Reverend Peter Nelson spent most of his life working in the cannery industry. During the All Native Basketball Tournament

Reverend Peter Nelson spent most of his life working in the cannery industry. During the All Native Basketball Tournament

STORY AND VIDEO: Canneries and canteens

Taking a break from his canteen duties at the All Native Basketball Tournament last month, Reverend Peter Nelson introduced himself to me

A line formed while the bearded man, wearing a hat woven out of cedar and a vest decorated with buttons, whipped the soapberries into a creamy consistency.

Taking a break from his canteen duties at the All Native Basketball Tournament last month, Reverend Peter Nelson introduced himself to me and explained how soapberries can be manipulated into ice cream or used for warding off illness.

At first bite, soapberry ice cream is bitter — an aquired taste that many at the tournament seemed to have, including the reverend.

Saytlaxha — his Nisga’a name meaning “hands up in the sky” — is now retired from his duties at the Port Edward church. But he remains active in the community as a board of directors on the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society and volunteering with the Friendship House.

Born and raised in Port Edward, he decided to move 10 years ago to the “big city” of Prince Rupert where he consistently feeds into his roots and culture at the Nisga’a Hall.

“I always encourage others to come, I encourage them to breathe life into it and if you don’t it’s going to fall asleep,” Nelson said.

His roots are also entwined in the cannery industry on the coast. When he was young, he grew up on a cannery in what was known as the Native Village.

“As a child I did not know there was segregation. But as children it didn’t mean anything to us. There were native, white and Japanese at our community. But we all went to school, we all had a lot of fun.”

Nelson came from a family of 12, which he said was small compared to others in the area. At the cannery, the kids would observe their aunties and uncles at work and they would pitch in by chopping wood and carrying water.

In 1969, he started his career at the cannery. He would ice the totes, wash the fish, and steadily worked his way up the ladder.

When he was 15-years-old, he met his haak’ak — his woman, his backbone, Loretta.

They used to be neighbours, they went to school together, and they even stayed at the hospital at the same time, but it took a messy moment at a birthday party to finally break the ice.

Loretta had an empty seat next to her when Nelson walked into the room. She placed her cake down on the chair, hoping he wouldn’t sit there, but he was oblivious to the gesture and sat on the dessert. She laughed and at last they connected.

The couple raised four children and worked in the canneries their whole careers.

“We were married into one industry,” he said.

But cannery work wasn’t his only endeavour. For 25 years he was an independent videographer. What had started as a hobby developed into a fine tuned skill that came high in demand.

Nelson studied small business management to better grasp the numbers of being a freelance videographer — numbers, not money — he pointed out.

From Monday to Friday, he’d work at the cannery and on weekends he went wherever he needed to go to film. The furthest he travelled for work was Japan. He went to show his company’s clients in Japan how fish was processed on the North Coast.

Videography projects also took him Alberta, Vancouver and Alaska. However, the majority of his work was with the All Native Basketball Tournament.

Then one day he decided to put his video camera down for good and become a priest.

Nelson had been taping at weddings, where he met a couple of priests who planted the seed to take up with religion.  Once he put his camera down, he spent the next 20 years as a reverend at the Church of Christ the King in Port Edward.

Now in his retirement, Nelson gives his time and energy to the Friendship House and the Nisga’a Society.

The clang of dishes and chatter picked up throughout our conversation, as the civic centre’s auditorium came alive with vendors prepping their tables.

The canteen is part of a fundraiser for the Friendship House. The members contributed seafood, and each day they made another traditional dish for the basketball players and onlookers: cockles chow mein, fish hash, herring eggs in a stir-fry and clam fritters.

Later on in the day, when I returned to sample a couple of those dishes, Nelson was back on soapberry duty.

Now, that the All Native Basketball Tournament is complete, Nelson has turned his attention to dance. He said he was heading up the Nass Valley to drum with the Nisga’a dance troupe, breathing more life into his culture and keeping it alive and well.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The welcome sign is the first thing new employees moving to Prince Rupert will see as they drive the road into the city. The ‘Prince Rupert - Make it Home’ employment campaign to draw people to the region was launched on Feb. 16. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Stakeholders respond to employee recruitment campaign housing ‘disconnect’

‘Prince Rupert -Make it Home’ is 5-year recruitment and retention campaign

More than 35 families received renoviction notices on Feb. 26, 2020 at Pinecrest Townhomes in Prince Rupert. (K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Renovictions will be tightened in proposed changes to renters laws

Rent freeze, and changes to procedures will benefit Prince Rupert tenants and landlords

Chloe and Koy are two participants in the talent show format of the 2021 annual Children's Fest to be broadcast on community television March 5th and 6th. ()Photo: supplied by Prince Rupert Special Event Society)
30th Annual Children’s Fest takes on a new format

2021 Prince Rupert Children’s Fest will feature a show of local talent

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Families on the North Coast will benefit from 70 new childcare spaces Ministry of Children and Family Development announced on March 1. Seen here are children from Growing Together Child Care Centre in Surrey. (Photo supplied by Jennifer Rice, MLA for Northcoast)
Northcoast families to benefit from new childcare spaces

62 Childcare spaces in Lax Kw’alaams and 8 in Haida Gwaii are part of Childcare BC New Spaces Fund

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

The first of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s long-range maritime patrol aircraft—the Dash-8—becomes operational. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s new De Havilland Dash-8-100 long-range surveillance air craft is capable of staying aloft for eight to 10 hours for a variety of missions up and down the B.C. coast. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
New plane will double DFO’s surveillance capacity in B.C.

The Dash-8 will fly out of Campbell River for enforcement, conservation missions

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

Most Read