Salmon remains one of the most highly prized treats of the Pacific Northwest Coast, whether fresh, canned, candied or smoked. Central to coastal diet, Salmon are revered as the most prominent component of coastal indigenous cuisine, and are also a major source of sustenance for inland groups who are situated near rivers that swell with salmon during the return. Before and during contact with outsiders, summer villages were focused on the salmon harvest, as well as the Eulachon run.
In 1870, the first British Columbia cannery was built in Annieville. Soon after, canneries and salteries popped up along the coast, numbering approximately 1000 between Alaska and California, all of whom focused on Sockeye as an exclusive commodity until 1911. As supply declined, and World War affected trade, consumers adapted to availability, and Sockeye was no longer exclusive. During World War II, even dogfish and herring were valued for their oil, hence transformed the cannery industry. Canneries remained a massive coastal industry until reduction in production was altered by both supply and necessity. By the 1950’s, the availability of fridges and freezers resulted in a decline of salted and canned salmon even before the decline of salmon populations afflicted the coast. Today, there are only a handful of canneries in operation.
Salmon return to their ancestral streams, are revered for their homing instinct and symbolize fertility. Salmon is commonly depicted with Eagle, as Eagles have wonderful perception and fishing skills. What is less known, is that Eagles cannot release their catch until they have landed, so if they happen to reach for a salmon that is too powerful and large, the salmon can win the battle by
drawing the Eagle into the sea and drowning it - hence, the imagery of Eagle and Salmon is one that marks the battle that is central to the chain of life and survival of the fittest.
Salmon are generally easy to recognize, as they are designed with a curved head, closed mouth with gills at the end, a pectoral, spiny dorsal, soft, anal and caudal (tail) fin, and either scales or skeletal features. Some artists differentiate between male and female salmon, by adding eggs alongside the urogenital opening – which is often a small face to represent the life-giver.
Gulf of Georgia Cannery, Steveston BC
Campbell River Museum & Archives
Conversations with Ann Seaweed