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In Their Words : The Story of BC Packers
A multicultural mix of women washing salmon
Dozens of women of every ethnic background worked side by side washing salmon. Imperial Cannery,1960s.
City of Richmond Archives 1985 4 2313
A multicultural mix of women washing salmon Dozens of women washing salmon at Imperial Cannery during the 1970s Women enjoying a laugh during a busy day A close-up of a Japanese-Candian woman washing salmon

Washing Salmon

The women cleaning salmon at the washing tables were experts at their task. Known as 'slimers', each of these women carefully washed and cleaned hundreds and hundreds of salmon every shift. Like the butchering machine crew, they too were protected from the fish blood and guts. The women wore aprons, gloves, hairnets and colourful kerchiefs, along with their rubber boots.

Working opposite one another at long, two-sided tables, an endless flow of butchered salmon came their way on a conveyor. They checked each butchered salmon carefully, scraping and washing away the remaining slime and blood. Just as quickly as they washed one salmon another three were ready to clean! The work was steady and fast-paced.

Pat Campo of the Sto:Lo First Nation recalls the uniform she wore during her time as a 'slimer' in the 1940s:

"When I think about the cannery, I automatically think about being fishy, that's number one! As soon as you mention fish cannery, I think oh, hmm... the smell! And you know, as much as you came home and took a shower and shampooed your hair, it still came out after. You're sitting here and hmm... fish! The clothes you wore in the cannery were the clothes you wore in the cannery, you didn't take them to go out socially, this sort of thing. They were strictly your working clothes. Most of the canneries supplied you with a uniform, but you still had to have something underneath your uniform, you didn't wear just your uniform... And, you always wore rubber boots, even in the summer time because there was a lot of water around... It was always wet around the cannery. Wet and smelly... You wore rubber aprons. You always had to wear a hat of some sort. They didn't like you going with your hair loose. You had to wear something to tie your hair up."

During the mid-1950s, Elsie Jacobs got her start as a 16-year-old washing fish in Steveston's canneries. She describes how she earned seniority in the plant over time:

I started washing fish, didn't matter who you were, you just come in and you wash fish. I did that for quite awhile and then I got on a canning line and then upstairs in the filleting room and in the smoke house, so you worked all over the plant and you have a bit of seniority... There was a lot of people, a lot of people when I started there. I think I washed fish for 3 or 4 years to get the seniority and then I got on the line. It wasn't so damn cold on your hands, and I spent a lot of time on the line.

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