My Uncle Jerry shared a story from when he was a boy living at the cannery and playing with his friend Sung. He visited the large white building and noted the garden of lettuce in very straight rows and how orderly it was. Bags of this lettuce had been gifted to his mother, my granny, on many occasions but never appeared at the dinner table. After several cups of green tea Uncle Jerry needed to use the bathroom. The facilities consisted of a metal trough that sloped down to a bucket. Sung explained to Uncle Jerry that once the bucket was full, the gardener then took the bucket out to the lettuce patch and then carefully ladled the urine between the lettuce rows. Uncle Jerry never wondered after that why his family didn't eat the Chinese lettuce greens.
Many years later my sister and I armed with trowels would dig among the ruins of the China House searching for Chinese crockery.
The big companies that own canneries like North Pacific often burned down what ever buildings were neglected and no longer of any use to them. In 1900 the industry was starting to modernize and the work the Chinese workers had done was now slowly being taken over by a machine named "The Iron Chink" It could clean trim and cut the salmon into pieces making the work the Chinese workers did redundant.
Photo credit google images
My mum no longer had to come out to the cannery for Sunday lunch so it was just us kids and there was no longer "457 rules".
My dad had grown up on these train tracks and the river and knew if we were taught how to live around the water and trains we would be safe.
I had a ball in the off season; the families and workers had mostly gone to their winter homes and the cannery was my oyster. I swung from the ropes in the net loft, ran along the beach snapping seaweed, tried to catch feral cats and ran from huge rats. When in 1971 dad announced we would be spending the whole summer there and we would live in the manager's house we were pretty excited.
Photo Credit Linda Hansen
Living full time at the cannery for July and August would be like a huge vacation, so we thought. The reality of it was that the cannery sprung to life during the salmon season and children were not to be found under foot.
photo credit Gladys Blyth
To this day, I tremble at the entrance to the main dock between the cannery and the reduction plant. There my father marched the 3 of us to a newly made sign. "NO CHILDREN PAST THIS POINT UNLESS ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT. SIGNED THE MANAGEMENT" We were to never ever pass this point under any circumstances. This was a place of business not our play park and we were never to enter any of the facilities without my dad, there was to be no questions.
The day came after school was finished in June and we packed up our two cars with the essentials and headed to NP. With Tony Orlando and Dawn blasting from my mum's 8 track we got our new home sorted.
Terry and I had the room facing the river with a perfect view of the Reduction Plant and my brother had his own room to the side.
This was in its self a highlight as we 3 all shared a room back home on 7th Ave. New twin beds were bought for Terry and I and light blue chenille bedspreads finished the room off. Inside the antique blanket box were a life supply of Hudson Bay blankets and grey camp blankets for when all our friends would come and have sleepovers. We had a three drawer dresser for our clothes with a mirror attached. Mum and dad had one as well just a bit fancier.
The books in the closet from days gone by were a dream come true, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, inside the covers was my oldest sisters name from her days of living at the cannery. Those books would go on to be treasured by my own daughter years later. But the real treasure was the drawer full of Archie Comics. We would never have to visit Eddie's News Stand again.
It didn't take long to set things up then it was time to explore, we knew none of the kids that made their home at the cannery for the summer. Most came from "up the line" so we were going to have to make new friends.
Not many of us get to see the home we lived in as a child become a museum, North Pacific Cannery, where I spent much of my childhood, however, has become a museum and is in the process to hopefully become a UNESCO world heritage site. Before talking about the museum itself, here is the relevant background in a short series called: The Cannery Kid.
Growing up in Prince Rupert in the 60s and 70s was as simple as it could be, or so I thought.
We lived on 7th Ave East, the center of the universe. 7th Ave had everything: All the important people lived on that street we knew everyone from top to bottom. Stop Over grocery store was right across from our wartime home, King Edward Elementary school was on the corner and Booth Junior High was just down the road. We really didn't need anything else.
On the occasional weekend we would all head out to North Pacific Cannery or NP as we called it. NP had always been a part of my family well before I was born. It was started as a cannery site in 1888 by 3 men and went on as a working cannery for over 90 years.
My first memories of it starts when I was around 3 or 4. My grandparents Karla and Oliver Philippson lived out there and grandpa had been the manager since 1946.
The drive from Prince Rupert to the cannery was an 22km adventure, back in the 60's, there were lots of markers to remind you how far you had gone.
First was Oliver lake where we went for picnics and ice skating in the winter, then past Miller Bay hospital which was once the TB hospital for the native people. It was a huge sinister site built in the 40's and it was totally off limits. There is a book out now called Miller Bay Indian Hospital by Carol Harrison.
Then past a little home they had a goat, my dad would remark that he would like a goat so we could have goats milk. My mum wouldn't even have to say a thing we all knew what she was thinking and it was NO.
Then the pollution from the pulp mill it stunk of sulfur. Hard brown and yellow crusts formed over the water and it was disgusting. I imagine no marine life lived in there and if it did it had 3 heads, The environment was not something companies had to concern themselves with back in the 60s, everything went in the water no questions asked. Thank gawd someone started asking questions!
We made our way towards Port Edward, home to Nelson Bros fisheries and Brad's Drive in.
Photo credit Sampare E Vincent
Then finally the cannery road, my Grandpa was instrumental in getting this road build in 1959. It was a bit of a roller coaster ride and we passed my favourite cannery site, Inverness, then it was NP.
By this time my mum was reminding us of 3 kids of the 457 rules that we would have to follow while out at the cannery.
Photo Credit Linda Hansen
My mum was a confident women but going out to the cannery with 3 small children must have given her sleepless nights. The train was her first concern, it ran behind my grandparents house and then directly in front of the house was the Skeena river. There were the rats the size of cats, and yes, the feral cats were also a concern not to mention the slippery boardwalk with no hand rails.
When we arrived to the managers house you knew which one was our Grandparents', it was the first house, it had a garden, grass, flowers tumbling out of the window boxes and a porch. It was beautiful.
Grandpa would whisk my dad off to do cannery stuff and mum stayed back with Granny and us 3. My mum and my grandmother had a strained relationship as she was my dad's second wife and we 3 were my dad's "other family". Us kids couldn't go very far from the porch dressed in our Sunday lunch clothes, so we could only imagine what it would be like to slide down the boardwalk, jump down on the beach and pop the seaweed or listen on the tracks for the coming train. But no, we had a short leash and it went as far as the porch.
From our vantage point the village of people hustled along, kids played and stared at us as we were highly polished, starched, ironed and white. The first row of houses were for the management.There was a social ladder which as kids we knew nothing about. Manager's house grass front and back, assistant managers house smaller, grass front and back and so on for about five houses. Then the watchman's house it had no grass and was on pilings and that is were the green grass ended.
The rest of the community lived in houses built on pilings. The tide of the Skeena would come in and on high tides water came up to the doors. The cannery was a place were everyone worked and even the kids had jobs, at the time ours was to stay clean and sit on the steps.
My grandfather retired in 1967 and my dad became the assistant manager with Bill Ross being the manager. The cannery had been owned by ABC Packing company to that point and then it was sold to CANFISCO or Canadian Fishing Company.