On Tuesday Gladys Young Blyth of Prince Rupert and Port Edward was named the fifth recipient of the Walter Smith Visionary Award, an award created by Tourism Prince Rupert and the Northern BC Tourism Association to recognize the pioneers and visionaries of tourism in Northern British Columbia.
Gladys arrived on the North Coast in the 1940s, and raised a large family. She became a staff writer for the Prince Rupert Daily News. She published many stories and photos in other newspapers and magazines, including one of the earliest Beautiful British Columbia features about Prince Rupert, and helped found and publish three volunteer newspapers in Port Edward. Gladys’s work in our communities also included, amongst many other things, time as a kindergarten and Sunday School teacher, working with children from (at that time) Social Welfare Services, and serving as a trustee of School District #52.
Gladys has published the books A History of Port Edward (1970), the deeply respected Salmon Canneries: British Columbia North Coast (1991), A History of Wales Island, B.C. (1998), and When God Opens the Door (1999). She also published two stories for young readers, Someone to Walk With (2003) and Summer at the Cannery (2005).
Gladys spearheaded the creation of the North Coast Fishing Exhibit, which eventually grew into the North Coast Marine Museum Society, the subsequent acquisition of North Pacific Cannery as a museum, and became the first curator.
That wasn’t an easy job. This is Gladys’s diary entry from November 14, 1985: “North Pacific is such a total mess, hundreds of leftover items, big and small, from cannery days, most of it considered junk. Much of whatever was good in the cannery has already been taken by B.C. Packers, the last owner of the plant, and by a number of people who came on site and just took what they wanted.
The Northcoast Marine Museum artifacts are scattered everywhere with no rhyme or reason. They were just moved and unloaded wherever space was available. Only a few lights are one, the rest of the cannery is dark, very damp, and dismal. It is raining, the tide is at about the twenty-three foot mark and the task of turning all this into a Museum seems insurmountable.”
Still, Gladys accepted the challenge. She recalled that first winter in Ken Campbell’s history of North Pacific Cannery. “On January 8th, 1986, we had telephones installed in the cannery office. I continued to catalogue the artifacts. It was a very cold winter with lots of snow and lots of ice on the river. It was so cold in the Time Office where I was doing the cataloguing I had to wear my heavy winter clothes and gloves and sit there with a heater on trying to catalogue those things while underneath the cannery building big chunks of ice bumped up against the floor. It was very cold and very eerie and very lonely.”
Gladys was named BC Senior Citizen of the Year in 1989 for her key role in founding North Pacific Cannery National Historic Site.
Gladys saw the canneries as the vital piece in understanding Prince Rupert, Port Edward, and the communities on the Northwest Coast. She volunteered her time—volunteered her life—to save one of the canneries for that reason. Instead, as we see from North Pacific Cannery being named a National Historic Site, she saved a vital piece of how Canada came to be Canada.