In Their Words : The Story of BC Packers
First Nation women washing fish at cannery
First Nation women washing fish at cannery. Circa 1905.
Delta Museum and Archives. 8052 174.
First Nation women washing fish at cannery First Nations woman and man rowing a gillnetter First Nations cannery workers taking a lunch break

First Nations men worked mostly as fishermen and the women worked mostly in the canneries. Some men also worked on the canning lines. Some women were also employed as 'boat pullers' whose job it was to row and manoeuvre the boat while the fisherman handled the net. Both men and women were employed to mend fishing nets. Since whole families arrived for work at the canneries, there were plenty of children around. Older ones were given simple tasks on the canning line or in the can loft while the younger ones stayed with their mothers during the working day. Many mothers strapped their babies to their backs while washing fish and filling cans.

Fishing and cannery work began in June and ended in September and at seasons end the First Nations crews packed up their belongings and left Steveston, heading either for home or to find harvesting work on farms.

Katzie First Nation fisherman, Cyril Pierre recalled his early childhood at the canneries along the Fraser River:

"We're from Barnston Island on the Fraser River and our family has been involved with the industry as far back as any of our family can remember... When we were little, like younger in our age, our mom used to work in the canneries when our dad was gone up north. And we used to live at a place called St. Mungo Cannery, just below New Westminster. And for a few years, I can barely remember, we lived in Steveston and our mother worked there and sometimes our dad worked at the net loft there. Our mom was a fish canner and net worker also. And they were very, very experienced at what they did with nets. They were hired all over the river... And it was mainly a summer job for our family. When the fishing season used to be over, roughly around the fall, maybe even after the summer, we used to travel by boat. My brothers used to have gas boats and they used to come down to the cannery and we'd load up what furniture we had, all the clothing we had, onto these boats and they would transport us up here to Barnston Island to our home."

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