Historic Pilchard Can Label

by Ross Dobson and John MacFarlane 2013

Pilchard Label

Pilchard canning label found in an abandoned cannery on Nootka Island in 1962. (Photo from the Ross Dobson collection. )

We recently received an email from Ross Dobson, a retired biologist from Parks Canada, who worked for the summer of 1962 trolling for salmon with his uncle, Carey Myers, on the Pacific coast. The job took him to some fairly remote parts of the coast and he followed up a lifelong interest in heritage to investigate ruins and wrecks at the various anchorages made during the summer. He is now retired in Cornwall, Ontario.

Dobson says, "I salvaged a few of these pilchard cannery labels during summer 1962 while fishing with my uncle Carey off the Nootka area ... this was found in an abandoned cannery wharf on Nootka Island, close to Yuquot/Friendly Cove ... between 1925 and up to 1946 Pilchards were plentiful off the west coast and a major fishery was sustained until the fish disappeared. In 2003 I donated one of these labels to the extensive Salmon Can Label Collection housed at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site in Richmond B.C., and I recently unearthed a couple more labels in my stuff at home. The historic cannery location on Nootka Island where this can label was found in 1962 is now part of a British Columbia Provincial Park at Santa Gertrudis–Boca del Infierno. "

Pilchards, a small sardine–like fish, were commonly reduced to recover their oil content. In the early days of fishing they were a minor target species. They were commonly caught off the coast of California. In 1925 a larger version of the pilchard appeared in large numbers off the B.C. coast. The Nootka Cannery was one of the first to install American–made oil processing equipment to reduce pilchards to oil and meal. They seemed to occur in uncountable numbers and believing that they were super–abundant they were mercilessly exploited by an almost unregulated fishing industry. By 1944 the numbers began to decline and they disappeared in 1946. The pilchards have never recovered their population in the years since.

Pilchards were also once widely eaten whole. On July 18, 1922 in the New York Evening World newspaper a published advertisement states: "Snow Cap Pilchards, similar to Sardines. Delicious eating. Per Can, 15 cents." Most pilchards were processed for other purposes. A ton of fish would be rendered down into 45 gallons of oil for use in the manufacture of cosmetics, paint, margarine and cooking oils.

The fishing industry has played an active part in the life of the Nootka and Kyuquot area. The West Coast Packing Co. built a saltery plant in 1896 at Nootka. A mile north of Friendly Cove a second saltery was established in Boca del Infierno Bay in 1916. The Nootka Cannery processed salmon, pilchards, fish oil and fish meal for the Nootka Packing Company. The plant was staffed mainly by First Nations workers until it closed in the late 1940s when the pilchards disappeared.

The University of British Columbia Digital Collections has a nice view of the pilchard boats tied up at the cannery wharf.

To quote from this article please cite:

Dobson, Ross and John MacFarlane (2013) Historic Pilchard Can Label. Nauticapedia.ca 2013. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/Label_Pilchard.php

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