The fishing companies of Prince Rupert’s Government Wharf

This is my copy from the second Government Wharf heritage sign installed during our heritage sign pilot program a couple of years ago. The first, about the coastal steamers, ran last week.

This is my copy from the second Government Wharf heritage sign installed during our heritage sign pilot program a couple of years ago. The first, about the coastal steamers, ran last week.

The Skeena is British Columbia’s second most important salmon river, particularly noted for its sockeye, and the first Skeena River salmon cannery opened three decades before the founding of Prince Rupert. The new city, with its rail and sea links to the outside world, soon became the hub of the northern fishery, gradually supplanting the small cannery villages on the Skeena and Nass rivers. The halibut fishery was centred around Prince Rupert from the start, and much of this activity was based here at Government Wharf.

The federal government operated the Pacific Fisheries Experimental Station on the southern end of Government Wharf from 1924 until 1930, later moving it to the bluff above. The Experimental Station provided many innovations in handling and processing fish. One of the noted oddities dragged back to the Experimental Station by fishermen was the decaying remains of a 20-foot basking shark, which created a stir as a sea serpent until it was correctly identified.

A fishing company building on the location of today’s Odin Seafood held a continuing rotation of as many as six small companies working side by side. Booth Fisheries and Pacific Fisheries began operations at the railway dock south of here in 1917. Booth moved here to the Government Wharf in 1921, and Pacific, representing the American San Juan Fishing and Packing Company, operated here from 1922 until 1966. Royal Fisheries was a custom processor for Booth and Pacific, established here in 1917, and moved with Booth into the new Royal Plant in 1951. Like Booth and Pacific, Whiz-Eardley Fisheries was an American company that operated in the fishing company

building.

The experimental station had developed a new product, halibut liver oil, from what had originally been waste product. In 1941 the Prince Rupert Fishermen’s Co-op installed a Fish Liver Oil Plant at the northernmost end of the government building, in a space formerly occupied by Atlin Fisheries, and remained here for a few years until a liver plant was added to their new cannery at the southern end of the harbour in the mid-1940s.

Bacon Fisheries, originally a downtown fish market dating back to 1908, was established here in 1924 – at first in one half of the Experimental Station, then in the centre of the fishing company building, and finally replacing the Co-op in the northernmost spot in the late 1940s. Bacon also operated a smoke house along the rail line near the southern end of the wharf, and was noted locally for their smoked Alaska black cod, or sablefish.

The only real cannery in this part of the waterfront was Babcock Fisheries. William Babcock began by buying out Bacon Fisheries in 1954. A one-line cannery was built in 1957, and gradually expanded, a cold storage freezer plant was built, and the dock was extended from 50 to 210 feet. Babcock Fisheries eventually took over the space formerly occupied by all of the smaller companies.

The cannery sold to N.B. Cook Corporation in 1972, and when that company went into receivership in 1974 former Babcock manager W.R. Bingham bought the plant and renamed it Bingham Fisheries. He in turn sold it to Queen Charlotte Fisheries in 1976, and when that company also fell into receivership it was bought by J.S. McMillan in 1977.

J.S. McMillan Fisheries continued to make changes to the landscape of the dock, taking over the entire wharf in the wake of the Northland Fiasco. At the south end of the dock the former harbour transfer shed now occupied by Porcher Seafoods was used for net storage, while the blue building now occupied by Prince Rupert Seafood Products was erected as an ice house. The old government freight shed, utilized in later years as storage for canned fish, was torn down in 1992.

At the end of the 1991 season it was clear that the cannery could no longer operate in the aging building, and industry conditions made it unviable to repair. McMillan ultimately took over the Prince Rupert Fishermen’s Co-op in 1993 where they are still in operation today.

Today custom offloading and processing companies continue to operate here, carrying on a fishing industry tradition which stretches back almost a century.