Salmon fishermen dot the Fraser River in their two-man skiffs circa 1900. (Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Archives)

North Delta history: Strife, strikes and militia on the Fraser River

Salmon fishing and canning was big business on the Fraser River, and helped shape the community

By Nancy Demwell, Delta Museum and Archives Society

Salmon canning, and consequently salmon fishing, was big business on the Fraser River toward the end of the 19th century. It was hard work: open skiffs powered by sail and oars were towed upstream by steam-powered tenders and let loose to float downstream. The boat’s crew set gillnets and gathered them in. Collector barges would then come to collect their catch. These skiffs and their two-man crews were known to stay out for days without returning to shore.

The canneries on the Fraser tripled in number in the 1890s. With the modernization of the factory system in the canneries and the opening of the CPR to the West Coast in 1891, the facilities had the means of production and distribution, and a ready market for West Coast salmon. Having enough licensed fishermen to take the catch was the difficulty that canneries faced.

The federal government, concerned about the overfishing of the Fraser River, implemented criteria for who may hold a commercial fishing licence. The canneries were given the majority of the licences, but when the number of canneries tripled, the number of licences had to be divided between them. Each cannery had as little as 20 skiffs to provide fish for it to process.

A limited number of federal fishing licences were given to independent operators who met the criteria as bona fide fishermen, residents of B.C. and British subjects. Canneries hired the fishermen, their helper crew mates, and their skiff on contract to meet the shortfalls of their own fishing fleet’s catch. In subsequent years, namely the 1890s, the number of independent fishing licences was increased.

RELATED: North Delta history: The eulachon, a part of our past

Canneries also changed the way that both cannery fishermen and independent fishermen were paid by dropping the daily wage and adopting a price per fish. Initially, the independent fishermen received more than the cannery fishermen and the price per fish or the daily wage varied between canneries. At the time, there were organizations for the Japanese fishermen, the fishermen of European descent, and the Indigenous fishermen.

In 1900, the three fishermen’s groups joined together and struck for a better price per fish than any of the canneries were offering. The canneries, in turn, joined together in opposition. Collectively, the fishermen stayed on strike for two weeks, but in the third week the Japanese fishermen’s organization broke ranks and settled for much lower than the agreed target price. The remaining two groups of fishermen remained on strike.

There were isolated incidents of net cutting, slashed sails, damaged boat hulls and intimidation of Japanese fishermen. The canneries used these acts of sabotage to convince a justice of the peace to call in a militia of four hundred soldiers to defend Japanese fishermen and the property of the Fraser River canneries.

In the next week, all of the fishermen returned to fishing and accepted the original price offered by the canneries. In 1901, the three fishermen’s organizations united and struck again for a better price per fish.

With all the increased fishing, fish stocks had fallen in number and the federal government stepped in to reduce the number of licences. The fishermen who were last to get their fishing licences were the first to lose them. This reduction of fishing licences was repeated in the following decade, and the holders of these lost licences were primarily Japanese. The Japanese of North Delta, unable to fish, took up chicken farming in Kennedy, up the hill from Annieville. The area of their farms was then dubbed “Chicken Mura” by local North Delta residents.

SEE ALSO: SERIES: Commemorating North Delta’s lost Japanese-Canadian community

Nancy Demwell is a board member with the Delta Museum and Archives Society.



editor@northdeltareporter.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Olympic softball qualifier gets $150K boost from provincial government

2019 Americas Qualifier to be held in South Surrey from Aug. 25-Sept. 1

South Surrey woman excited to ‘tell the world Canada is open for business’

Aashina Singh aims to promote Metro Vancouver companies in Singapore and Malaysia

‘Kim’s Convenience’ keeps Surrey actor busy when not working as church pastor in Guildford

Award-nominated James Yi will again play shop owner at Surrey Arts Centre next winter

Pitcher’s comeback highlights Canada Cup for longtime tournament chair

Event organizers now switch gears to prepare for 2019 Americas Olympic Softball Qualifier

VIDEO: Wet weather kicks off Lower Mainland toad migration

Thousands of small western toads were making the trek from pond to woods

Langley organizers invite special guest to Gone Country

Cancer fundraising, day-long concert sold out more than a month and a half ahead of Saturday’s event

Gas price inquiry questions Trans Mountain capacity, company denies collusion

The first of up to four days of oral hearings in the inquiry continue in Vancouver

Serious police incident unfolding at Sts’ailes near Agassiz

Small reserve near Agassiz surrounded by police vehicles, helicopter, ERT

‘Benzos’ and fentanyl a deadly cocktail causing a growing concern on B.C. streets

Overdoses caused by benzodiazepines can’t be reversed with opioid-overdose antidote naloxone

RCMP release sketch of suspect in SFU assault, appeal to witnesses who helped woman

The RCMP want to talk to two women who helped the victim after she got to the parking lot

Will you be celebrating national hotdog day with any of these crazy flavours?

The popularity of hotdogs spans generations, cultures

Former home of accused Penticton shooter vandalized

Ex-wife of man who is accused of murdering four people had her house vandalized

Survivor of near-drowning in B.C. lake viewing life through new eyes

“If I died that day, the baby wouldn’t know his dad,” said 31-year-old Mariano Santander-Melo.

Most Read

l -->