Our visits to the cannery would change in the years to follow as Dad would take us out for adventures in the off season. One of my favourite things to do was dig at the site of the China House. I don't remember the house as a standing structure. It was on the shore. not on pilings, and it housed the Chinese workers and their families. All the non-white communities were segregated back in those days by ethnicity and each of the communities had a area of "expertise".
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.