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The Good Hope Cannery: Life and Death at a Salmon Cannery

By W.B. MacDonald

Review By Kenneth Campbell

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 176 Winter 2012-2013  | p. 170-1

Until post-war technology allowed for the centralization of salmon canning, the industry relied on numerous canneries located close to the fishing grounds. More than 200 canneries were scattered along the BC coast, and apart from those in urban centres, most were self-contained seasonal communities where several hundred people lived and worked for a few hectic months. Most of the canneries have vanished. One of the few to survive is Good Hope Cannery, on Rivers Inlet. Unlike other survivors, however, such as North Pacific Cannery on the Skeena River and Gulf of Georgia Cannery at Steveston, Good Hope is not a museum. It lives on as a sports fishing lodge.

In The Good Hope Cannery, W. B. MacDonald not only narrates the history of the cannery from its origins in 1895 as one of Henry Bell-Irving’s string of plants for the ABC Packing Company to its re-creation as a fishing lodge by grandson Ian Bell-Irving in 1970. He also takes us on his own journey of discovery. He shares the experience of uncovering archival clues, ranging from the vital information he has uncovered to the actual objects that contain it. “The book itself is in superb condition,” he writes of an old company letter book, “its spine straight and strong and its pages intact” (43). Fortunately, ABC Packing is one of the best-documented of the fishing companies and MacDonald makes good use of Bell-Irving’s notebooks held at the City of Vancouver Archives, and the extensive ABC Packing Company records at UBC Special Collections. In addition, there are numerous excerpts from published sources, largely personal experiences and memoirs, adding to the multiple viewpoints we get of Good Hope and its Rivers Inlet context.

MacDonald also lets us tag along as he meets some of the thirty people he interviewed for the book, often describing the encounter as well as the stories they shared with him. The interviews are one of the strengths of the book, giving a variety of personal points of view. Complementing them are more than 90 images illustrating Good Hope and other establishments in Rivers Inlet. Only a handful come from institutions; the majority were contributed from family albums, making this a unique collection of photographs gathered from diverse and mostly private sources.

Curiously, there are no maps. One showing the locations of the canneries in Rivers Inlet, all mentioned in the book, would have been helpful. Given the importance of archival sources, it is surprising that a plan of the cannery village based on the 1924 Fire Insurance maps was not included. There is no index, nor are the excerpted materials specifically referenced, though a bibliography and a list of sources give some help for researchers. Overall, the book deserved more rigorous editorial care, with several instances of missing words from the text, and factual errors, such as the location of Good Hope on the west, rather than the east side of Rivers Inlet.

The literature focusing on life in cannery villages is slim. K. Mack Campbell’s Cannery Village: Company Town (2008), gives an overview, while the two museums have short histories in print: Everlasting Memory for North Pacific (1995) and The Monster Cannery for the Gulf of Georgia (2011). Michael Olson shares personal knowledge in Porcher Island Cannery (2006). The Good Hope Cannery stands as a significant addition. Written in a refreshing style and presenting a wealth of personal memories and images, this is also the fullest treatment of a single cannery village on coastal BC.

The Good Hope Cannery: Life and Death at a Salmon Cannery
By W. B. MacDonald
Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2011. 215 pp. 90 b/w photos $26.95