My trip with my father was slow, patient, calm and quiet. These words are not the words that would have used to describe this industry 60, 70 years ago. Today however, it’s just how it is. The fishing grounds are quiet and sleepy. The old canneries are decrepit characters, slowly dying and the people of the industry and few and far between.
The people of fishing are really what stand out to me. I grew up on the water. It’s beautiful and I love it. But what stands out are my father’s (and grandfather’s) eclectic community. I had a chance to revisit with a few of those characters since commencing this project.
North Pacific Cannery is now a National historic site and museum. When I showed up there I was fully willing to jump through the hoops that one would expect to find at a government run operation. I talked to this person, so they could connect with me with that person, so they could inform someone else to expect me at the cannery. Hoops. So that’s what I got. However, once I got the cannery it was a whole other scene. Although the museum is governed by bureaucrats, the day-to-day operations (in the winter) are run by Spider. Spider You ask? His actual name is Doug Round but I have never known a person to call him anything but Spider.
Spider is my dad’s age and has also spent his life fishing. The fishing industry has petered away into next to nothing and so Spider has had to find a way to get by. Many people have retrained but for some that is not an option. Spider is an intelligent well read man but he functions best with a little help from Jack Daniels. And so Spider is now the winter watchman and summer maintenance staff at North Pacific Cannery museum. It’s the perfect job for Spider. He spends his days mostly alone, trying to keep up with the aggressively aging buildings of the cannery.
Spider was ready to bend over backwards to help me with anything I needed. He handed me the keys and gave me the run of the place. He spent some time telling me stories of how my father had helped him. My father taught Spider to fish the Skeena river. He taught him every thing he knew about the river. Spider told me how he once wrote a letter on his behalf that changed his life. Spider only had warm things to say of my dad and was more than willing to extend to me anything he could.
If you were to pass Spider your first thoughts might not be the best. Spider isn’t dressed sharp and there isn’t anything fancy about him. He’s a middle-aged guy, with a bit of a stoop from many years of hard labour. He carries a micky in his back pocket and although he’s a fully functioning, employed guy he is usually drunk. He wears an old leather cap, has a crooked smile and has a smoker’s dry laugh. He does however, have one old fashioned custom that is common trait among coastal folk. You can show up on his cannery door-step wet and tired, and before he even finds out that he knows you after all, he has invited you in for warm cup of tea.