One of BC’s most evocative heritage attractions is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year with a net-full of special events and activities to hook curious visitors.

Situated atop wood pilings on the Steveston Village waterfront, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site was built in 1894 and became a museum in 1994—which means that its 2019 ‘Canniversary’ marks both the building’s 125th year and also its 25th season as a unique attraction.

But rather than designating a single day to celebrate its successful longevity, the Cannery has planned a full year of action—ranging from pop-up displays to a major new exhibition and more. Read on for reasons to visit over the next few months.

The Label Unwrapped

Officially launching on May 4, this major new two-year exhibition throws the spotlight on one of the Cannery’s most popular collections: a striking array of vintage, colourful, and highly nostalgic salmon can labels.

Canned Salmon Labels - Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery
Canadian themes were prominent on many canned salmon products. | Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery

BC once had more than 200 salmon canneries, which meant that attracting customers from around the world with enticing packaging—including Canadiana images of grizzly bears, steam trains, and snow-capped mountains—was an essential marketing tool in a highly competitive field.

Salmon Can Labels - Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery
The new exhibition shows how BC’s canned salmon was marketed around the world. | Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery

Exploring this yesteryear pop-culture art form, the visually sumptuous exhibition showcases dozens of cool labels—some featured on giant-sized cans—while also discussing ideas of Canadian identity and iconography. Keen to have a go at it yourself? Visitors will also be able to create their own labels.

Salmon Can Labels - Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery
The new exhibition shines a light on colourful can labels. | Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery

Cannery Cat Tales

Also opening on May 4 is a special pop-up project produced by a six-member Youth Leadership Team of high school volunteers. Charged with creating an engaging artifact display plus a fun campaign to highlight the museum’s anniversary, the group has developed a whisker-twitching cat theme to illuminate the Gulf of Georgia Cannery from the perspective of a fish-loving feline.

Populating a small temporary exhibition area with items carefully chosen from the collection, as well as deploying the museum’s social media channels—especially Twitter and Instagram—visitors both real and online can expect some shenanigans when the project’s Cannery Cat finally leaps into action.

The Cannery in the 1970s - Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery
A 1970s image of the Cannery, which is 125 years old this year. | Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery

Pull of the Net

While your don’t have to visit on the start day of these exhibitions, May 4 should certainly be on your calendar if you don’t want to miss one of the Cannery’s most popular annual events. Taking on a 125th birthday glow this year, Pull of the Net: A Multicultural Celebration recalls the legacy of people from countries around the world who came here to work in the fishing industry. During the Cannery’s heyday, Steveston was home to a highly cosmopolitan population—and this colourful one-day festival revels in that rich cultural heritage.

Expect a kaleidoscopic array of displays, food trucks, live performances, and more representing cultural traditions from China and Scotland to Japan and BC’s Coastal Indigenous people. Best of all, this event is free—and that includes entry to the Cannery.

More Memories

No matter which day you visit, there are plenty of ways to plunge into the 125-year-old Cannery’s fascinating backstory. Nicknamed the ‘Monster Cannery’ soon after its 1894 opening, generations of locals and seasonal employees worked here over the years. And that means there are lots of stories to tell.

The net loft crew in 1949 - Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery
The net loft crew in 1949. | Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery

The museum’s exhibits and in situ machinery evoke the site’s often-gritty working conditions, and guided tours are an excellent way to scratch beneath the scaly surface. Included with admission, tours of the canning line (45 minutes) and the herring reduction plant (30 minutes) are held regularly, with scheduling increasing from Victoria Day (May 20) to Labour Day (September 2).

And whatever you do, don’t miss the 25-minute movie presentation in the Cannery’s onsite theatre. Ebb & Flow: Turning Points in the History of West Coast Fishing screens throughout the day. Complete with interviews with past and present fishing workers, it’s a revealing overview of the regional industry.

Not Just History

But a visit to the wood-built Cannery isn’t just about looking back. Upcoming anniversary year events include June 22’s free-entry National Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration, complete with storytelling and performances. And there’s also July 1’s Canada Day festivities, when the Cannery plays a big part in Steveston’s annual merrymaking.

Gulf of Georgia Cannery
The Cannery has been a museum for 25 years. | Photo: Gulf of Georgia Cannery

But perhaps the best way to celebrate the Cannery’s double anniversary is to catch some live music. From July 12 to August 30, the museum hosts Friday night concerts every week. Staged outside on the Tank Deck (or inside if its rainy), this year’s eclectic acts range from the Irish Walkers to Beauty Shop Dolls and from Willy Blizzard to the Halifax Wharf Rats. Click here for the schedule. At just $7 for entry, it’s one of the area’s best-value nights out.

If You Go

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site is open daily from 10:00am to 5:00pm (excluding statutory holidays between October and January). Admission is $11.70 for adults, $10.05 for seniors, and free for those aged 17 and under. Paid parking is available but the site is also easily reached via transit buses from Richmond-Brighouse Canada Line Station. Visit the TransLink website to plan your trip.