It never fails, the best things in life are sometimes right in our own backyard. I grew up in Prince Rupert hearing stories about Kincolith, Greenville, and New Aiyansh from my dad. The only way to get to these spots back in the 60's & 70's was by boat. I would never make it out of Prince Rupert harbour without throwing up so I was left behind when my sister went up with my dad to visit. But now it is 2019 and there is a road.
This year my oldest daughter moved to Prince Rupert so I seized the opportunity to take the family on a bit of a pilgrimage.
We set off from Prince Rupert and headed to Terrace along the Skeena River for 139 kms. Once in Terrace you head up Nisga'a highway #113. As we drive along the highway the names of the villages are in the Nisga'a language so I am not prepared. We stop at the campground as there is a sign that states there is a visitors center there. But it is closed on Tuesday and today is Tuesday, luckily though Chris Moorman, who works for the village as a craftsman is there. He is working on a new carving shed on site so we chat with him. He tells us he just finished adding two more hot tubs up at the hot springs as well as building the walkway with just his chainsaw, and to make sure that we go. We get a pamphlet from him about the Auto Tour and gain a better understanding of the names of the villages we want to go to. We want Gingolx (Kincolith), Laxgalts’ap (Greenville) and Aiyansh.
We find the hot springs easily and head in on the new boardwalk. It is easy to access and is well maintained. The whole walk takes no more then 6 minutes. The air is scented with sulfur and we know we have arrived. There are two changes rooms at this level and a few more that are a bit of a climb. There are no outdoor toilets here, just at the entrance.There are two California style cedar tubs that are very new, each with a hose from the stream that can add cool water at your convenience depending on how hot you want the water. The water was VERY hot when we were there.
The original concrete shallow tub location is still there. The bugs are surprisingly not bad! We are here at the end of July and find the area empty.
Back on the road we head to Laxgalts’ap where I know there is a museum about the area and the Nisga'a culture.
The building is beautiful with over 300 priceless artifacts — one of the finest collections in the Northwest Coast and the world. "Hli Goothl Wilp-Adokshl Nisga’a (Nisga’a Museum) is a “Class A” museum — with a design inspired by traditional Nisga’a feast dishes, longhouses and canoes. The museum houses cultural treasures acquired in the 19th and early 20th centuries — our gift to each other and the world", states the brochure.
Once we are done exploring we are desperate for more to drink and head over to Grizzly Dan's. This is a new business that has just opened in Laxgalts'ap. They plan to have several RV sites a gas station and a store. As a tourist I often find myself paying huge amounts for things like bottles water and soda pop. So when I popped in to Grizzly Dan's I figured I would be paying a few dollars for a can of soda. But no I was pleasantly surprised, just $1. I can't remember the last time I paid a dollar for a can of pop.
Then off we go up Grizzly hill. I sense that Grizzlies might be a thing here! This is quite the drive. Several of the hills are 17% it is windy, our 16 yr old and our 6 year old passengers are not feeling well. It is a 30km drive to Gingolx but for the kids it feels like a 100kms! We finally arrive in Gingolx aka Kincolith its a beautiful day and we are hungry.
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As a a Cannery Kid growing up in Prince Rupert, I really never wanted to be a line worker in the Fish Cannery. I think I saw how hard my Nan worked and how her perfume always seemed to be the scent of HEET liniment, but I also think maybe I just couldn't do it. Ever since I could remember my Nan had worked at the fish cannery down on the Prince Rupert docks. First she was a filleter at Atlin fish in Cow Bay, a hub of activity in it's day. Then she went on to the new Oceanside plant when it opened.
Photo credit: The Jim Moorehead Family Collection
My mum would sometimes take us kids down to visit Nanny. All her co-workers would be lined up filleting or candling the ground fish in their white coveralls and head scarves. The noise from the forklifts whipping around the cannery floor and the machinery was deafening. If it was Halibut season my mum would be gifted some Halibut Cheeks on our visit. (In our house that was a real delicacy!) Other times of the year it might be Witches, Sole or Cod that we left with.
My Nan worked long hours, sometimes as many as 12 when there were lots of boats in. I remember her kitchen calendar with black lines on every day she had worked and the number of hours written in. Often there was not a day without a mark on it, no days off.
Photo Credit: The Jim Moorehead Family Collection
Nan and the other ladies fought hard for the wages they earned. The big companies like CANFISCO , ABC Packing Company, B.C Packers and Nelson Bros didn't just happen to pay well. The shore-workers had organized and fought hard to be paid the hourly wages they got and they earned every cent. My Nan sat on many picket lines; some of them very angry and violent. So when the next generation came along we would reap the rewards of their battles.
Photo Credit: The Philippson Family Collection
It was a diverse group of ladies that worked in the plant, young and old, married and widowed. It was a close knit community and they always looked out for each other. My Nan had never learned to drive but there was always a car pool of ladies that picked her and others up. The little cars would race down the hill to the plant, park and out would jump 5 women from all backgrounds dressed in the same coveralls and scarves on their heads. Most of them were smoking and hanging on to their lunch buckets ready for the day. They would head in grab their time card from one side of the clock, punch in and then put the time card on the other side. Then they would set up in their regular spots at the tables in the lunch room, the greenhorns would have to learn the hard way where the ladies with the seniority sat. Then the horn would blow and off they would go to their spots on the line. The floor lady was the boss and she kept things organized and running.
As the years ticked by my oldest sister Linda would head off for her turn at being a cannery worker at North Pacific Cannery. By the time I was 14, a family friend Cliff Irving spotted me at the post office and said I had a job as of Tuesday at the Northern Co-op Grocery store in the meat department. It seemed that I would not be a cannery worker after all.
That same year my mum took my sister Terry down to Royal Fisheries in Cow Bay where she would work the line during Spring Break. Terry was 16 and this was her first job on the Herring season (phew, I managed to avoid that one). Off the two of them would go each morning, laughing as they jumped in to mum's car for the day on the line. They would return home sometimes 10 to 12 hours later still laughing and chatting about the day. They both really seem to be enjoying the work and their time together. I was just a tad jealous at this point. Then the school board announced that any students working on the Herring would get an extra week off school. Geez not only did she earn 4x more then me, now she got an extra week off school too. Then came her pay check, it was huge, and she seem to forget how every bone in her body hurt and that she would probably never stop smelling of HEET liniment .
Photo Credit: The Philippson Family Collection
I went off to College in 1980 and would return to Prince Rupert in May of '81 to find that the new management at the Co-op grocery store no longer needed me. I was an unemployed student for about 30 seconds. My mother marched me (in her white coveralls) down to the Prince Rupert Fisherman's Co-op to put my name on the call list for that year's Herring season. Yes it was my turn. The floor lady called and I showed up for the 8 am shift. I was driven there by my mother, early of course as being late was not a option. I would learn how to remove the lemon yellow roe from the Herring being careful not to break any of the roe.
Photo Credit B.C. Packers archives
The roe would go into my basket then off to the brine. I stood next to the other ladies never talking just focused on getting it right. I did not want to be fired for being slow or sloppy. My mum was waiting in the parking lot for me when the 10 hour shift was over. She would asked how it went and if I would be called to return the next day ; I was. It was a hard job. Every muscle in my body hurt. My hands ached and my back, standing all day in the same spot, felt like it was broken. But I knew not to complain.
Photo Credit B.C. Packers Archives
I was 18. My grandmother had done this job for years and I would have been very stupid to whine about my aches and pains. So I rubbed on the customary HEET liniment and got on with it. If my mum was proud she never said (that was not her way). I believe she was, however, because every morning my coveralls were washed, my breakfast of boiled eggs, toast and canned peaches waited for me and my lunch was made and ready at the door. She would then drive me down for my shift because I was no longer a Cannery Kid. Now I was a Cannery Worker.