Historic cannery tells the story of salmon

Celebrate Canada Day by visiting one of our 171 National Historic Sites. Several are dedicated to telling the history of food in our country.

I recently visited the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Historical Site. It is situated in Steveston Village in Richmond, B.C.

The production and trade of salmon in those early days was complex. There was no overland transportation in Canada until the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886. And about the same time canning as a method of food preservation was invented.

There was a demand for salmon in England. Even by the 19th century the Atlantic salmon, native to most rivers of northern Europe, had been fished out or shut out by man-made alterations to their spawning grounds.

Built in 1894, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery was one of the first of more than 200 canneries built in British Columbia along the Fraser, Skeena and Nass rivers and along the coast.

I grew up loving salmon but had no idea how similar the business is to farming on the Prairies. Fishing runs vary from year to year. Typically, sockeye run on a four-year cycle: one good year, one not so good and two poor years.

The last large-scale fish cannery closed in 2015 in Prince Rupert, B.C. The cannery was designed 30 years ago to process 400,000 to 500,000 cases per year but in its last year it canned 40,000 cases.

A few small-scale salmon canneries are still active. St. Jean’s in Nanaimo is one. In 1961 Armand St. Jean combined his love of west coast seafood with the smoking and preserving knowledge that he learned from his family in Quebec to create St. Jean’s Smudgies Smoked Oysters. It still produces these and more products. It will also can salmon for sport fishers.

Sea Change Seafoods operates out of Quadra Island producing seafood pates, cold and hot smoked salmon and candied salmon.

Fishery Seafoods Ltd. is an interesting story. The owner, Arnie, grew up near Steveston where his father fished and his mother worked at the cannery. He now operates out of Duncan, B.C., producing canned salmon, tuna and oyster products.

Okanagan Select is the brand of the Syilx Okanagan Nation Alliance. With a U.S. and Canada partnership, the obstacles that prevented sockeye salmon from returning to Skaha Lake were mitigated and slowly over the past 20 years the salmon have been reintroduced and have reached a sustainable level to allow fishing once again.

After visiting the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, I am more appreciative of the little cans of fish that I pick up in the grocery store.

Salmon cakes

  • 2/3 c. dry breadcrumbs, divided 150 mL
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley 15 mL
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped green onions 30 mL
  • 2 tbsp. mayonnaise 30 mL
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. Gravelbourg French-style mustard 5 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. Old Bay brand seasoning 2 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce 2 mL
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt.5 mL
  • 1/8 tsp. ground red pepper .5 mL
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 6 oz. canned salmon 170 g
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil 15 mL
  • 1 lemon, quartered

Combine 1/3 cup (75 mL) breadcrumbs and all ingredients through to egg, in a large bowl, stirring well.
Add salmon. Stir gently just until combined.
Place remaining 1/3 cup (75 mL) bread crumbs in a shallow dish. Using wet hands, shape salmon mixture into four equal balls.
Coat in breadcrumbs. Gently flatten balls to form four patties.
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan. Swirl to coat.
Add patties and cook three minutes on each side or until golden. Serve with lemon wedges.

Smoked salmon dip

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature 250 g
  • 1/2 c. sour cream 125 mL
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice 15 mL
  • 1 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped 15 mL
  • 1 tsp. horseradish 5 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt 2 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper 1 mL
  • 6 oz. canned smoked salmon 170 g

With an electric mixer or by hand, mix all the ingredients except the smoked salmon. Lightly beat until light and fluffy.
Drain the canned salmon and flake it apart using two forks. Keep it a little bit chunky. Then, with a rubber spatula, mix it into the cream cheese mixture.
Chill for an hour and then serve. Serve with raw vegetables and crackers.

Smoked salmon carbonara

  • 7 oz. spaghetti 210 g
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil 30 mL
  • 1 garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 c. parmesan cheese 125 mL
  • 3 oz. canned smoked salmon 85 g
  • chives and lemon zest, for serving

Cook the pasta to the al dente stage in lightly salted water.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, cheese and pepper in a bowl and set aside.
In a frying pan, heat olive oil and cook garlic over medium heat until softened.
Add in the salmon and cook until warm.
We only need to warm the salmon because it is already cooked.
Remove from heat.
Drain the pasta, reserve some of the cooking water and toss it in the pan with the garlic and salmon.
Stir to coat the pasta.
Add egg mixture and chives.
Toss well so the heat from the pasta cooks the eggs. Add cooking water to get the consistency you prefer.
Serve with freshly ground black pepper, grated parmesan and some lemon zest on top.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at allourfingersinthepie.blogspot.ca. Contact: team@producer.com.

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