A long, long time ago in the early 1950's I spent about three weeks at the cannery. It was summer and my parents were heading off on a road trip across North America with a couple they were friends with. I was given the choice of traveling with them or going to stay with Uncle Oli and Aunt Karla at North Pacific Cannery.
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I had never been to Prince Rupert or North Pacific Cannery before but it sounded better than being trapped in a car with four adults for three weeks so off I went. It was all new to me and I had a fine time. Uncle Oli even put me to work helping staple cardboard boxes for the cans of salmon to be packed in.
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I think I was paid about 20 cents an hour for that. Cousin Alice came over from Osland and we managed to entertain each other. She and I were assigned to do dishes and clean up the kitchen after Karla prepared and served meals. Karla was an excellent cook and I was a very scrawny kid so while I was staying under her roof she did her best to fatten me up but after watching me devour all the gravies, mashed potatoes, pies, cakes and other high calorie foods she could come up with I think she gave up. She also stopped giving my mother advice about how to put some weight on Joanie.
Fast forward to 1962 and the “Call of the Cannery” came again. I was living at UBC with my husband, who was studying there, and our young daughter. My husband was looking for a summer job and Uncle Oli hired him as “dock boy” at NP. I was teaching in Vancouver but as soon as school was out I packed up the Austin Mini and drove north with 18 month old Diane happily bouncing around on a crib mattress I had placed on the back seat along with some of her toys and a supply of snacks. Car seats hadn’t been invented yet! Alas, I was not to live in the Manager’s house on this visit. Our dwelling was a small cottage further down the ‘pecking' line and beyond the houses with grass.
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It was built on piles with the boardwalk in front, the river beneath and train tracks in back - not the safest place to spend the summer with a toddler. When the trains went by the shack shook and you could almost high five the engineer through the back window. Then there were the rats that liked to visit in the dark of the night. One memorable night I witnessed my husband running about trying to kill a large daddy rat with the small wooden hammer that was part of our daughter’s “hammer the pegs” toy. Guess who got away through one of the many holes in the woodwork to return again and again bringing all his family with him. I haven’t been back to North Pacific Cannery since the summer of ‘62 but I have tentative plans to take a tour in September of 2018 that includes a visit to NP as part of the itinerary. Whoever knew it would become a Museum!
About the author
Joan was born in Lytton, BC and moved from there with her parents to Williams Lake and then Campbell River where she graduated from High School. From there it was off to Victoria College (later University of Victoria), Vancouver, Eugene OR and back to Vancouver and Victoria where she raised three daughters. Joan retired from teaching in 1997 and is currently living in Nanaimo, BC. Interests include family history and travel - always curious about what is around the next corner.
It was a beautiful early summer Sunday at North Pacific Cannery on the Skeena River. Sundays were often dull for a ten-year-old. It was just after school finished and before Vacation School started. The Cannery folks were buzzing with news of an ice cream party at the net house. A notice had appeared on the notice board near the watchman's shack. It said "All children are invited to an ice cream party on Sunday afternoon.
This was 1940, and ice cream was a rare treat. If you wanted ice cream outside of the city you had to make it yourself. It required a machine and an abundant supply of ice. We had ice at the cannery but no ice cream machine.
About noon on Sunday an itinerant Baptist minister showed up on the walkway to the net house—now empty with the fishing season under way. He was accompanied by his daughter and an ice cream machine. Ice was available from the hold of a fish packer ready to depart for the fishing grounds later that day. The minister brought all the other ingredients, which included salt to cool the ice, cream, sugar, eggs, and flavoring.
The energetic preacher set out to make ice cream as if he had done it a thousand times before. My buddy and I immediately volunteered to help. Things did not go well. The ice smelled of fish and had to be washed. In spite of our best efforts on the crank, the ice cream did not firm up.
The minister became very impatient and frustrated. "Turn the handle faster!" He cried, as we took turns cranking as hard as we could. Just then several Native children appeared. They very shyly asked when the ice cream would be ready. The beleaguered minister turned to them and blurted out. "Can't you see we're having trouble! Come back later!" The children's jaws dropped in astonishment and they scurried away.
We eventually got the machine working and wonderful vanilla ice cream appeared. The helpers were allowed a cone each, with an admonition that further cones might be available from what was left over after the Native children came. The afternoon wore on and the ice cream was losing its stiffness. No children showed up. The crestfallen minister suddenly realized that the Native children must have assumed that this was a white person only party.
The word had spread in the village that Natives were not welcome. We eventually had our fill of soft ice cream when messengers to the Native village failed to produce any ice cream converts. The minister and his daughter gathered up their equipment and left the cannery, looking very hang dog indeed, never to be seen again.