Prince Rupert

North Pacific Historic Cannery Vilage

British Columbia, Canada

July 1, 2002

The city is a working fishing and logging town of about 16,000. It has two distinct faces, the normal Canadian town in the center and the "Cow Bay" area. Prince Rupert is Canada's first planned community. Railroad Baron Charles Hays planned on bringing the Grand Trunk Railway to the City and making it into a rival for Vancouver. Unfortunately he made a bad decision at the end of a finance-gathering trip to England, by accepting a return voyage on the Titanic. Unfortunately, he was one of the ones who were lost at sea. The area known as Cow Bay consists of several blocks around the waterfront. It got its name when a Swiss farmer decided to start a dairy farm on the island and arrived with a herd of black and white Holsteins. With no wharf or dock, he pushed the cows into the water and had them swim ashore. The area has been called Cow Bay ever since. Today the name is carried on in picture and name. There is the Cowpacheno coffee shop and the Cowlick hair saloon. There are Gateway-like black and white painted dumpsters, light poles and hoof prints can be found in the sidewalk. The streets are lined with B&Bs, cafe, and trendy retail shops. Quite quaint in appearance, it was a fun place to wander around. One of the more spectacular aspects for us was the 6 or 7 resident Bald Eagles that inhabit the area. They sit on light poles and rooftops when not souring in slow circles over the marina. At times just a speck in the sky, and at other times so close you can see the darkness of their eyes. We had dinner in one of the trendy restaurants and watched them for an hour of so as they roamed the sky looking for a handout from the local fishermen. 
We took a tour of the North Pacific Historic Cannery Village in the near by town of Port Edward, some 4 miles away. Here we learned about this area's history going back around 10,000 years. Archeological digs just north of here have found relics and artifacts dating back several thousand years and it is believe that the area was probably one of the first in North America to be inhabited by man. In the late 1880s, it was pretty much still in the hands of the local Indians who made a good living fishing and hunting. The invention of the canned food container brought a whole new prosperity to the Northwest. Salmon, long preserved as a salted fish, could now be cooked and sealed in a can, to be shipped all over the world. In what seemed overnight, canneries began popping up all along the Pacific Coast. The Prince Rupert area was a wild and untamed area that offered nothing in support of the workforce needed to produce the canned products. Enterprising entrepreneurs were faced with the challenging aspect of creating a living and working environment capable of sustaining the business. Boats had to be brought in, fishermen found, laborers located and transported. The cannery quickly became a small village unto itself. The cannery community quickly became multi-cultural, and multi-national. The Indians of the First Nation were masters at finding the best fishing ground and became an intricate part of the canning community. The Japanese came to clear and prepare the fish as did the Chinese. Schools, churches and stores were added to the complex in support of the effort. Fishing was done in small 16 to 20 foot rowboats with supporting sail. The original operation maintained only one motorboat. This was used to pull the rowboats out to sea tied bow to stern. It must have been quite a site to see the powerboat slowly heading out with this long tail of boats carrying their human cargo. In their heyday, the large canneries maintained communities of over a thousand people. Unfortunately, technology soon eliminated the need for a large work force. WWII saw the end of the Japanese workers who were rounded up and placed in internment camps, most never to return. The big fishing fleets brought an end to the era and the canneries. The salmon is now taken to the larger city like Vancouver or to the US. There are no canneries left. Most fell into ruin, having been abandoned. In 1972 a giant fire incinerated an entire cannery village and the remaining ones were systematically dismantled, and destroyed. With the destruction of the North Pacific Cannery about to get underway, a non-profit organization was formed to save the village and preserve it as a historical sight. Today the machines still stand idle, the boardwalk village with its row houses, shops and mess hall, dripping with the seemingly continuous rain stand as tribute to an era gone by and an industry passed.

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