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.

The City of Richmond Archives – Inside the Box

What is the Archives?

The Archives and what goes on there is a mystery to most people so in this posting we will try to explain what the City of Richmond Archives is, where it is, and what it does.

2006 Preservation19

An archival box is designed to exclude light and dust from the records stored within. In this blog we bring the records “Outside the Box” so that the public can see the history of their community. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

The City of Richmond Archives is the official repository for the inactive public (City) and private (donated by individuals) records of enduring and historic value to the City of Richmond and the community as a whole. The main work undertaken at the Archives follows two paths, namely, preservation (to preserve and protect records) and access (to make them accessible to City officials and to the public). The Archives is a section of the City Clerk’s Office which, among its other duties and responsibilities, is responsible for records management for the City.


The idea of creating an archives facility for Richmond was originally discussed in 1970. With the approach of Richmond’s Centennial year, a proposal had been put forward to publish a book to mark the event. The committees formed to organize the Centennial celebration and the book were made up of Richmond residents with an interest in archives and in establishing one for the Municipality because without the original documents and photographs of the community, it would be impossible to have a history.

1987 30 92

Ted Youngberg, Chair of the Richmond ’79 Centennial Society and Leslie Ross, author of the book “Richmond-Child of the Fraser” look over some archival images. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1987 30 92.

Before 1982, archival materials were collected and stored by the Richmond Museum and Historical Society which had been formed in 1961. In 1982, Richmond’s first City Archivist was hired, working with the City’s Leisure Services Department. In 1987, in recognition of the Archives’ growing role as a part of the City’s records management system, the Archives was transferred to the City Clerk’s Department.

In 1992 when the Richmond Cultural Centre was built, a dedicated space for the Archives was created allowing the Archives’ holdings to be stored in one place for the first time. On July 29, 2002 the Corporate Records Management Program Bylaw 7400 came into effect setting out the terms and scope of activities of the City of Richmond Archives. This link will take you to the text of Bylaw 7400 which provides a picture of the stewardship the City of Richmond exercises over City government and community records during their lifetime:

Where is it?

The City of Richmond Archives is located in the Richmond Cultural Centre. The door to the Archives is located between the Library entrance and the Front Desk in the Rotunda of the Centre. A window to the left of the door shows a display relating to some aspect of Richmond’s history using material sourced from the Archives. Just through the door is a vestibule, featuring a photographic display.

The front entrance to the Archives is located between the Library entrance and the Cultural Centre front desk. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

Past the second door, you enter the Reference Room where most researchers do their work. A photographic timeline on the walls shows images from Richmond’s history and digital photo frames present images from specific photograph collections. A research library offers books, research finding aids and telephone/street directories. A microfilm/microfiche reader is provided as well.

The Reference Room at the Archives features a historical photographic timeline on the walls. Space is provided for researchers to work. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

Past the service desk and through the door is the Archives office. Here is where Archives staff and volunteers work at several work stations and tables. More research material can be found here as well as equipment for the handling and conservation of records.


This work station in the Archives office is set up for conservation work and includes an exhaust system for the evacuation of fumes. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

Through the doors at the rear of the Archives office is the closed Archives storage area, commonly referred to as the stacks.

These sections of rolling shelves are used for the storage of textual records in the Archives. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

Here, in a temperature and humidity controlled environment, is where the records held in the City of Richmond Archives are stored for future generations. Each set of shelves or drawers are labelled, as are the boxes and files located there, allowing the Archivist to find a single item among the mass of material stored there.

Drawers like these are used for the storage of maps and plans. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

The Collection

The Archives acquires records for its collection in several ways. Public records are transferred from the City. Private records are received by public donation. The title of the material passes to the Archives with the understanding that ownership is held in trust for future generations.

The conservation of documents is an important activity at the Archives. Here a Contract Archivist works at disbinding old by-laws for preservation and accessibility. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

The Archives holds more than one kilometer of textual records, 170,000 photographs, 20,000 maps and plans and over 500 sound and moving image recordings. There are also collections of subject and biography files and a small reference library.

Photographic negatives, which deteriorate over time, are shown here after being dehumidified, and sealed to prevent moisture incursion. They are then frozen to slow the rate of their decay. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

What goes on?

When records are acquired by the Archives, whether from the City or as a donation, they undergo a fairly complex and time consuming process to ensure their preservation and accessibility. If a member of the public decides to donate a group of photographs, the process is:

  1. An accession number is given to the donation which consists of a four digit number indicating the year it was received and a second number indicating its order of donation, for example, a donation numbered 2019 5 would indicate the fifth accession of 2019.  A Deed of Gift Agreement form is generated by the Archivist which includes a description of the photographs. By signing the Deed of Gift Agreement, the donor states that they are authorized to donate the material, that ownership of the material is transferred to the Archives and disposal instructions for the material are stated should the Archives decide not to keep it.
  2. Once the ownership of the photographs is transferred to the Archives, the Archivist will create an entry in the Archives database. The accession can now be stored in the Archives.
  3. Each photograph will be given a specific item number and will be placed in an individual acid free envelope. The envelopes are then placed in archival boxes, designed to keep out light and dust, and the boxes are placed on the photograph shelves in the Archives.
  4. Lastly, as time and staffing allow, the photos will be digitized. Once this is done they may be added to the Archives website allowing researchers to search the photos without actually coming to the Archives.

Volunteers at the Archives work at scanning some of the thousands of photographic images preserved there. Once digitized they can be made available online. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

The Friends of the Richmond Archives

The Friends of the Richmond Archives was formed in the fall of 1986 as a volunteer and non-profit organization by members of the Richmond ’79 Centennial Society Historical sub-committee. The Friends undertake a number of activities to support the City of Richmond Archives and to promote the preservation and understanding of Richmond’s history.

Members of the Friends of the Richmond Archives with a display at the annual Remembrance Day event at City Hall. City of Richmond Archives photograph.

Out of its membership of 216 people, a core group of volunteers take part in community outreach activities, support a publishing program for local history, and help fund the purchase of specialized archival equipment and projects at the City of Richmond Archives. The Friends have also endowed a UBC award for students in the Masters of Archival Studies Program and have supported a number of programs for local students in Richmond.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie speaks at the Annual Archives Tea, a popular event open to members and guests of the Friends of the Richmond Archives. City of Richmond Archives photo.

The funds managed by the Friends are raised through donations and membership fees. If you are interested in the preservation of your city’s history and want to support the Archives in its work consider becoming a member of the Friends of the Richmond Archives. The membership form is available at: . As a member, you will receive in the mail the semi-annual Archives News (the newsletter of the City of Richmond Archives), notifications of special events at the Archives, opportunities for volunteer involvement with the Friends, and an invitation to the annual Archives Tea. A receipt for Income Tax purposes will be issued for donations over $10.

The Richmond Oil Boom – In Search of the Steveston Gusher

In these days of environmental concerns, global climate change and pipeline protests, the oil and gas industry has become the target of much criticism. This was not the case around the turn of the last century when, in the middle of the Texas Oil Boom, attention was focused on a small fishing village at the mouth of the Fraser River.

The existence of natural gas on Lulu Island had been known for millennia.  The Musqueam fishing camp at Terra Nova was named sp`’elekw`eks (pronounced SPALL-uk-wicks), “Bubbling Water” in English, referring to the gas which was visible bubbling through the water in the slough. The Musqueam village at Garry Point was known as kw’áýò7xw’ (pronounced KWAY-ah-wh), meaning “Boiling (bubbling, churning) Water” in English, referring to the gas bubbling in the Steveston Slough.

Early European settlers in Steveston were also very aware of the gas deposits beneath Lulu Island. In 1891 the Steveston Enterprise Newspaper reported that the natural gas “forces its way through the water that accumulates in the wells and ditches where it is exposed and blackens the soil with heat when it is consumed.” Tossing a match into the bubbles would cause them to ” flash like powder”. Tipping a barrel over a gas vent would collect it and produce a continuous flame at a hole in the top of the barrel.

Steveston in 1891 looking North up 2nd Avenue. The sign on the left advertises the land auction of June 16. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1984 17 75 .


This ad from June 1891 in the Victoria Colonist invites investment in Steveston where you will “see the natural gas burning.”


Word of the gas spread with advertising for land auctions in the area. An ad in the Victoria Colonist invited people to bid on 400 lots available in Steveston, “The Key City on the Fraser River”.  According to the ad, participants would see the natural gas burning, its presence sure to make the area a manufacturing centre and a leading city in the Province.

The presence of the colourless, odorless gas led to efforts to exploit this resource. In August 1891 the Steveston Natural Gas and Development Company was formed by a group of local entrepreneurs who attempted to start a well but found their expertise and capital were not up to the task.

The evidence of natural gas led to the speculation that large oil or coal deposits would also be found in the area. In 1904 an organization of Vancouver businessmen, The Steveston Land and Oil Company Limited, bought a lot on No.1 Road in Steveston, east of the end of Broadway Street and next to the Japanese Hospital. They hired some experienced oil riggers and engineers from the oilfields at Beaumont, Texas. A derrick was erected and drilling began at British Columbia’s first officially recorded well. The results were encouraging and by April the shaft had reached 1000 feet, passing through “shale, clay, and blue, greasy mud or gumbo”.

In June, The optimism spurred the company to look for more investors and ads were placed in newspapers announcing that 30,000 shares were available in the company. Hoping to attract sales, the company offered early buyers a “buy two, get one free” deal.


An ad from the Victoria Colonist, June 1904, inviting investors to buy stock in the Steveston Land and Oil Company.

A copy of a share certificate for the Steveston Land and Oil Company. City of Richmond Archives photograph RCF 47.

In August the excitement grew when a large pocket of natural gas was reached by the drillers. The pressure sent sediment and water spouting high over Steveston. That evening a burn off flare was ignited to expend the gas and the resulting flame was 80 feet tall and 18 feet wide and could be seen from New Westminster. Reports claimed that the drillers expected to hit high quality oil soon, after which Steveston would take her place among the world’s great oil fields.

The drilling rig of the Steveston Land and Oil Company in 1904, B.C.’s first documented oil well. Sections of well piping can be seen leaning against the structure. Investors had high hopes that Steveston would be sprouting with derricks like this and black gold would be flowing from deposits under Lulu Island. City of Richmond Archives photograph    1978 15 10.

Despite all the optimism surrounding the search for oil, problems were arising. Oil was certainly present under Lulu Island, droplets had even shown up at the well, but the silt surrounding it was so flour-like that even with fine screens the piping would plug immediately. More expensive equipment and more specialized screens were shipped to the well but eventually the costs of operation overwhelmed the company and the project was abandoned in 1906.

Looking north up No.1 Road in 1908 gives a view of the back of the Steveston rail station, a Roman Catholic Church and the now defunct drilling rig of the Steveston Land and Oil Company, City of Richmond Archives photograph 1978 5 7.

The halt of operations, while saving Steveston from the fate of becoming surrounded by oil wells and a busy tanker port, did not entirely stop the idea that natural gas might be a viable product. In 1930 a well was drilled on the farm of Henry Fentiman at 120 Garry Street. Mr. Fentiman’s house was located at the north side of the present Steveston Community Park, not too far from the location of the old oil rig.

Henry Fentiman’s turn of the century mansion on his Steveston farm. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1986 54 1.

The International Pipe Line Company invested $17,000 in a plan to supply Vancouver with superior, odorless natural gas from Lulu Island, supplanting the manufactured gas used in the city at the time. The first test well was drilled to a depth of 850 feet, produced a flow of gas, but soon plugged with sand. A second well, drilled in 1931 to a depth of 730 feet and using finer screens to separate the sand, proved to be more successful and produced a steady flow of gas.

Drilling for gas on the Fentiman farm. City of Richmond Archives photograph  1978 36 22.

Once again the plan to capitalize on the energy resources of Lulu Island did not come to fruition, but Mr. Fentiman used the gas from the well for decades, easily heating his big, drafty turn of the century house, running his water heater and stove using the apparently unlimited supply of gas from his property. The only complication encountered with the system was the fluctuation in gas pressure caused by changing tides, the gas having to force its way through the whole depth of water in the well.

Henry Fentiman’s gas well, shown here in the 1930s, kept his house heated, water hot and kitchen cooking for decades. City of Richmond Archives photograph    1978 36 21.

In 1969 with the gas well now capped off, the Fentiman property was expropriated for $70,000 by City Council. The buildings were demolished in the late 1970s. The farm was sub-divided and exchanged or used for other purposes, the northern part now home to the Steveston Buddhist Temple, the Lions Club Senior Citizen housing occupies a portion of the old property and the southern part, where the Fentiman house and gas well were located were absorbed into Steveston Park. The natural gas and oil deposits that created so much excitement in the early 20th Century are still there, captured in the earth below Lulu Island but are unlikely to be looked for again.

The Fentiman house and outbuildings in the late 1970s. The gas well was located in the small building between the house and the barn. City of Richmond Archives photograph 1986 54 8.

Richmond on the Home Front

World War 2 was the greatest armed conflict in history, a truly global war in which Canada played an important part. The entire country was focused on working toward a speedy victory for Canada and her allies through the formation of a strong military force and production and supply of goods and materials in support of the war effort.

Richmond sent many of her young men and women to serve in the military, at home and overseas, many of whom paid the ultimate price for their service. Their sacrifice is remembered every year on Remembrance Day.

On the home front in Richmond, everyday life steered toward supporting the military in its work. Under the National Registration Regulations, enacted in 1940, all persons in Canada, age 16 or over, were required to register with the government, supplying details of their age, family, work history, national and racial origins, etc. This allowed the authorities to direct the service of each person, whether that lay in the military, in war production, or in the maintenance of services allowing life in the nation to continue in a routine manner.

Registration All persons aged 16 and over were required to register for service during the war. Ad from Marpole-Richmond Review July 31, 1940.

Everyday Life in Wartime

Rationing of materials became commonplace. Items such as gasoline and other fuels, rubber goods, like tires, and metals were either not available or could only be purchased using ration coupons. The same was true for many household items like sugar, meat, coffee, etc. Many guides were published to help people deal with shortages and the reduced quantities of goods that they could get. Programs were put in place and drives were held to collect scrap material like metals, scrap paper, cooking grease and bones, etc., all to go to wartime industry.

How to Solve

Guides to help people deal with rationing were published by many companies and government agencies, such as this one from Canadian General Electric. City of Richmond Archives reference files.

Home Canning Ration Guide

And this one from B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. City of Richmond Archives reference files.

Calls for volunteers for organizations like the Red Cross and the Home Defence Corps were met by local residents who contributed their time away from other jobs to take part. Women and teenagers too young for the military took over many of the jobs which had been vacated by men leaving for military service.

Boeing Beam -oct 13 -1943

Women are trained to assemble aircraft at the Sea Island Boeing Plant in this image from 1943. Boeing Beam  October 13,1943.

Women Safe at Work-1

This booklet produced by Boeing Canada gave new female employees tips on how to be safe in an industrial setting, which until the war was unavailable to them. City of Richmond Archives reference files.

In March 1942, the National Selective Service was enacted “to effect the orderly and efficient employment of the men and women of Canada for the varied purposes of war.” Administered through the Department of Labour, the act allowed the government to dictate which jobs got preference for manning and gave them the power to move people out of low priority jobs and into higher ones.


The National Selective Service Mobilization Regulations gave the Department of Labour sweeping powers over manpower in Canada.

Manning shortages were a continual problem in Richmond during the war, not in small part to the removal and internment of around 2,500 Japanese-Canadians from the area in early 1942.


Regular ads appeared in newspapers looking for labourers for farms and workers in other areas were encouraged to do extra work as farm workers.

The fishing industry imported workers to fill the void and there were regular ads in local papers looking for farm workers during planting and harvest periods.

1985 4 1753

Hundreds of fishboats, confiscated from Japanese-Canadians in 1942, sit at Annieville. Property that was confiscated such as boats, houses, businesses, etc., were never returned to their owners after the war. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #1985 4 1753.

The people of Richmond signed up in droves for the many War Bond drives that were held during the war to help finance Canada’s War effort.

Protecting Richmond

The protection of Richmond’s people and infrastructure from potential attack was a priority during the war. At Steveston an army camp and shore battery was built to guard the mouth of the Fraser River. It was equipped with an 18 pounder artillery piece, later replaced by two 25-pounder guns. Four anti-aircraft batteries were installed to protect the airport, flight training school and aircraft plant – three on Sea Island and one on Lulu Island. Local residents were warned to open all the windows in their houses during target practice, a strategy which did not always prevent cracked windows.

2013 49 2

This anti-aircraft battery and camp was located just north of Granville Ave. near the Interurban Tram Line where it curves onto Railway Ave. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #2013 49 2.

More than 90 men signed up to enlist in No.125 (Richmond) Company Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, Richmond’s home guard unit. Given military training, these men would have made the first response to any attack on the area.

1988 17 1a

Members of No. 125 (Richmond) Company Pacific Coast Militia Rangers pose in September 1945. These men formed Richmond’s home guard unit during the war. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #1988 17 1a.

Richmond’s Volunteer Firefighters formed Canada’s first Air Raid Precaution unit, building much of their own equipment and putting in countless hours fighting fires and enforcing the Blackout imposed on coastal areas to protect against nighttime attacks.

Marpole-Richmond Review 1944-04-26-4

This ad for the sixth Victory Loan drive from an April 1944 Marpole-Richmond Review featured Richmond’s Volunteer ARP / Firefighters. The Steveston volunteers formed the first ARP unit in Canada, building most of their own equipment, including a fire truck. Marpole-Richmond Review April 26, 1944.

Wartime Industry

The largest employer in Richmond during the War was the Boeing Canada aircraft plant on Sea Island. The plant worked through most of the war building Consolidated PBY-5a amphibian patrol bombers, known as Catalinas in American service and Cansos in Canadian service. Toward the end of the war the plant made parts for the B-29 Superfortress bomber which were shipped south to a plant in Renton, Washington where the planes were completed.

1985 199 1

The hull of a PBY-5a patrol bomber is lifted by a crane in the Boeing Canada aircraft plant on Sea Island. 362 PBYs were built during the war at this plant which employed around 7,000 people at its peak. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #1985 199 1.

About 7,000 people were employed at the plant during its peak. A shortage of housing for its workers led to the development of Burkeville, named for Boeing Canada president Stanley Burke.

Boeing Beam - Vol. 2 No. 18 Burkeville

The front page of the Boeing Beam newsmagazine featured a story about Burkeville, built to house workers at the aircraft plant. Boeing Beam September 1, 1944.

The peat mining industry had one of the highest priorities for manning during the war.  Sphagnum moss was used as a catalyst for the extraction of magnesium, used in the production of incendiary devices and munitions, and it was shipped to the US in large quantities from Richmond. Several large bog fires during the war interrupted production and resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars worth of peat.

1978 3 25

Stacks of peat blocks dry in a Richmond field in this photo. Peat mining was a very important industry during the war. It was used in the processing of magnesium which was vital for the production of munitions. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #1978 3 25.

The need for large amounts of food products put Richmond’s fishing and farming industries on full production. Products from our area were shipped out for use by the military as well as to provide much needed supplies for Great Britain and our other allies in war ravaged areas.

1985 4 1759

Food production was another industry that was vital to the war effort. “Salmon for Britain” was a slogan used to encourage productivity in local canneries. City of Richmond Archives, Photograph #1985 4 1759.

Smaller industries, such as lumber production, fabrication and machine shops also contributed to the war effort, all under the control of the Department of Munitions and Supply, a civilian organization led by Minister C.D. Howe, who controlled the supply of all goods deemed necessary for the war.

Once the war was won, life gradually returned to normal. Men demobilized from the armed forces returned to the work force, displacing the women who had replaced them. The Boeing Canada aircraft plant ceased operation almost immediately after VJ Day, displacing more workers. Products which were rationed during the war became more readily available. Military groups charged with local defense were disbanded and Richmond’s ARP force returned to being volunteer firemen with no blackout to enforce. It took several more years before some of the Japanese-Canadian families who had been interned began to return.

For some, life would never be the same. Servicemen who were lost during the war left loved ones behind whose lives were changed forever and each year we remember their sacrifice.

Lest We Forget