appearance of the cannery. The aesthetic appeal of Fish Cannery springs from this mixture of shapes and massings that emerged in the course of its evolution as an industrial complex.

Environmental Value
The Fish Cannery is valued for its excellent contribution to local development in the Steveston community, reflecting the expansion of the commercial fishing industry from the Fraser River. In relation to surrounding buildings, the irregular shape of the property harmonizes with the configuration of the utilitarian plant and several outbuildings. The cannery’s location on the edge of Steveston's commercial core and adjacent to the public wharf makes it the most conspicuous fish processing plant in the area and a well-known landmark.

Sources: Edward Mills, Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, Steveston, British Columbia, Federal Heritage Building Review Office Building Report 85-013; Former Gulf of Georgia Cannery, Steveston, British Columbia, Heritage Character Statement, 85-013.

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Fish Cannery should be respected.

The heritage value of the Fish Cannery resides in the form and fabric of the complex, the historic equipment it contains and its compatible context, namely: the wharf on which the building rests, constructed in round timber posts and heavy timber beams and lateral bracing; its vernacular rather than highly engineered design; the original timber framing, including light timber framing for the roof, walls and floors, and heavy timber for posts, beams and mezzanine supports; the combination of low, wide, and long gable-roofed sections with shed-roofed additions; the exterior cladding of cove siding and corrugated cement board; the external red and white colour scheme; the clerestories, wood and metal ventilators, cat-walks, chimneys, and the variety of roof and wall finish materials that contribute to the varied composition of the exterior; the vitamin oil shed, separate oil tank storage building and ice house, which feature medium-pitch gable roofs, clad with drop siding, and details found on earlier exterior walls; the dryer shed with a medium-pitch gable roof and cement board cladding; the limited number of access points through both land and water which maintain the internal orientation of the cannery; the evolutionary character of the interior, as expressed by the presence of both self-contained and interconnected spaces; any remaining interior features which testify to its prior use as a fish cannery, including script, temporary fasteners and the rich patina of dirt, oil and fish-scale deposits.
The manner in which Fish Cannery reinforces its historical associations with the commercial fishing industry, as evidenced by: its evolutionary architecture which adapted to the changing demands of the industry; its physical relationship and proximity to the navigable water of the Fraser River.

Heritage Character Statement

Disclaimer - The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.

The former Gulf of Georgia Cannery was built in 1894 as a salmon cannery. Since then it has served as a raw fish depot, herring cannery, and herring reduction plant. In 1979 the property was acquired by the Small Craft Harbours Branch, Fisheries and Oceans, as part of a larger site. In 1978 the cannery was designated a National Historic Site by the Minister of the Environment. It was transferred to the Canadian Parks Service, Environment Canada in 1984. The Parks Canada is the custodian. See FHBRO Building Report 85-13.

Reasons for Designation
The former Gulf of Georgia Cannery building was designated Classified because of its strong historical associations, its architectural design and its importance to the Steveston waterfront. The building is directly associated with the fishing industry throughout the 1894 to 1970s period.

The cannery is a vivid and complex document of the development of the fish processing industry. The building consists of a main block (1894), an east wing (c.1897), a main block extension (1906) and various additions and outbuildings (1940 and later).

In design the building clearly expresses both the functional aspects of the various fish processing activities carried out there and the changing needs of the fish processing industry over much of this century. The historical integrity of the building is high. The survival of machinery from the later stages of the plant's operations increases its importance and legibility.

Situated in a prominent location on the Steveston waterfront at the end of Moncton Street, the cannery is a strong focal point in the Steveston community.

Character Defining Elements
The heritage value of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery resides in the form and fabric of the building, the historic equipment it contains and its compatible context.

The cannery is a large, wood-frame building situated on a wharf which projects over the Fraser River.

Its construction and evolution over a 50-60 year period through addition, extension and alteration (the main block, east wing, main block extension and various other additions and outbuildings), have resulted in a complex building of which its exterior form and massing, interior volumes and construction and variety of finishes are among its most prominent characteristics. The evolution of the building over time is clearly documented and strongly expressed in these characteristics.

The exterior form and massing of the building is comprised of a series of connected, various slope, gable-roofed blocks situated in a north-south or east-west orientation and shed-roofed additions to them. Each contributes to the complex massing and the evolutionary character of the building. Clerestories, wood and metal ventilators, cat-walks, chimneys of various designs and the variety of roof and wall finish materials (shingles, corrugated iron, cove siding and plain and corrugated asbestos-cement board) contribute to the varied composition of the exterior of the complex.

On the interior the evolutionary character of the building is expressed in the variety of spaces within it. These features are more strongly expressed in some areas of the building than in others and are particularly evident in areas where the various components of the building meet and in the visible variations in their construction, structure and finishes. Alterations should only be undertaken after careful analysis of these characteristics to ensure their protection. On the exterior the colour scheme and on the interior the consistent use of wood frame construction provide the main unifying elements of the design.

The complex has a high degree of visual and physical integrity. The first priority of any property management activity must be to retain and protect the building's documentary characteristics as evident in its complexity and layering.

The construction of the cannery, both materials and structure, contribute to its functional, utilitarian character. The wharf on which the building rests is constructed in round timber posts and heavy timber beams and lateral bracing. The building is also constructed entirely in timber - light framing for roof, wall and floor framing, heavy timber for posts, beams and mezzanine supports. All elements are sawn sections. Lateral stability is provided by diagonal bracing at post tops. Although steel is used for bolts, fasteners, tension rods and spreader-plates, structural steel sections form no part of the building's structure. Although well and carefully built, the structure is vernacular rather than highly engineered in its conception.

The interior fabric contains a rich patina in the form of script, temporary fasteners, dirt, oil and fish-scale deposits and patterns or wear. These testify to its prior use and warrant careful protection.

In its basic design the building is characterized by the arrangement of self-contained and interconnected spaces. Some spaces accommodated specific functions while others are not specific. The activities carried out in some areas changed over time depending on the requirements of different industrial processes and the volume of production in a specific year. To meet some requirements (boiler room, office), enclosed space is created by insertion of rooms within the larger volumes of the building. Several spaces contain physical evidence of prior use in their configuration (for example the canning line), furnishings (locker rooms), and equipment (ice house and herring reduction plant). These features are important documentary references to prior use and should be respected and incorporated in any development proposals.

As a utilitarian, industrial building the cannery is internally oriented - access is achieved from a limited number of points from both the land and water sides and fenestration is very limited. The introduction of multiple entry points and extensive glazing would seriously alter the character of the building and should be resisted.

If alterations, structural reinforcement, and additions are necessary the design of these should be based on a single, consistently applied design approach and material vocabulary which are compatible with the character of the building and draw on its precedents. Strongly contemporary or "high-tech" solutions would be inappropriate here. If adaptation of the building to changing or new uses becomes necessary, every effort should be made to take advantage of existing volumes, spaces, plan features and circulation routes to accomplish objectives.

The site is an irregularly shaped property which conforms to the configuration of the plant and several outbuildings. The physical relationship of the building to navigable water is central to its historic function and should not be weakened, particularly by the addition of circulation routes. Less obvious, but of considerable importance, is the relationship of the cannery to the land. As an industrial property the features and materials of the site are functional and utilitarian. Any development of the site should be undertaken with restraint and its qualities respected to ensure its connection with its industrial past is not weakened. All attempts to "prettify" the approach to the property in response to the increasingly tourist oriented main street of Steveston should be resisted.