An interactive walking tour is bringing history-minded visitors and locals closer to Richmond’s colourful past—with a side dish of delicious, retro-themed treats to sample along the way. The Steveston Heritage Experience takes curious participants to four historic attractions in the waterfront village, bringing the past to life with a costumed guide who seems to have just stepped from the streets of 1914.
Last September we enjoyed the tour’s inaugural run; the Steveston Heritage Experience returns this year on select dates from May to October.
Stop one: Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site
Our time-travelling exploration started in the cavernous, wood-floored Seine Net Loft at the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site, where "John," our guide—dressed in grubby working togs—welcomed us with a traditional toast that wishes “a merry good day to mudflatters all.” He then set the scene in the “salmon capital of the world,” a place where you can hear “five different tongues spoken on the streets.”
Steveston was the unrivalled centre of BC’s busy fishing industry back then, bringing in thousands of workers—including the Thomas family: John, his wife Marge, and their son Michael. He tells us to keep an eye out for the young scallywag as he leads us out along the boardwalks to some of the Shipyard’s evocative antique buildings.
Visit the Murakami House during the Steveston Heritage Experience. | Photo: John Lee
This shoreline mini-village once housed cannery and boatbuilding operations, with many workers living onsite. We stepped into the Murakami House, a well-kept home where a large Japanese family lived until being removed during Canada’s devastating Second World War internment program. Next, we checked out the Chinese Bunkhouse, where employees slept in narrow beds up to three levels high. This was also the site of our first snack: a classic Chinese pastry, just enough to fill the stomachs of the hungry workers.
Stop two: Steveston Tram
A five-minute bus ride brought us to another richly nostalgic site. Until 1958, tramcars trundled into Steveston from Vancouver, bringing workers and supplies straight from the big city. The Steveston Tram building houses one of the original red-painted cars that used to rattle along the line. John tells us that trams like this cut the journey from Vancouver from five hours to one—and that locals nicknamed the service the Sockeye Special after all the cannery workers using it.
John Thomas, a Steveston local from 1914, talks to visitors inside tramcar 1220. | Photo: John Lee
Today the beautifully refurbished car looks brand new—and far cleaner than when John used to ride it to Richmond’s Minoru Racetrack and back. Returning home in those days, he says, the tram would be “covered in peanut shells and ticket stubs.” This second stop felt like a real immersion into the not-too-distant past: sitting in the tram, then stepping off to dive into bags of old-fashioned popcorn and bottles of old-school soda pop.
Retro-cool pop (and popcorn) are provided at the Steveston Interurban Tram. | Photo: John Lee
Stop three: Steveston Museum
After a short walk along Moncton Street, still lined with dozens of heritage buildings, John gathered us in the garden beside the gable-roofed Steveston Museum, telling us about the huge fire that destroyed many businesses here in 1918. One of the survivors was the Northern Crown Bank, which had been shipped in from New Westminster in pieces—an early prefab—back in 1905.
Ducking inside what’s now the museum, we heard of the bitter 1900 strike when fisherman refused to accept a lowball pay offer from cannery owners before a better deal was eventually struck. We also discover that a Japanese school and hospital were built here—the museum’s walls are lined with sharp, large format photos of this close-knit community. Our treat here reflected the deep Japanese influence on the area: a delicious sampling of locally-brewed YK3 Sake—crisp Yu Junmai recommended.
The Steveston Museum stop includes a local sake tasting. | Photo: Tourism Richmond
Stop four: Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site
It’s a short walk to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site—or the ‘Monster’ as John said it was called in his day, when it dominated local production. Creosote aromas and cool temperatures hit as we stepped inside: the cannery was built over the water to preserve the fish, but workers froze their fingers to the bone here. Walking the line, we heard of jobs including hooking fish from the boats for 14 hours a day and speed-butchering salmon (and the occasional finger) in 20 seconds flat.
The Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site. | Photo: Tourism Richmond
John then bid us a final goodbye and told us to “go get a fast beer before the government signs a law of prohibition.” The final treat was perfect: steaming bowls of chunky seafood chowder—from local fish and chips legend Pajo’s—as well as glasses of tasty ale from nearby Britannia Brewing. At tables covered with red-checkered cloths, a chatty, party-like atmosphere ensued as we tucked into our treats and toasted the day’s time-travelling visit to yesteryear Steveston.
Exploring the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. | Photo: Tourism Richmond
If you go:
2019 tours take place on Saturdays from 2:00pm - 5:00pm on the following dates:
- May 25
- June 15
- July 13
- August 17
- September 14
- October 5
Mostly on foot, bus transport is provided between Britannia Shipyards and the Steveston Tram stops, plus—at the tour’s end—between the Gulf of Georgia Cannery and Britannia Shipyards. A free Steveston Tourist shuttle bus is available from central Richmond—more information will be available soon.
Please note there are no alternatives to the food tastings served throughout the route, and offerings may change without notice.