The North Pacific Cannery’s last project was the largest in 10 years, with $1.4 million in grants, in-kind donations and job partnerships.
After completing the 10-month apprenticeship program at the historic North Pacific Cannery, Allen Lewis is returning to Gitxaala Nation to work.
He was taken on as a first aid attendant through the Job Creation Partnership (JCP), a program funded by the provincial government to support 23 people who were looking to earn apprenticeship hours in carpentry and construction craft work.
“I am currently going on to be a craftsman in practice, which they helped me out to do. Get my hours in to move on to another step, another level,” Lewis said on Thursday, Feb. 8 at the cannery in Port Edward where supporters and participants celebrated the completion of one of the most successful projects to date.
MLA Jennifer Rice was there to represent the provincial government that provided $237,000 in funding for the employment program. Rice noted how 23 people started the program, and eight left early when they found other job opportunities.
“It’s through projects like the restoration of the North Pacific Cannery that people of the North Coast have received valuable skills, apprenticeship hours and the confidence to face a diversified economic future,” Rice said in the press release.
At the celebration, Michael Gurney, chair of the Port Edward Historical Society, spoke to the history of the area dating back tens of thousands of years when people gathered there to work hard, fish and tell stories. He said, the restoration work completed at the cannery is about providing a place for people to gather and share those stories.
“This is another chapter in a long string of momentous events,” Gurney said. “The story of North Pacific Cannery will leave it’s impression on you in other deeper ways. Because of your work this place will connect with others.”
Built in the late 1800s, the cannery is a relic of B.C.’s past, with 29 buildings and boardwalks raised on piles next to the mouth of the Skeena River. Over the years, the JCP program has helped both its participants in job creation, and the cannery by restoring the weathered structures.
Participants from the 2017-2018 program helped restore three major features: 2,743 metres (9,000 feet) of working dock, the south gable wall to the main canning building that faces the water with the iconic North Pacific Cannery sign, as well as the boiler plant, built in the 1940s, which had a couple dozen piles replaced.
But all this isn’t just for tourists or history buffs — this is a project for the community.
“I have history, my dad told me, Sam. They built the church in Gitxaala, my homeland. They built the church and they did it all by themselves and just everyone getting together, building a church. So much honour for them to have people use it, just like this, they will enjoy it and use it. It’s an honour for me and a privilege for me to see that happen,” Lewis said.
And use it they shall. The cannery already has seven weddings booked for the year, its anticipating several tours for cruise ship passengers, there’s running event in September, and the second annual Intertidal Music Festival is already in the works for July.
The working dock can host a couple thousand people for the music festival, said Steve Milum, conservation manager at the North Pacific Cannery.
“There’s lots of stories that we’re preserving through keeping these buildings standing and there’s also more access available for tourists and the public,” Milum said.