The summer of 1971 was great we had a lot of fun but we were happy to return to our home in Prince Rupert. So when my parents sat us down in January of 1972 to tell us we would be moving out to the cannery in February there was a lot of tears. This was a horrible idea and I was sure my parents came up with it to ruin my life.
After all my school was just meters from my front door how the heck was I going to go get to school?And another thing no one lived out there in the winter why would they do this to us. Well it turned out that the cannery would now be running for the Herring operation and that started in the spring. The Japanese technicians that were in charge of quality control for the company that would be buying the roe (Kazunoko Nigiri Zushi) , came out from Japan to the cannery. Together the technicians and dad set up and ran the operation. Once the Herring was up running at full capacity workers were brought in from Port Edward and Prince Rupert to work the line. The cannery was a very busy place!
Photo Credit:Philippson Family Collection
We headed out to NP as planned but this time with a whole lot more stuff. The TV came with us and dad hooked up an antenna so we could get a channel or two. Mum presented us with our new orange lunch kits. This caused my mum more trauma then us, the thought of us eating food out of a box at our school desks was too much for her to bear. So we ate at my oldest sisters home close by the school.
Photo Credit: The Philippson Family Collection
I never once heard my mum complain about living out at the cannery. She made every effort to make our cannery home lovely. After all it was a 3 bedroom home furnished with antiques, our home in Rupert was a 2 bedroom bungalow. For mum it meant that her family was together, we would all sit down for supper each night around a beautiful oak dining table and this was important to mum. It was important to the other families as well that started to arrive that spring. The company provided housing for the workers and they were not required to pay rent. The families returned to the same houses each season and it was up to them to maintain them. But any investment they made it all still belong to the company.
Photo Credit: The Philippson Family Collection
My mum had the time to paint, make curtains and keep the cannery house rat free. But all the other families had both parents working. The thought of painting the cannery house with your own supplies after a 12 hour shift in the plant was not appealing to most. Since the cannery was built in the 1800s from wood and the site is located in the rain forest damp was a problem. The cannery itself was maintained as were the main buildings but the housing was falling into disrepair.
Photo Credit: The Philippson Family Collection (The Starr home)
The families that came back year after year were just that, families, kids, mums, dads and grandparents. Some came from villages up the Nass and built a community at the cannery. Everyone watched out for each other, there was no social status among any of us. When kids were seen playing on the tracks, the parents were told. If you needed to run into town someone watched your kids, there was always someone to cover you. The friendships that were forged out there lasted a life time and didn't stop when my dad retired in 1974.
Dad had been told by the company CANFISCO to evict all the people that lived at the cannery and when he refused based on the fact that these people were not just workers but his friends and were like family to him. The company threaten him with dismissal and in turn dad resigned and walked away from the place he had known as home for a very long time.
The Native community were our life time friends and were there for my mum when my dad drowned in 1976. It was the Native people that left fish on our door step to feed us and it was the Native people that wrapped us in love and friendship in our biggest time of need. The Native community was always watching out for my mum until she passed away in 2009. Then it was a Native Elder that came to see her two children and remind us that we were still their family.
Photo Credit:The Philippson Family Collection
My years as a cannery kids would teach me more about compassion, friendship and community then I would learn any where else in my life and the lessons I learned out there I would pass on to my own children.
Like all small villages at the time, the company store was the hub of activity. The store was down the boardwalk from the house and it sold everything we needed.
We didn't really shop there, since my mum bought all our provisions in the city from the big supermarkets that were a lot cheaper. Inside the store there was rows and rows of things from food to hardware and the building also served as the Post Office.
Photo credit Richard McGuire
The whole store was done in dark oak and everything was old or so it seemed. There were glass display cases as if the items for sale were museum pieces. It was pretty cool in there and I often thought of myself as Laura Ingalls when I came in with my allowance to buy candy.
Mr. Booth was the store manager, he and his wife Dorothy came up from Vancouver for the salmon season. He wore a tan apron just like Niels Olsen in Walnut Grove which completed the stepping back in time scene I always had going on in my head. My mum had strict rules about the store just like all other things in our lives. The company extended credit to everyone that worked at the cannery in the shape of a account book or coupons each booklet had the same denominations as currency.
The workers and their families could ring up a bill all season and then the total was taken off from their earnings in September for everyone but us. My mum only paid cash she didn't want company credit or those silly coupons that reminded her of ration coupons from the war in Europe. I think that is when I learned the song "Sixteen Tons" (You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt," "I can't afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store.") Us kids would sometimes find a booklet of the coupons and treat ourselves to something. My friends would have to make the purchase as everyone knew the Philippson kids never had coupons.
The coupons were given to the cannery workers as an advance and could only be redeemed in the store. A practice that went back to the days of the Hudson's Bay Company .It was a way of making sure the money stayed in the company's coffers.
I remember one day my mum sent me to the store with a note. I of course read the note and wondered why I just couldn't buy what she asked for: "Tampax" what ever the heck that was. But the instructions were to give the note to Mr. Booth, so I handed over the note. I followed him to the section where this mystery product was kept and he handed me a box wrapped in brown paper. How the heck does he know this is a "Tampax" when the darn thing is wrapped in brown paper?! But I paid the customary cash and returned home with the box wrapped in brown paper. The 60's and 70s were a special time!
The Post Office was at the back of the store and only Mr. Booth would get you your mail. The letters were sorted into little pigeon holes with our names on the bottom. Monday to Friday, Mr. Booth would meet the train in the morning to collect and drop off the mail bag then back to the store to sort it in to the little holes. Our family didn't get much mail but it was pretty darn exciting when we did.
photo credit Mytravelblog@tom24de
The main office was next to the store were my dad did his manager stuff. The furniture had not changed much from the 1800's to my eyes. There was a huge safe where the ledgers were kept as well as the coupon books. Mrs. Booth and some other ladies worked in the office. There was a large wooden counter that separated the ladies from the fishermen and cannery workers when they came in for their pay or coupons. One year, my dad extended the office and added a modern part on. The office was not a place we were allowed in even to visit dad. Once fall came and we arrived to clean things up then we could touch all the machines and make ourselves pretend paychecks.