In Their Words : The Story of BC Packers
A view of First Nations employee housing at Imperial Cannery in 1913
A view of First Nations employee housing at Imperial Cannery in 1913.
British Columbia Archives, E-05070.
A view of First Nations employee housing at Imperial Cannery in 1913 A 1923 Fire Insurance Plan of Imperial Cannery showing segregated First Nations housing First Nations women walking along boardwalk in Steveston eating ice cream.

First Nations families often lived on cannery property during the summer fishing and canning season. In the earliest days they lived in canvas tent camps next to the cannery. Later, canneries built rows of wooden, one-room cabins, made of split cedar boards or sawn lumber. These huts were often built on land, but some were built on stilts over the river. The earliest had no windows and rush mats covered the doors. Later versions had doors, windows and even scrap tinplate roofs. They were furnished only with the things the occupants brought with them for the summer.

The floor of the interior of these one-roomed houses is littered with blankets, furniture, cooking tins, fish gear, carnival masks, and usually three or four dogs... The Indians brought some of their own native foods: sundried salmon, probably a holdover from last year, this may sustain life [but] I refuse to classify it as food... their smoked salmon and oolichans were quite good... They used to buy what we whites used as bedroom crockery - jugs, basins, soap dishes but they were for kitchen and table use by them - why not? Garnett Weston, "Steveston-by-the-Fraser" in British Columbia Magazine, August 1911.

While living at cannery houses, First Nations women did the cooking over open fires either indoors or out. Their summer diet consisted mainly of local seafood such as salmon, eulachon, clams and sturgeon. The diet relied on local greens, rhubarb and berries gathered in the fields around Steveston's canneries. They also prepared and ate a simple pan-baked bread of flour and water. Many row houses were equipped with a smokehouse where salmon and eulachon could be preserved during the summer.


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