At the turn of the twentieth century, Steveston was the busiest fishing port in the world, with fifteen salmon canneries, six hotels, numerous saloons and gambling dens, and up to fourteen windjammers simultaneously loading canned salmon for world markets. On a Saturday night, 10,000 people thronged the board walks, including Native Indians, Japanese, Chinese, European immigrants, and sailors from the seven seas.
|Cannery with dock for unloading catches|
|Manual salmon processing|
Workers laid the salmon one by one on a moving track. Each salmon had its head cut off by a sharp, rotating blade. A workman then pushed each salmon into the butchering machine. The machine quickly pinned the fish and cut off its tail and fins, and opened the belly with a saw. It even cleaned out the blood and guts with brushes. The butchered salmon was then ejected onto a conveyor belt and sent to the washing tables.
Smiths machine became widely know as the “Iron Chink”, because if could perform the work of approximately 50 Chinese salmon butchers. The innovation increased cannery profits but made thousands unemployed.
|The Iron Chink|
|Salmon were then sliced into can sized chunks by these circular blades|
|A reconstructed canning line|
|The 'slime line'|
The museum is is a national heritage site and is well worth visiting. Stevenson is easily reached by a subway and bus ride from central Vancouver.
Thanks to conservation efforts salmon are returning to the Fraser in the tens of millions. A local newspaper reported that ' The Pacific Salmon Commission, which had been anticipating a return of about 12 million pinks, now says an estimated 26 million fish are in the Fraser. Other rivers are experiencing remarkable returns as well.
“The fish poured in here in such numbers that the sea was a sparkling diamond,” said Ken Kirkby, who has been working to restore salmon runs in Nile Creek on Vancouver Island. “You can’t see the bottom of the river for the salmon.”
The increase in salmon numbers may be due to a controversial experiment which dumped100 tonnes of iron sulphate and 20 tonnes of iron oxide some 350 kilometres off the Haida Gwaii archipelago in an iron fertilization project. This created a 35,000-square-kilometre plankton bloom and it has been argued that Pacific salmon feeding on the plankton would grow in number and size due to the increase in food supply, boosting salmon stocks and causing a massive salmon run in 2014.