Arrival of Strangers - The Last 500 Years



"I caught a lot of fish from that little twelve-foot canoe fitted with oars. I'd take my canoe out in the morning and fish in the pass for salmon with just a hand-line and bring in a twelve- to fifteen-pound salmon. Then out in the evening again, and come in with maybe twenty fish.... When the first cannery men came to this coast, they put up the canneries at places where our people were living - at the best salmon rivers - and we knew how to take the fish in our own waters. The cannery managers needed the Indian men to bring in the fish and women to work in the canneries. It was good. We were working together, cooperating. Later when other people got into the fishing business, we had to fight for our place in it."

- Billy Assu from Assu of Cape Mudge (Joy Inglis)

Many Aboriginal people found work as industrial labourers. Some people left their home communities to work, while others took temporary or seasonal jobs.

The first commercial cannery opened on the Fraser River in British Columbia in 1871. Over the next 100 years, dozens of canneries opened and closed up and down the west coast. While many Aboriginal men became commercial fishermen, women found seasonal employment in canneries. Aboriginal women were especially adept at processing fish because the annual cycle of catching, processing, and preserving large quantities of fish (especially salmon) was part of life for almost all Aboriginal peoples in British Columbia.

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