Salmon fishermen dot the Fraser River in their two-man skiffs circa 1900. (Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Archives)

North Delta history: Strife, strikes and militia on the Fraser River

Salmon fishing and canning was big business on the Fraser River, and helped shape the community

By Nancy Demwell, Delta Museum and Archives Society

Salmon canning, and consequently salmon fishing, was big business on the Fraser River toward the end of the 19th century. It was hard work: open skiffs powered by sail and oars were towed upstream by steam-powered tenders and let loose to float downstream. The boat’s crew set gillnets and gathered them in. Collector barges would then come to collect their catch. These skiffs and their two-man crews were known to stay out for days without returning to shore.

The canneries on the Fraser tripled in number in the 1890s. With the modernization of the factory system in the canneries and the opening of the CPR to the West Coast in 1891, the facilities had the means of production and distribution, and a ready market for West Coast salmon. Having enough licensed fishermen to take the catch was the difficulty that canneries faced.

The federal government, concerned about the overfishing of the Fraser River, implemented criteria for who may hold a commercial fishing licence. The canneries were given the majority of the licences, but when the number of canneries tripled, the number of licences had to be divided between them. Each cannery had as little as 20 skiffs to provide fish for it to process.

A limited number of federal fishing licences were given to independent operators who met the criteria as bona fide fishermen, residents of B.C. and British subjects. Canneries hired the fishermen, their helper crew mates, and their skiff on contract to meet the shortfalls of their own fishing fleet’s catch. In subsequent years, namely the 1890s, the number of independent fishing licences was increased.

RELATED: North Delta history: The eulachon, a part of our past

Canneries also changed the way that both cannery fishermen and independent fishermen were paid by dropping the daily wage and adopting a price per fish. Initially, the independent fishermen received more than the cannery fishermen and the price per fish or the daily wage varied between canneries. At the time, there were organizations for the Japanese fishermen, the fishermen of European descent, and the Indigenous fishermen.

In 1900, the three fishermen’s groups joined together and struck for a better price per fish than any of the canneries were offering. The canneries, in turn, joined together in opposition. Collectively, the fishermen stayed on strike for two weeks, but in the third week the Japanese fishermen’s organization broke ranks and settled for much lower than the agreed target price. The remaining two groups of fishermen remained on strike.

There were isolated incidents of net cutting, slashed sails, damaged boat hulls and intimidation of Japanese fishermen. The canneries used these acts of sabotage to convince a justice of the peace to call in a militia of four hundred soldiers to defend Japanese fishermen and the property of the Fraser River canneries.

In the next week, all of the fishermen returned to fishing and accepted the original price offered by the canneries. In 1901, the three fishermen’s organizations united and struck again for a better price per fish.

With all the increased fishing, fish stocks had fallen in number and the federal government stepped in to reduce the number of licences. The fishermen who were last to get their fishing licences were the first to lose them. This reduction of fishing licences was repeated in the following decade, and the holders of these lost licences were primarily Japanese. The Japanese of North Delta, unable to fish, took up chicken farming in Kennedy, up the hill from Annieville. The area of their farms was then dubbed “Chicken Mura” by local North Delta residents.

SEE ALSO: SERIES: Commemorating North Delta’s lost Japanese-Canadian community

Nancy Demwell is a board member with the Delta Museum and Archives Society.



editor@northdeltareporter.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Two women recognized for multiculturalism, anti-racism work in Surrey

Awards ceremony held on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Homeless deaths in Surrey quadruple between 2007 and 2016

Deaths in the city spiked in 2015 from the previous year

Surrey’s truck survey closes Sunday

‘Sustainable solutions for authorized commercial truck parking’ sought

Sunny’s Bridal in Surrey to showcase at Vancouver Fashion Week

Business got its start in south Vancouver in the 1990s

Surrey forensic nurse says vote Early, vote often

If Sheila Early wins YWCA award, Scotiabank will donate $10K to violence prevention services program for women

VIDEO: Restaurant robots are already in Canada

Robo Sushi in Toronto has waist-high robots that guide patrons to empty seats

Permit rejected to bring two cheetahs to B.C.

Earl Pfeifer owns two cheetahs, one of which escaped in December 2015

Real-life tsunami threat in Port Alberni prompts evacuation updates

UBC study says some people didn’t recognize the emergency signal

Care providers call for B.C. seniors’ watchdog to step down

The association also asks the province to conduct an audit and review of the mandate of her office

Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from B.C. roaster recalled due to botulism scare

“If you purchased N7 Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from Cherry Hill … do not drink it.”

North Delta happenings: week of March 21

Events, courses and clubs listings for North Delta

B.C. man gets award for thwarting theft, sexual assault – all in 10 minutes

Karl Dey helped the VPD take down a violent sex offender

Baby left alone in vehicle in B.C. Walmart parking lot

Williams Lake RCMP issue warning after attending complaint at Walmart Wednesday

Nowhere to grieve: How homeless people deal with loss during the opioid crisis

Abbotsford homeless advocate says grief has distinct challenges for those living on the streets

Most Read