North Pacific Cannery National Historic Site of Canada

Port Edward, British Columbia
General view of the North Pacific Cannery, showing the wooden pilings that support the buildings over the water, 2002. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 2002.
General view
© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 2002.
General view of the North Pacific Cannery, showing the wooden pilings that support the buildings over the water, 2002. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 2002.General view of the North Pacific Cannery, showing the elongated spatial organization of the site, 2008. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 2008.
Address : 1889 Skeena Drive, Port Edward, British Columbia

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1985-06-17
  • 1889 to 1889 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • John Carthew  (Person)
  • Henry Bell-Irving  (Person)
  • North Pacific Canning Company Ltd.  (Organization)
  • Anglo-British Columbia Packing Company  (Organization)
Other Name(s):
  • North Pacific Cannery  (Designation Name)
Research Report Number: 1984-050


Existing plaque:  Port Edward, British Columbia

Salmon canning stimulated economic development on this coast. North Pacific is the oldest West Coast cannery still standing. From here the Bell-Irving family shipped high quality salmon directly to England before 1900. Typical of most canneries in its isolation and operations, North Pacific relied more on native labour than those close to urban centres, was slower to adopt new technology, and had lower production costs. Ethnically-segregated living and work areas divided Chinese, Japanese, native and white labour. The main cannery structure, completed in 1895, remains essentially unaltered.

Description of Historic Place

The North Pacific Cannery National Historic Site of Canada is a 19th- and 20th-century salmon cannery complex, located in the community of Port Edward, just south of the city of Prince Rupert on the northwest coast of British Columbia. The cannery complex is situated on a narrow strip of land between the mountains and the Inverness Passage, at the mouth of the Skeena River and is comprised of a cluster of wooden buildings, mostly one-storey in height, grouped along a wooden boardwalk. The boardwalk and many of the buildings are supported on piles over the water. The site is now operated as a cannery museum. The designation refers to the buildings and structures on the site.

Heritage Value

The North Pacific Cannery was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1985 because of: its association with the West Coast Fishing Industry.

The North Pacific Canning Company Ltd. was first established in 1889 by John Carthew. He later sold the cannery to Henry Bell-Irving in 1891, who operated it as the Anglo-British Columbia Packing Company. It remained in active operation until 1980. The built resources at the site represent a relatively intact assemblage of structures associated with various aspects of the West Coast fishing industry over almost 100 years. Although somewhat modified, the main cannery building (1889) is the oldest surviving cannery building in British Columbia. The complex was the site of numerous activities, including a salmon cannery (1890s-1950s), a cure plant (1890s-1920), a can-making factory (post-World War I), a cold storage plant (1900-54), a free oil production plant (early 1950s), and a herring reduction plant (1955-68; and 1972-80). The layout and built resources of the complex, including a power plant, provisions storage, and workers’ housing, reflect its initial isolation and consequent self-sufficiency, both typical of northern coastal canneries. The design and layout of workers’ housing reflects the multicultural workforce and the ethnic segregation in living and work areas.

Its rich collection of buildings and structures demonstrate the evolution, industrial processes and complex organization of a northwest coast cannery. Collectively, the buildings illustrate the infrastructure necessary to process a range of products associated with the west coast fishing industry. The buildings document the self-sufficiency of the Cannery through much of its history, the cultural variation and segregation of its workforce, and the work and domestic lives of the cannery workers and their families. Collectively, the buildings of the Cannery complex represent the demographic realities of single-resource communities, and the role played by European, Asian and First Nations cultures in the development of the West Coast Fishing Industry and the industrial development of British Columbia.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1988; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 2000.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include: the elongated spatial organization of the site, the spatial relationships of the buildings and structures, and the relationship of the site to the adjacent railroad; its siting near the Skeena River estuary, close to the “Glory Hole” where salmon gathered, and Smith Island, with surviving pilings; the wooden pilings that support any of the buildings over the water; the built resources, including industrial buildings, dwellings, commercial and office buildings; the form, layout and materials of the timber-framed Main Cannery and Warehouse Building, with a low-pitched gable roof, open interior spaces, utilitarian materials, the legibility of its evolution, T-shaped form, second-storey storage and net loft area, and corrugated iron roofing; the gable-roofed Packing and Storage Building with plywood sheathing, and convex bowed floor; the Machine Shop and Net Loft in its board-and-batten exterior, its open interior with visible roof structure, the first-floor machine shop with mechanical features including engine, flywheel, pulleys, and lathes, the net loft in the attic with stringers; the Reduction Plant and Tanks set on wooden pilings over the water with wood-frame construction and metal siding, conical form, the form and materials of the boiler house smoke stack, and the offal pit; the functional design of the Cannery Office, its gable roof, and its central siting in front of the manager’s residence; the functional design of the wood-frame Cannery Store, its gable roof, shed-roof extensions and central siting, illustrating its dual role as workers’ provisions and community centre; the workers’ housing, its layout and segregation according to ethnicity and company position, and its functional design consisting of simple, wood-frame, gable-roofed buildings, with drop or bevelled wood siding; the larger scale of the Cannery Manager’s Residence and the Assistant Manager’s Residence and their accompanying yards and gardens; surviving examples of housing for European and Japanese workers, and the sites of former dwellings for Chinese and First Nations workers, reflecting the cultural segregation of the workforce; the Cottages designed for Euro-Canadian workers and their families, including shallow-pitched, gable roofs, porches, the drop siding and plywood skirting; the scale of the Watchman’s Cabin, Staff Cabin, and Net Boss’s Cabin; the siting of housing for other Euro-Canadian workers, including the two-storey Bunkhouse and the Triplex Units, gable-roofed buildings clad in plywood panels; the Mess House/Restaurant in its siting and construction; the housing for Japanese workers, including the Shikitani House, sheathed in vertical board-and-batten panelling; the Japanese Bunkhouse, with shed-roof extension, tapered siding, multi-pane windows, original layout, including the small compartments for individual fishermen, with a separate washhouse wing; the Boat Life Shed, the two boat winches; and its siting; evidence of renewal of building materials and machine parts over the lifespan of the cannery and the re-use of materials.