“Cooking is like painting or writing a song,” said world renowned celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. “Just as there are only so many notes or colours, there are only so many flavours – it’s how you combine them that sets you apart.”
The flavours Bonnie Campbell, cook at The Mess House on the grounds of the North Pacific Cannery, uses for her homemade creations stem from a love of comfort foods.
As you walk down the boardwalk at the North Pacific Cannery outside of Port Edward towards The Mess House, your senses of sight and sound are first triggered. From the beauty of the restored 129 year old buildings with a backdrop of Mount Dodge and Steckel in the background to the sound of ravens playing, you become immersed in the history of the Cannery.
As you enter The Mess House, your sense of smell is triggered. The smell of cooling cinnamon buns, biscuits, soups and chowder greet you as you turn right to enter the building. That’s where you’ll find this week’s Heart of Our City, Bonnie Campbell.
Born and raised in Hartley Bay, Campbell grew up walking along the same style of boardwalks she takes to get to work each morning.
Growing up the middle child of Bruce and Betsy Reece, Bonnie, along with her older sister Joyce and younger sister Bethany, were exposed to a large number of cooking enthusiasts.
“Both my parents can cook,” she said, adding that there are a large number of cooks on her dad’s side of the family.
“There are always big giant family dinners.”
In her younger years, Campbell said that she was a fan of baking because it was the best way to get her sugar fix.
“I just liked to eat the sweets,” she said.
Her love of cooking started simple she said, stemming from her families love of making breakfast together.
“We would do french toast, pancakes and stuff like that,” she said. “We still like having breakfast for dinner!”
While most kids would rush home after school to catch their favourite episode of Inspector Gadget or Teddy Ruxpin, Bonnie preferred watching James Barber, also known as The Urban Peasant.
“I got a chance to meet him when I worked at the North Pacific Lodge,” she said.
Like all the students from Hartley Bay at the time, if Campbell wanted to pursue education beyond grade 10, she would have to take the plunge and move four hours away to attend school in Prince Rupert.
“I moved to Prince Rupert when I was 15,” said Campbell.”
After highschool Campbell returned home to Hartley Bay and worked at the marina. She said it gave her an opportunity to decide what she wanted to do.
Maybe it was the memories of rushing home to watch James Barber, or the desire to get on the road again, but Campbell’s next move took her beyond Prince Rupert and set her on her current path.
“I started late,” she said, “I was 23 when I moved to Vancouver for school.”
Attending the culinary arts program at Vancouver Community College, Campbell added to the skills she learned as a child observing and participating in the preparation of large family meals and after 13 months, she completed the program.
Back in Prince Rupert, Campbell worked for The Crest and Breakers and has for the past three seasons worked at The Mess Hall.
“We start our day early,” she said. Each day the Mess House offers fresh baked cookies, cinnamon buns and lemon bars. There’s a daily soup, a selection of daily entrees and of course the salmon chowder.
“The salmon chowder is quite popular,” she said, “It’s not the healthiest of chowders, but no chowders are.”
The number of guests can fluctuate from day to day, but on a week like this, where there are three cruise ships in port, the loud chatter of guests and clinging and clanging of pots serves as a reminder for how busy the Mess House was during the cannery’s hay day.
With a family of her own now, Campbell can see the same love for cooking she had as a child within her youngest son Rhys, who is three-years old.
“My son really likes to dive in there,” she said, “he comes into the kitchen, pulls up a chair right beside me.”
“I love that he dives right in there.”
With an eye to the future, Campbell is planning to take her love of cooking, as well as her entrepreneurial spirit to the next level. She is enrolled in a business administration classes in the fall. One day she may open her own business.
“It’s been one of my goals for quite a while now,” she said.
Before her next chapter in life starts, you still have time to hit the road, head south to the Cannery and sample Campbell’s creations. She’ll be there until the end of August.