A building beside water with a flag
The Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, 2012
© Giovanni Martorella

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery was designated a national historic site in 1976.

Commemorative plaque: 12138 4th Avenue, Richmond, British Columbia Footnote 1

For thousands of years the fishery has been vitally important to people on Canada's west coast. It provided food for Aboriginal peoples and is still an essential element of their culture. Commercial fishing began in the 1830's when the Hudson's Bay Company salted salmon for export in barrels. More efficient fishing methods, new canning and freezing technologies, and access to remote markets by ship and railway fostered an industry which has for generations employed men and women of many origins. The Gulf of Georgia Cannery, built in 1894, serves as a symbol of this history.

Description of historic place

Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site of Canada is a large complex of wooden buildings associated with fish processing and canning built on wharf structure situated on the north bank of the south arm of the Fraser River at the River’s mouth on the Gulf of Georgia in the village of Steveston. It is operated now as a historic site open to the public.

 

Many cans being packaged into a crate
Cans being packaged at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, 2015
© Sonja Peterson Photography
Cans being packaged
An assembly line of cans at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, 2015
© Sonja Peterson Photography

Heritage value

Gulf of Georgia Cannery was designated a national historic site in 1976 because of: its association with the West Coast Fishing Industry, from the 1870s to the modern era, its location in Steveston, historically the most important fishing village on the West Coast, the cannery buildings and extant resources which reflect the industry’s development.

The heritage value of the site is carried by the physical complex of buildings constructed and modified between 1894 and 1964 and their illustration of industrial fish processing and canning during the first half of the twentieth century. Over the years, the cannery evolved into a herring reduction plant and finally ceased functioning in 1979 when the buildings were used as storage and a netloft facility until purchased by the Government of Canada for operation as a national historic site.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, June 1977 Minutes; Commemorative Integrity Statement, November 1997.

A building beside water
A sunset picture of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, 2021
© Johnny Choi 

Character defining elements

Key elements contributing to the site’s heritage value include:

  • its location on British Columbia’s lower mainland at the mouth of the Fraser River;
  • its siting, built on wharf structures out over the river;
  • the range and functional diversity of the remaining structures (Cannery building, Ice House, Feeding Oil Plant, Oil Drum Shed, Watchman’s Shed, Lead Foundry, Tank Farm Deck, Oil Drum Cradles and remnants of the South Dock);
  • the varied massing and profile of the cannery complex;
  • the orientation of specific buildings and structures and their place within the complex;
  • the simplicity of building design throughout the complex (rectangular, pitched roof structures with sparse, utilitarian details);
  • the unity of building materials throughout the complex (inexpensive and utilitarian contemporary materials including wood, metal, and manufactured sheathing materials);
  • the prevalence of utilitarian requirements governing form, location, materials and equipment;
  • the presence of special purpose equipment related to the functions of specific buildings and structures;
  • the functional organization of space between and among buildings and inside individual buildings;
  • legibility and integrity of the wharf that comprises the cannery site and supports the cannery complex;
  • the technology of wharf construction (heavy timber piles driven into the riverbank, heavy timber and wood framed substructure);
  • the materials of wharf construction (heavy timber beams, wood, wood plank);
  • viewplanes to the village of Steveston, and to surrounding cultural landscapes shaped by the fishery including other complexes of fishing industry structures, facilities (the seine loft, the gillnet loft, the driveways and front wharf), and artifacts and activities related to fishing (boat moorage), to the dike on the northeast side of the Cannery, and to the Fraser River, its mouth and the Gulf of Georgia. 

The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

Get information on how to participate in this process