In Their Words : The Story of BC Packers
Chinese cannery workers, smoking during a break
Chinese cannery workers at Imperial cannery, smoking during a break. Circa 1913.
Vancouver Public Library 2101
Chinese cannery workers, smoking during a break

Most of the Chinese workers who laboured in Steveston's salmon canneries came from the Chinatowns of Vancouver and Victoria. They lived in Chinese bunkhouses on cannery property for the duration of the working season. Chinese bunkhouses were usually two-story, wooden buildings, often called 'China houses'. They had bunkrooms on each floor and a large eating area on the ground floor. Cooking was done in a small cookhouse at the back of the building. No consideration was given to comfort or privacy. Bunkhouses were merely meant to house as many workers as possible. Large bunkhouses could sleep up to 100 Chinese workers! The only heat came from a wood stove on the ground floor.

On working days, Chinese work crews were fed three meals. They usually ate rice, cabbage, fish and sometimes meat. On days off the crews were fed only two meals. Hot water for washing was provided from a heated tank near the cookhouse. Free time was spent in the bunkhouses. Many of the men spent their time off drinking and gambling. Some played games or smoked opium. Others enjoyed gardening. At the end of each fishing and canning season, most Chinese cannery workers sought employment in other industries or returned to the city for the winter.


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