Peace Together – Ling Lam and the Hong Wo Store

Ling Lam (City of Richmond Archives accession 2013 52.)

In the late 19th Century, a teenage boy arrived in Victoria from China and began working in a store owned by members of his family. A year later Ling Lam moved to Vancouver where he studied English at the Chinese Methodist Church and worked in the canneries in Steveston. He started out in business by teaching himself how to bake bread and peddled buns door-to-door around Steveston. In 1895 he bought property and opened a store which became one of those places that embeds itself into a community’s collective memory.

Translating as “Peace Together” or “Living in Harmony”, this sign was located on the wall inside the Hong Wo Store and is now one of four signs from the store in the Richmond Museum’s collection. (City of Richmond Collection 006.23.20)

Ling Lam named his business Hong Wo, meaning “Peace Together” or “Living in Harmony”. Located outside the dyke near the foot of Trites Road and near the Nelson Brothers Cannery, the place was a true General Store. If you couldn’t get what you needed at the Hong Wo Store, you probably couldn’t get it anywhere. The building was located adjacent to a wharf where fishboats could tie up and get supplies before the next fisheries opening. To streamline the process an order form was developed and issued to the fisherman who could check off the items they needed and the order would be ready for pickup at the specified time. He sold provisions to fishermen, canneries, boatbuilders, farmers and the general public.

Filling out this order form would ensure that your order would be ready and waiting for you to pick up at the wharf behind the Hong Wo Store. (City of Richmond Archives accession 2013 46.)

The lot that Mr. Lam had built his store on was approximately 235 feet wide by 425 feet long (2.27 acres), and extended over the dyke to the high water line. Mr. Lam also acquired acreage north of that lot which was bordered on the north side by the CN Railway right-of-way and on the east by Trites Road (1.3 acres). Open fields to the north of the railway line (11.03 acres) became his farmlands, another arm of his business.

Property owned by the Hong Wo Company is outlined in red in this image cut from the 1936 Waterworks Atlas. Buildings are identified in the image including the pickle factory, greenhouses, bunkhouses and the store at the lower left. City of Richmond Archives image 1991 40 23 – Waterworks Atlas.
Nestled between cannery buildings, the Hong Wo property can be seen near the centre of this image from 1952. The roofs of Mr. Lam’s greenhouses can be seen near the CN Rail line and the pickle factory near Trites Road. Hong Wo and Company farmland is above the rail line. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1997 16 92.)

Once Ling Lam had his retail and farming businesses running, he returned to China to get married. When he was joined by his wife in Canada they lived in an apartment above the store. Around 1908 the store was destroyed by fire and the family moved into a cannery house until the new store was built. The Lam children walked three miles along the dyke into Steveston to go to school. With the business and farm prospering, Mr. Lam moved the family into a house in East Vancouver around 1914.

The Lam Family home in East Vancouver with the family standing on the front porch, ca. 1914. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1986 17 1.)

To order stock for the store in the early days, Mr. Lam would ride a bike to New Westminster to his supplier’s offices. The order for the season would be delivered by boat to the wharf and shed behind the store. The bicycle was eventually retired when a telephone was hooked up in the store, one of the first in Richmond, and orders could be phoned in.

The Hong Wo Store was a place for people to drop by, have a chat and pick up what they needed. In this photo Jessie Lam Ross, the daughter of Ling Lam, visits with customers under the sign reading “Peace Together” or “Living in Harmony”. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 22 179.)

Around 1914 Mr. Lam began to act as a labour contractor to two canneries, providing seasonal Chinese workers. He also employed the workers on his farms, supplying accommodations, food and a cook for a temporary crew of about 30 during the growing season and harvest. A full time foreman, assistant and truck driver were also employed.

The entrance to the Hong Wo General Store in 1969. The fishboat and cannery buildings in the background show its proximity to the water. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 2006 13 13.)
Like many businesses Hong Wo and Co. distributed calendars, like this 1949 example, to their good customers. (City of Richmond Collection 008.4.2)

During its peak, the farms owned by Mr. Lam produced tomatoes from about 30 greenhouses. Potatoes and beans were grown in the open fields along with a large crop of cucumbers for pickles. A complex of buildings was built on the lots south of the rail line. These included a pickle factory, complete with at least 20 eight-foot deep concrete vats for brining, storage buildings and greenhouses. Several bunkhouses were located on the property as well as a cookhouse with a large brick and metal wok and a building where barrels were assembled. Mr. Lam also invented a machine to sort cucumbers for dill pickles, a product which formed a large part of his farming business.

Work clothes, ice cream, instant mashed potatoes, Seven-Up and marine enamel all vie for space on the shelves of the Hong Wo Store. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 22 171B.)

As reported by his daughter Jessie Lam Ross in a 1968 Richmond Review newspaper article, “He was a big name among the Chinese growers. He contracted with Empress, Royal City, Nalley’s, and other companies, and kept about 250 acres under cultivation in Steveston. Day and night he was on the go. He used to haul cukes in and pile them in huge stacks for the dill pickles.”

Looking west along the dyke path between the buildings on the Hong Wo and Co. property in 1967. The store is the last building on the left. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1994 22 1.)

Ling Lam was also very active in Vancouver’s Chinese community, acting as the chairman of the Chinese Merchant’s Association, serving as an Elder in the Chinese United Church and starting the Chinese Farmer’s Association. He was known as a dedicated, principled, hard working man.

Some of Ling Lam’s buildings were still standing when this photo was taken in 1970. The pickle factory is the building on the far right. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 22 152B.)

“I never saw him in work clothes,” his daughter Jessie remembered,” He always wore a blue serge suit and, in the summer, a shirt and tie and blue serge pants. He only took two holidays in his life, and then it was to go to California to look for seeds.”

Stock on the shelves at the Hong Wo Store. At its peak the store employed as many as 9 clerks. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 22 180.)

After Mr. Lam’s death in 1939, his son George Lam and daughter Jessie Lam Ross took over his business, operating his store until 1971. With the store’s closure the property and buildings on it began to deteriorate, causing concern for the owners of nearby cannery buildings after several fires had been extinguished by the Richmond Fire Department. Efforts by the Steveston Historical Society to have the Hong Wo buildings declared a heritage site proved to be in vain and the store and surrounding buildings were destroyed in 1977.

The Hong Wo Store in 1977, boarded up and nearing its demolition. (City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 37 22.)

While the Hong Wo Store has been gone for nearly half a century its 75 years of service to industry and community make it one of the unique components of Richmond’s history. The store’s story and that of Ling Lam, a self-made man who built a thriving business from humble beginnings, are memorialized in a sign at the corner of Trites Road and Westwater Drive near the location of his pickle factory.

The Barker Letter Books

For the Good of the Company – William Henry Barker and BC Packers


The language and content encountered in historical records may be offensive or emotionally harmful. Historical records preserved by the City of Richmond Archives reflect the society in which they were created. The quotations below are presented in full as written by William Henry Barker. If you have any concerns, please speak to one of our Archivists at 604-247-8305 or email


William Henry Barker (1853-1929) was a businessman who was instrumental in the development of the fishing industry in British Columbia. He was born in Manchester, England and after school and brief careers in his father’s shipping business and the merchant navy, emigrated to the United States. Settling in Oregon, he began a career in the fledgling salmon canning industry, rising through the management ranks of several companies. He formed the George and Barker Packing Company in Astoria, later amalgamating it with other companies to form the Columbia River Packer’s Association over which he attained a high level of administrative and managerial authority. He resigned from his position in 1901 to focus on the George and Barker Company, and as manager oversaw its expansion and construction of a new cannery at Point Roberts.

In 1904 he moved to Vancouver to carry on with the successful amalgamation of canneries into the British Columbia Packer’s Association, the largest fish-packing business in the province. He became General Manager and then President of the company. Barker was seen as a practical man who was very familiar with the business and well able to take care of the company’s affairs. Throughout his time at the company he insisted that they follow sound business principles, and although his language and attitudes were typical of his time, he fought strongly against the Federal Government’s policies on the hiring and licensing of workers based on their race. He promoted conservation of the resource by advancing the establishment of hatcheries and maintenance of spawning grounds. Mr. Barker was instrumental in “patriating” the company, incorporated in New Jersey when it was formed, and having it registered it in British Columbia.

The Barker Letter Books, Volumes One and Two. (City of Richmond Archives photo)

During Barker’s 22 year tenure at BC Packers his outgoing correspondence was preserved in two letterpress copybooks. They have left us with an insight into a period of BC’s history when the expansion of the fishing industry was taking place, and a record of a loyal and tenacious businessman who’s primary focus was the welfare of the company. The letters deal with the day to day operation of the company, but the reader also peers through a window into the history of the time. He mentions historical occurrences such as the San Francisco Earthquake, the blasting in the Fraser Canyon which blocked the path of spawning salmon, the official “White Only” policies of the Government, the onset of motor boats in the industry and much more. The letters are addressed to many company officials, shareholders and government figures, but most are addressed to AEmilius Jarvis, the Vice-President of the company, who was located in Toronto and who replaced Barker as President when he resigned.

One of the things that most frustrated Mr. Barker was his perception of interference from the Government. The over-issuing of fishing licenses, interference in hiring practices based on race, and treating the Company like a monopoly in its dealings were constant sources of irritation, leading to him resigning as General Manager. Here are a few of his comments:

Jan. 7, 1908 – Politicians – “The writer has come to the conclusion that these politicians are good at promising, but use their pleasure about keeping what they promise. The writer does not like that kind of people; in fact, that business is disagreeable to him – kind of two-faced, and he would rather do most anything else.”

Nov. 20, 1912 – On licensing of independent fishermen – “You can well understand that besides being unprofitable, it will make the men more independent and hard to manage by being able to sell their fish to the highest bidder.”

May 27, 1916 – On Government refusing to award licenses to BCP – “The idea of the Department seems to be to cater to the fishermen’s vote. As a matter of fact,
nearly all these fishermen are of foreign birth, Swedes, Scandinavians, Russian Fins, Germans, Austrians, etc., and nearly all are Pro-German. There are localities that are being specially catered to where not a man has gone to the front.”

BC Packers was not only employed in the salmon fishing industry but also fished for halibut which were quick frozen and shipped by rail to eastern Canada. Here’s a big one aboard the halibut boat “Andrew Kelly”, ca. 1915. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1985 4 880)

July 17, 1916 – Government interference – “We have in no way tried to monopolize anything, but have done a great deal for the industry in many ways. Our every effort has been for better packing – – cleaner and better canneries, and all the time for the conservation of the salmon. We own and operate at our own expense a salmon hatchery on the Nimpkish River, where we turn out 5,000,000 young salmon every year. We have given two sites for hospitals; one at Green’s, Rivers Inlet, the other at Alert Bay, and we help to maintain the hospitals. Our canneries are the best in B. C. The fishermen get higher prices for their fish and make far more than they used to. There is absolutely no reason to think of us as a monopoly, except perhaps the jealousy of some of our competitors who want something we have, and perhaps the desire of the politicians to use the fisheries for political purposes. We must either go ahead or backward. I think that I have demonstrated that I can manage the business fairly well, but I cannot manipulate the Government. You or someone else must do that. To tell the truth I am beginning to feel discouraged.”

Dec.12, 1919 – More Government interference – “Quite a number of these returned men fished at Rivers Inlet and Bella Coola, and a few elsewhere. They did fairly well considering they were new at the business, but only caught about half the number of fish that the Japanese and experienced fishermen caught. You can see that we were forced to give our valuable nets and boats to these inexperienced men, and we must say, that considering their inexperience, they did fairly well, although the loss to us was considerable.
This continual changing of the regulations is almost unbearable. We don’t know what to
expect; there is absolutely no stability to the Government regarding the fishery regulations.”

Feb.12, 1920 – Resigning as GM over Government interference – “I might say that one reason for my wishing to get rid of the responsibility is the attitude of the Government towards the business. I do not think they are antagonistic to us any more than to others in our line, at the same time, the uncertainty as to what they will do and may do, over which we have no control, keeps one in a constant worry, and interferes very much with the successful working of the business.”

Aug.28, 1916 – On the exclusion of Japanese fishermen – “Japanese fishermen – who are British subjects – are being forced out, and we are told by the Department that it is the intention to force them out entirely. The Japanese fishermen thoroughly understand the business, and work conscientiously and hard, fish or no fish. The Department’s excuse or reason for forcing out these Japanese fishermen is said to encourage white permanent settlers along the Coast. White men can do very much better than fish, as we cannot pay any price asked which would afford them as good a livelihood as they can get in other directions. On the Skeena River, and Fraser River also, the Japanese fishermen average four to five times as many fish as the Whites. Of course there are some few White men who do equally as well, if not better, than the Japanese, but the majority take to it as a temporary employment, and make nothing themselves, and just simply use up and waste our gear. You should personally be well aware that along the Coast there is very little show for White fishermen to establish homes and use up the greater part of the year when not engaged in fishing, in agriculture. There is very little tillable land along the Coast and as we have stated, White men can do so much better in other lines, and they only fish when they can get nothing else to do. In other words, they are not at all reliable.”

Drag seining was one of the methods used for commercial salmon fishing in the early 20th Century. Nets are strung out across the mouth of a river to which salmon are returning. This image, ca. 1920 shows men hauling in the nets, probably at the Nimpkish River near Alert Bay, where BC Packers operated a cannery and a hatchery. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1985 4 118)

Aug. 15, 1922“RIVERS INLET – We operated as formerly two Canneries – the Wadhams and Brunswick. A strike occurred with the white fishermen – who are mostly Swedes and Finlanders – and are Bolsheviks and had a strong German feeling all through the war. The Whites, Japanese and Indian [sic] fishermen are about equally divided – about one-third each. The Fisheries Department have already given out information that the licenses of Japanese fishermen will be reduced 50% next year. This will throw us more into the hands of these foreign socialistic fishermen who no doubt will take advantage of it.”

Sept. 19, 1922“One other matter that the writer forgot to mention was the Department’s intention to curtail the licenses of Japanese fishermen. We are positive that without these Japanese fishermen on the Naas and Skeena Rivers, no Cannery can successfully operate, and it is a shame to pick on the salmon industry the burden of this Asiatic exclusion. They are here and will be employed somewhere, and why not in the fisheries where they are doing good work.”

Jan. 31, 1923 – “Regarding the Government’s action towards Japanese fishermen, we thought best to procure a Naturalization Certificate from one of our Japanese fisherman and enclose a copy herewith. You will note that the Dominion gives to these Japanese Naturalized Citizens all the benefits and privileges of any other Citizen. It would seem that withholding or refusing to give the Japanese fishing licenses, that they are going back on their agreement with the Japanese. Can the Dominion of Canada afford to do this – may it not lead to International complications.”

A lesser used type of commercial fishing involved the use of fixed traps. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1985 4 115)

Barker was so concerned about the Government’s licensing policies that he hired a detective from the famous “Pinkerton Agency” to go to Prince Rupert and monitor the situation.”:

May 12 and 26, 1913 – To Mr. M. K. Dickinson of Balmoral Cannery – “Enclosed please find copy of a letter we have given to a “Pinkerton” man, whom we are sending up, first to Prince Rupert to try and find out to whom licenses are issued and all about the Cold Storage there, then he will come to you and present the letter as per copy enclosed. You will furnish him with a small launch when he needs it, and he will look out for our nets and be under your directions. We wish you to keep this entirely to yourself, not letting anyone know who this man is or what he is. You might say that he is working for us or anything you agree upon. We talked the matter over with you regarding having a patrol to see if our men sold fish or others stole our nets. Assist him in every way possible and keep this entirely to yourself. If you feel forced to talk it over with Mr. Buttimer then caution him not to mention it to anyone else. We think this man should run the launch himself after he has been shown the River.”

“We are in receipt of yours of the 21st instant, and note what you say regarding the patrol on the Skeena River. By all means keep the man you have. Probably the ‘Pinkerton’ man will not call on you for some time to come , as he has some work to do at Prince Rupert. In speaking of this man, please mention him as ‘No.29’ and not ‘Pinkerton’.”

Barker’s letters mention several disasters that took place during his employment with BC Packers. Here are a few:

April 19, 1906 – The San Francisco Earthquake – “We are all appalled by the terrific calamity that has overtaken the Metropolis of the Pacific Coast. As yet we only have meagre details of the dreadful calamity and are hoping that same will prove to be greatly exaggerated, but fear they will not. Please remember us to Mrs. Fulton. Hoping you are in good health and thanking you in advance for the report.”

Oct.6, 1913 – The Fraser River slide – “Mr. McIntyre, the Provincial Deputy Fish Commissioner, and Mr. Babcock, assistant to the Provincial Fish Commissioner, have made a trip up the Fraser to see how the Sockeyes were getting to the hatcheries and the spawning grounds, and found that very few have reached either the spawning grounds or hatcheries. Looking for the cause they found millions of fish just below the Skuzzy Rapids which are three miles above Hells Gate, which is also, as its name implies, a rapid and has been hard for the fish to get past. At the Skuzzy Rapids there are quite a number of eddies in which the fish would rest, dropping down from the rapid water and then go on. The Canadian Northern have been blasting their road bed right here, and have sent thousands of tons of rock and filled up these eddies so that the fish have had no resting place and have been unable to get by. A great many thousands have died worn out, being unable to get up. Mr. Babcock got powder from the Railway contractors and got their assistance, and has blown out some of the rock, and we understand that fish are now getting up. Just what effect this will have on our future big years we cannot tell, but we are inclined to think the situation rather serious.”

May 17, 1918 – The Steveston fire – “Regarding the fire at Steveston. This was quite a large fire, and occurred about nine o’clock in the morning. We got in touch with our Imperial Cannery and Cold Storage, and received ‘phone messages every half hour. The fire lasted, burning very brisk, until about 12 o’clock, burning everything up to our Cold Storage. You will remember that there was a break of 100 feet on the west of our Cold Storage, which property we have under lease as fire protection, and is very handy for space to moor boats and discharging coal for our Cold Storage use. Our large pumps at the Cold Storage, and hydrants we had (having the fire risk in mind when we erected the plant) came in very handy, and as we have stated, we had no damage except to two or three Japanese fishermen’s houses on the property behind the Cold Storage, which were covered by insurance.”

The Steveston Fire of 1918 razed a large part of the village. This image, taken from the BC Packers cold storage plant shows some of the damage. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1977 23 1)

Barker was also very active in promoting BC Salmon in overseas markets and trying to get the best price possible for the Company. Their biggest competition came from the Americans who he claimed misrepresented their products as “Sockeye” and were trying to take over markets already held by Canadian producers. He also dealt with promoters trying to get the Company to invest in foreign fisheries, such as in Russia.

April 11, 1907 – To Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier on tariffs – “The possibility of the Australian Government making a change in their tariff so as to admit our Canned Salmon, free of duty and maintaining a duty on same packed elsewhere, is so attractive and would benefit us so much that we cannot refrain from doing something on the subject. We are fully satisfied that you are aware of the benefits to Canada and particularly the Province of British Columbia, if we could have the excellent market of Australia, as we have that of New Zealand. You are also aware that the Americans have an immense advantage over us, as they have the inexhaustible supply of Salmon in Alaska, where their annual pack will average over 2,000,000 cases per year. These they can pack and sell at a profit, at prices that allow us no profit. They have the English, Australian and other markets on an even footing with us Canadian packers, besides having their own larger country entirely to themselves. The benefits to be derived by an exclusive market, like we have in New Zealand, would be felt all of our Province if not all of the Dominion. If it is impossible to get our Canned Salmon into the Commonwealth free, a preferential tariff similar to one between New Zealand and Canada would be very acceptable.”

Another method of fishing during Barker’s tenure at BC Packers was gillnetting, a method still used today. This image shows fisherman Louie Korens pulling in his new in the Fraser River off Steveston, ca.1945. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1985 4 13)

June 8, 1907 – To the Minister of Trade and Commerce on American canners misrepresenting their product – “Our Agents in Australia called the attention of your Commercial Agent at Melbourne, Mr. D.H.Ross, of the attempt of packers of salmon in Alaska to mislead the trade and public by using the word ‘Sockeye’ on labels on salmon caught and packed in Alaskan waters. We beg to confirm what Mr. Ross has stated, that the name ‘Sockeye’ is a local name, and given to salmon frequenting British Columbia waters, and water of Puget Sound when on route to the Fraser River. Sockeye Salmon are known all over the world for the richness in oil, color and flavor, and, in consequence, are much in demand, bringing the highest prices paid for canned salmon. It is to take advantage of this demand and better prices that some of the U.S. packers in Alaska have labelled their salmon – heretofore known as ‘Alaska Reds’ – ‘Sockeye’. This Alaska Salmon is of good color, but altogether lacking in oil, and in no way compares with our British Columbia Sockeye. We understand that Mr. Ross has written you regarding this matter. We beg to second his efforts in our behalf, and would ask your good offices by writing to the Australian Government, with a view to stopping these packers from using the word ‘Sockeye’ on this Alaska fish. If they are allowed to deceive the trade and public by so doing, it will injure our trade and prices, and tend to lessen the business in this line with Australia.”

Dec. 24, 1907 – On investing in Russian Fishery – “Regarding the Salmon streams in Siberia. The writer knows little that is absolutely reliable. A representative of Mr. E. N. Jaliehanin, who has a concession from the Russian Government for the mouth of Amur River – said to be the best salmon river in Siberia – called upon the writer, and at his request, left a written statement of the proposition, copy of which I enclose. The same proposition was made to several parties, some of whom are well known to the writer – he thinks they are being looked into – it will surprise him very much if they are taken up. These Russians are, to use a slang expression ‘great grafters’; they seem to have quite an idea of the value of their exclusive privileges. The quality of their best fish is not equal to our British Columbia River Sockeye.”

Nov. 9, 1909 – On American poaching – “Talking to the Captain of the ‘Celestial Empire’ a few weeks ago – who was then fishing for us – he stated that the American boats – including the New England vessels – fished inside the three mile limit a good part of the time. On that trip three different American steamers had caught 450,000 inside the limits. I asked him where the patrol boats were; he said, one down here being fixed up and we met the other going up. The fact is, as near as we can tell, both the ‘Kestrel’ and the chartered tug ‘Joliffe’ spend too much of their time away from the fishing grounds, a good deal of it coming and going from Vancouver or Victoria, where they come for supplies, to get paid off every month, etc. No doubt they keep the poachers off when they are on the grounds, but one should be there all the time. They not only steal our fish, but prevent our vessels from using the best grounds.”

Sailing vessels docked at Steveston, ca. 1899. Much of BC Packers cannery production was shipped overseas to Great Britain and Australia. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1985 4 7)

Mr. Barker felt that the operation of the Company depended on the conservation of the resource and the effective utilization of labour. His letters contain a lot of information about the month by month operation of the business, not only of cannery production, but also hatchery production and numbers of fry released for the year. BC Packers operated the only privately run hatchery in the Province on the Nimpkish River and operated a cannery and sawmill there employing mostly indigenous workers.

March 13, 1906 – On hatchery production – “I mailed to your address yesterday Mr. Babcock’s report which has interested me very much, and which I think you will find interesting. Mr. Ker has just gotten back from the Harrison Lake hatchery. He reports everything in nice shape. 26,000,000 Sockeye fry released out of 31,000,000 Ova collected. At the Pemberton, another Dominion Hatchery on the same chain of lakes, some 29,000,000 which, with Babcock’s Seaton Lake, 46,000,000 makes over 100,000,000; with Shushwap and Bon Accord Hatcheries which have somewhere near 40,000,000 more, this with the ova deposited naturally ought to ensure a good year for four years hence.”

Mar.10, 1922 – To Senator Bostock on preserving the Nimpkish River operation – “Our company as you know own and operate a Cannery at Alert Bay. We have had this plant for over twenty years now, and operate at our own expense a hatchery on the Nimpkish Lake, and also watch the natural spawning carefully, doing everything possible to increase the supply. We have been left alone here until last year, when a license was issued the Preston Packing Company to operate drag-seines on the Nimpkish River. The river is a small one and the supply very limited. The result was, the small pack was divided, the Preston Packing Co. getting less than 2000 cases and our Company getting 3500 cases of Sockeyes. We had fished this Nimpkish in a careful and economical way; the fishermen had made a good living even at the low prices we paid them, which ran from 7 cents to 15 cents per fish. The Preston Packing Co. caused us to pay 40 cents for Sockeyes last year; the result was that where we had a profitable business it became unprofitable, and of little or no value to the Preston Packing Co. These fish we have bred, and we think we have some ownership in them, and to give anyone else fishing licenses on this restricted ground, means loss to all concerned and works a great hardship on us.”

Barker was puzzled by the fact that the Company paid around $3000 in taxes to the State of New Jersey annually, where it had been incorporated, but did no business there. He worked at having the Company registered in British Columbia where it actually operated.

March 14, 1908 – To AEmilius Jarvis on the company being incorporated in New Jersey – “When Mr. E.W. Rollins received his pro-forma Balance Sheet and Profit & Loss Statement, as shown at closing of our books on December 31st, he noticed the charge for taxes in New Jersey, and wrote us about it, asking if there was not some way so as to avoid this expense which is about $3,000.00 a year. We wrote him that we had wondered why the Company was incorporated in New Jersey, and if it could not be changed so as to make this saving. As you had a great deal to do with the organization of the Company, and know why it was incorporated under the laws of the State of New Jersey, perhaps you can let us know if it is possible to make any change and save these New Jersey taxes and other charges there, or is it desirable. We do not know just what would be necessary to accomplish this, and do not wish to do anything until we know whether there are any objections to its being done. Perhaps you could find out, (if you do not already know) just what we would have to do to make this change, if you think it advisable to make it.”

Jan. 22, 1909 – Branding – “During the past year quite a considerable amount of new machinery and some new buildings have been purchased; also the ‘Clover Leaf’, ‘Arrow’ and other brands, all being additional assets.”

March 16,1910 – On incorporating in British Columbia – “We are mailing you to-day under another cover, 100 copies of our Bill as it was finally passed. We have not had time as yet to carefully go over the same, but feel satisfied that they are alright. Now the Bill has passed and we are duly incorporated under the laws of British Columbia, we presume that no time will be lost in winding up the affairs of the Company in New Jersey so that we can re-organize.”

Barker’s letters are also full of historical data about fisheries in the early 20th Century. He was present for the conversion of the fishery to gasoline engines, a change that he did not fully agree with, concerned about overfishing using more efficient boats and the expense to companies. He also commented on the types of fishing used during this period, some of which are no longer used.

Feb. 8, 1917 – On motor boats for fishing – “Regarding motor boats for fishing. You can well understand that a boat provided with a motor will have a decided advantage over a boat propelled by oars or a sail. We figure that one motor boat is fully equal to two ordinary fishing boats. We understand the Department also came to this conclusion, and in the interests of conservation, refused to allow them to be used in the North. We figure there are about 2000 fishing boats in Northern B. C. It would not be practicable to put gasoline motors into the old boats. This we have found from experience on the Fraser River. To build a new boat an equip it with a 5 H.P. engine would cost at least $500.00, perhaps more, and if it is done by one or two Packers (and we fear that it will be), all will have to follow suit. We figure that it would cost our Company at least $250,000.00 to make the change, which is altogether unnecessary, particularly at this time. Then, the Indians [sic], Japanese, and the kind of white men we use in the North for fishing, know little or nothing about a gasoline engine and would be in trouble all the time. It would mean a machine-shop at each Cannery. The cost of gasoline too would be quite heavy and all add to the cost of packing. The bulk of the $1,000,000.00 which the change would cost, would go to the United States where all the small gasoline engines are made; the hardwood and hardware for the boats also come from there. We were under the impression that the Government were trying in every way to keep money in the Country – stop all extravagancies or unnecessary expense, but it seems not.”

BC Packers’ Imperial Cannery in Steveston, ca.1910. Gas boats have started to take over, although there are still a few sail and rowboats visible. (City of Richmond Archives photo 1985 4 35)

Aug.30, 1920 – Types of fishing employed – “Regarding the annual visit of Mr. W. A. Found, now Deputy Minister of Fisheries, and the Hon. C. S. Ballantyne, Minister of Marine & Fisheries, with both of whom we have had meetings and protested against the continual change of regulations regarding fisheries, it seems that Mr. Found has taken into his head that one method of fishing is more disastrous than others, when we think entirely otherwise. There are four methods of fishing for salmon on this Pacific Coast. The one most commonly used is as you know the “gill-net”, which drifts with the tide and fishes both ebb and flood, but fishes best just before and after slack water, both high and low tides. The trap method of fishing is of course a fixed appliance. Netting, both wire or cotton fixed on piles driven at right angles to the shore which lead into hearts and from them into a pot and spiller through tunnels. These of course can only be driven where the shore slopes out and the driving is good and where the fish run. They are not much used in British Columbia. The purse-seine is an appliance ranging from 300 to 600 fathoms in length when hung and 120 to 150 feet deep. They have floats or buoys on the cork line and rings fastened to the line on the lower end of the net through which runs the purse line. These purse-seines are operated by a power boat of from 40 H.P. to 50 H. P. and manned by about eight men. They are really a floating trap which surround a school or quantity of fish and purse them up with the power used and then brail out the salmon into the boat. The other is the drag-seine, which can only be used on a sandy beach, which usually occurs near the mouth of rivers to which these salmon are going. This drag-seine is usually made of cotton, one end being tied to the shore, the net thrown out and a long line taken to the shore and hauled in by men; usually eight or ten men are used on a drag-seine. This latter is the one to which Mr. Found objects.”

One of the many pages transcribed by Volunteers at the Archives. (City of Richmond Archives photo)

These are just a few excerpts from the 22 years of letters sent by Mr. Barker in his job as General Manager and President of BC Packers. The hardbound copies of the correspondence were held in the BC Packers Limited Archives until 2001 when they were donated to the City of Richmond Archives along with many photographs and other records. The letters are very fragile and it was decided to transcribe them into a searchable database. Esther Rabinovitch and Carol Farrell, volunteers from the Friends of the Richmond Archives, took on the painstaking job, putting in countless hours working from seemingly endless copies and deciphering hand written notes. The transcribed letters are available for interested researchers online at

Volunteers Esther Rabinovitch (L) and Carol Farrell (R) along with Archivist Lynne Waller during the transcription of the Barker Letter Books in July 2007. (City of Richmond Archives photo)

William Henry Barker remained in Vancouver after his resignation and passed away on January 9, 1929. He was survived by his wife Orpha, three sons and two daughters.

“…I beg to say that my first thought and every effort will be for the success of the Company.”

William Henry Barker, September 27, 1906

Western Exposures – The BC Packers Photographs by Gar Lunney


The fishing industry has been a mainstay of the industrial and social life of Richmond throughout its history and British Columbia Packers has been at the centre of this industry since the earliest days. In 2001 the company generously donated the contents of its archives to the City of Richmond Archives.

Gar Lunney 1980

Gar Lunney in 1980. City of Richmond Archives photo.

In this collection are a wealth of photographic images documenting the company’s history, including a group of photographs by Gar Lunney, (1920 – 2016), one of Canada’s eminent photographers.


In the background seiners wait to set their nets during the San Juan salmon fishery. In the foreground the boat begins to retrieve its net and the salmon in it. Crews make it all work despite the crowded conditions and poor visibility in the fog. City of Richmond Archives photograph – BC Packers Fonds Series 9.

Gar Lunney began his career with the Winnipeg Tribune before serving with the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War.

8-Women washing fish

Women at the “Sliming Table” in the BC Packers Imperial Plant in Steveston, washing fish. City of Richmond Archives  photograph – BC Packers Fonds Series 9.

After the War, he joined the Still Photography Division of the National Film Board where he documented Royal tours, took portraits of famous Canadians,and photographed landscapes, industries and people in their everyday lives from every corner of the country.


A deckhand stands on the stern watching a herring net being pursed and hauled back to the boat. City of Richmond Archives photograph – BC Packers Fonds Series 9.

In 1970 he left Ottawa and moved to Vancouver beginning a career as a freelance photographer specializing in photojournalism and annual reports, thus making a connection with BC Packers Limited.

31-Wester Investor with big set

A crewman aboard the Western Investor brails herring out of the net. City of Richmond Archives photograph – BC Packers Fonds Series 9.

The photos taken by Lunney capture an era when fishing was still booming, parking lots at the processing plants were full, and it seemed as if the fishing would never end.


The last sun of the day lights up the wet net. City of Richmond Archives photograph – BC Packers Fonds Series 9.

While the heyday of commercial fishing and processing in Richmond is over, the history of its time is preserved for future generations at the City of Richmond Archives.

12-B.C. Packers K-5 camp2

The BC Packers K-5 Camp was the company’s main operations centre for the Juan de Fuca fishery. Anchored in San Juan Harbour near Port Renfrew, it housed offices, a store and refueling facilities. The gillnetters Silver Mate and Kor-Wes are tied to the camp. City of Richmond Archives photograph – BC Packers Fonds Series 9.

Art in a Pickle – The Cartoons of Phil Dill


The banner of the first Boeing Beam, published January 6, 1943.

Boeing Canada had been building aircraft in the Lower Mainland since 1929 when they bought the Hoffar-Beeching Shipyard at Coal Harbour and began building seaplanes there. The massive expansion of the aircraft industry that came with the start of the Second World War resulted in the construction of more facilities including the massive factory on Sea Island, built in 1942, as well as many other smaller shops in communities around BC. This expansion of Boeing Canada’s production came with a corresponding expansion of the workforce, providing thousands of jobs for men and women during the war years.

The importance of a nutritious diet for aircraft production workers is explored in this cartoon from Phil Dill. Boeing Beam image.

With the flood of new workers, the Boeing Canada Public Relations Department needed a method of communicating with their employees on a mass scale and so, on January 6, 1943, the first issue of the Boeing Beam was published. The Beam, was issued fortnightly (every two weeks) until August 31, 1945 when the war ended and wartime production ceased.

This New Year cartoon in the premier issue of the Beam was the first Dill cartoon to be featured. Image from the Boeing Beam.

Featured in the Boeing Beam were articles about the various plants and shops, information on training and production, stories about the aircraft produced at the plants, health and safety news as well as social news about employees, events and sports. Also featured in the Beam were the cartoons drawn by the Art Director of the Public Relations Dept., Phil Dill.

The Art Director of the Public Relations dept. for Boeing Canada, Phil Dill, shown working on a poster. Boeing Beam image.

Phil Dill was a young man who was originally employed in the Expediting Department but was relocated to Public Relations due to his talent with pen and ink. His work, featuring the antics of character “Claude Hopper” , dealt mostly with worker safety but also covered other aspects of the culture at the plants.

Claude Hopper was the anti-hero of many of the Dill cartoons. The trademark pickle also appears in this early cartoon. Boeing Beam image.

The majority of the cartoons also featured his trademark pickle character, who often added commentary to the cartoons.

The dangers of rumour-mongering are covered in this cartoon. Boeing Beam image.

Mr. Dill also produced posters. He developed a system of glass fronted poster frames which were mounted in key locations in all the factories operated by Boeing Canada.

This image illustrates some of the posters created by Phil Dill. Boeing Beam image.

The posters, dealing with safety, security and production, were numbered and rotated through the plants, providing a constantly changing theme.

A Phil Dill safety poster warns workers of the hazards of crossing Georgia Street near Plant 1, as does the armed guard. Boeing Beam image.

As new problems cropped up, Dill would produce new posters to deal with the subject using a touch of humour.

A little humour goes a long way, as illustrated in this cartoon published during a bond drive. Boeing Beam image.

The poster campaign proved to be so effective that large aircraft manufacturers in California requested photos of the images so they could use them in their own facilities.

Phil Dill appeared in his own cartoon showing the results of Claude Hopper’s poor safety performance. Boeing Beam image.

Dill’s work was acclaimed by National Safety Council as well as the US Navy Visual Aids departments and the Aircraft Industry Relations Committee.

The large female work force at the Boeing Plants was a new situation for male employees. Dill broached the subject with his usual humour. Boeing Beam image.

His cartoons and posters were put on public display at the Vancouver Art Gallery in December of 1943.

The dangers of unfettered long hair on female employees is addressed in this Dill cartoon. Boeing Beam image.

Subjects such as War Bond Drives, security and the relatively new experience of working in a mixed gender industrial workplace were also covered in Dill’s cartoons.

Working at an aircraft plant had its own set of unique hazards, as shown in this cartoon. Boeing Beam image.

After the Boeing Canada plant closed, Phil Dill found a new home for his cartoons in the pages of the “Buzzer”, the BC Electric’s transit publication.

The last Phil Dill cartoon to appear in the Boeing Beam was in final issue, August 31, 1945. Boeing Beam image.

Reach for the Sky – The Dawn of the High-Rise in Richmond

Up until the 1960s  Richmond was a “low-rise” community, the tallest buildings being the grandstands at the two thoroughbred racetracks in the municipality and the industrial buildings like canneries and mills. Richmond’s Zoning Bylaw had restricted building height to no more than three storeys above natural grade before the late 1950s. However, the increasing rates of population growth, brought on by the completion of the Oak Street Bridge in 1957, spurred the construction of residential subdivisions and the Municipal Government began to change Richmond’s Zoning Bylaw 1430 to permit higher density housing.

An aerial view of the Brighouse area in 1963 shows no buildings over three floors. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 65.

Richmond’s surface soil profiles have been studied and show that most of the land west of No. 3 Road has a clay cap about 3 metres in depth with sand or silty sand below. East of No. 3 Road there is typically a layer of peat up to 7 metres deep, then a 3 metre deep layer of clay underlain by sand. In the event of a major earthquake studies have shown that the most likely place for liquefaction (the loss of strength of soils due to vibration) to occur will probably be in a limited zone below the clay layer. As better understanding was reached of Richmond’s underlying soil conditions and how its soils react to supporting buildings in varying conditions, including earthquakes, site preparation and foundation construction techniques were adopted allowing taller structures to be built. Buildings in Richmond have to be built stronger and with greater attention to foundation design than similar buildings in Metro Vancouver which can be fastened to bedrock.

The first step in any construction is the provision of a soils report which addresses structural foundation support and the liquefaction potential of the soils in the building site. Structural drawings approved by a Professional Engineer deal with seismic design and the details of the soils report. Preparation of building sites for construction involves the densification of the soils with a preload of sand to a predetermined height and for a specified length of time. This compresses the soil and removes ground water to increase its load bearing capabilities. Various types of compaction using vibration are also commonly employed to increase the removal of ground water from the soil.

This photo shows concrete pilings which support the weight of buildings on soil below the liquefaction zone, in this case at the construction site of Richmond City Hall. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

Most buildings over three storeys high are placed on pile foundations which support the building on soil below the liquefaction layer. Concrete “Franki” piles, reinforced concrete pilings forced down a metal tube and which expand out the bottom in a large bulge, provide structural support. Stone columns and timber “compaction piles” are often placed in a pattern around support pilings to further eliminate water from the soil supporting the building. All of the methods of supporting the building structure and compacting the soil create a large block of dense soil beneath the building site, essentially an artificial bedrock.

Richmond General Hospital was Richmond’s tallest building for many years. At six storeys it did not quite make the height required to be called a high rise. City of Richmond Archives photograph, accession 2004 11.

The first building to exceed the three-storey limit was the new Richmond General Hospital. At six storeys it did not quite qualify as a high-rise building, the standard being seven storeys or more, but it had been designed with the ability to be expanded to nine storeys and for years it was the tallest building in Richmond. The hospital opened on February 26, 1966. Plans to add an additional three storeys to the building in 1972 were quashed, however, due to changes in the National Building Code for 1970 which dramatically increased the specifications for earthquake building loads.

With the new changes in the building code the stage was now set for the construction of true high-rise buildings in Richmond. Through the early 1970s the Richmond Review newspaper announced the planned construction of the first buildings, a seven-storey seniors’ residence, two hotel towers, and three seventeen-storey apartment buildings.

Public opinion about the changing Richmond skyline was mixed, with very vocal opponents to the flat terrain of the community being “splattered with 200 foot towers”. Residents around the 1000 block of Ryan Road were so outraged at the plans for the construction of a fourteen-storey tower as part of an apartment development in their neighborhood that 150 of them showed up at a Municipal Council meeting to protest. Citing a complete lack of consultation they managed to have the proposed development cancelled.

The March 18, 1970 Richmond Review showed this photo of the proposed Lions Manor building. At the time it was published, the location of the building had still not been settled.

The Richmond Review newspaper announced the construction of a $1.2 million apartment block for seniors on March 19, 1970. The seven-storey concrete building, planned since 1968, would fill a need for affordable senior’s housing with room for 144 people living in single suites. Occupancy would be limited to persons having an income of $150 per month or less and rent would be $110. The project had been in planning for many years by the Richmond Lions Club. The location chosen to build the residence was on Aquila Road, but opposition from neighbours forced a change of location. Seventh Avenue in Steveston was suggested as an alternate site, but eventually a property at 1177 Fentiman Place in Steveston was approved for its construction.

By December 8, 1971 the building structure was almost complete. Richmond Review.

Described as “like a hotel for old people – all they have to do is dress themselves and come to the dining room to eat”, the rooms each had a bed, chair, clothes closet, dresser, desk and wash stand. Each floor had a lounge and a washroom with four private tubs. The top floor featured a library and the main resident lounge while the main floor housed the kitchen and dining room as well as a crafts room, laundry and visitor’s lounge. Construction began on the manor in 1970 and the first 15 guests had moved in by November 1972.

In this aerial view looking over Steveston the Lions Manor is clearly visible at the centre left. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1977 22 2

On April 12, 1971 the Review announced the Municipality’s “first high rise complex” to be built on Minoru Boulevard. Expected to cost $8.25 Million, it consisted of three seventeen-storey towers, two to be built in the first phase of construction with the third to follow later.

An artist’s drawing of the Park Towers complex from a brochure at the City of Richmond Archives.

The entire complex was to provide 561 dwellings. Foundations for the towers used Franki concrete pilings about every four feet on centre with concrete beams on top to support the buildings.

The first two towers of the Park Towers development near completion in this photo. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2019 24 1.

The project was proposed in 1969 by well-known developer Ben Dayson of Highgate holdings who had previously built the three-storey Minoru Garden Apartments next door to the high rise building site. The first two towers (“Towers C and B”) were ready for rentals by November 1972. Apartments in the third tower (“Tower A”), completed the following year, were sold as condominiums.

The three buildings of the Park Towers, Richmond’s first high rise apartment complex, dominate the skyline of downtown Richmond, ca. 1976. City of Richmond Archives photograph 2008 36 3 75.

In May of 1971 the construction of the Vancouver Airport Hyatt House hotel complex was reported. The hotel was to include a 10-storey tower, 431 rooms, ballroom and meeting rooms, a 200 boat marina, and three restaurants (one on “stilts” over the Fraser River), all built on a seven acre site on Sea Island.

This architectural drawing shows the proposed Airport Hyatt on the bank of the Middle Arm of the Fraser River. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

The building height had been restricted to 135 feet above ground level because of its proximity to the airport and had to have non-metallic roof sheathing so as not to interfere with navigational signals.

Construction is underway at the site of the new Airport Hyatt in this Richmond Review clipping from January 12, 1972.

The site was prepared with an 18 foot high preload of sand which sat for one year before construction began, compacting the soil 60 to 70 feet down. Three hundred and sixty Franki piles were spanned by two-foot by three-foot concrete beams which are in turn supporting a 3 1/2-foot concrete slab. Rising above the slab is the Y-shaped tower of the main structure. The Hotel opened for business in early June 1973.

The Delta Airport Inn before the construction of the first tower. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1988 18 77.

In June 1971, construction began on an expansion of the Delta Airport Inn on St. Edwards Drive which would involve the erection of a fourteen-storey tower with 144 suites and the renovation and expansion of the existing hotel amenities. The upgrade to the hotel, in the planning stages since 1969, was expected to cost $2.5 Million.

This architect’s drawing shows the planned expansion of the Airport Inn. A second, taller tower has been added since. Photo from January 14, 1972 Richmond Review.

A preload of 25,000 yards of sand had already been in place before the project was announced in the June 9, 1971 Richmond Review and 126 piles had been driven 40 feet into the ground at the site to compact the soil and support the building. It was expected that after the completion of the first floor, each floor would only take one week to build. The tower had been completed by March 1972 and the rooms ready for guests by April.

By October 15, 1971 the Airport Inn claimed to have the highest view in Richmond. Richmond Review photograph.

These first four high rise building projects began a trend which continues today, and high rise buildings have come to dominate the city’s skyline, especially in the City Centre area. Which was Richmond’s first high rise? All four were under construction at the same time but by opening date, the Delta Airport Inn’s tower (now the Sandman Signature Airport Hotel) was the first in March 1972, followed closely by the Lion’s Manor and the first phase of the Park Towers in November 1972. The Airport Hyatt House Hotel (now the Pacific Gateway Hotel) on Sea Island was opened fourth, the following March. All of the buildings are still in use except for the Lion’s Manor which was demolished in 2014.

Richmond’s high rises are dwarfed by other buildings in the Metro Vancouver area. Transport Canada  mandates through the Vancouver Airport International Zoning Regulations that buildings in Richmond not exceed 47 meters (150 feet). There has been a study around the possibility of an increase in allowable building heights in the Brighouse area, something that is still ongoing, and it is possible that someday we may see buildings in Richmond that rival some of the “skyscrapers” seen in other cities.