This Day In History: Fraser River Strike July 8th, 1900

Anyone who has visited the Cannery on a guided tour will be able to tell you the following: for all the cheer, concord and goodwill that suffuses the site today in its function as a national historic site, industrial history has never been without its share of conflict. In fact the picture that emerges from such a visit can be quite grim. Racism, sexism, environmental degradation and exploitation of labour have unfortunately all been recurring themes in the history of an industry which was at one time the province’s largest exporter.

Yet its history has never been merely this. Complementing the picture are the myriad efforts of common people to overcome their oppression, often through dramatic forms of collective action. This Monday marks the 113th anniversary of the beginning of one such action: the Fraser River strike of 1900.

The 6th Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles camped beside the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in July 1900. Note the company name Malcolm & Windsor Ltd. on the roof.

Earlier that year canners in the region had combined to form the Fraser River Canners’ Association, which was used, among other things, to offer fishermen a uniform price for their catch. That particular season fishermen were offered 15 cents per fish, five cents down from the previous year. Rather than accept the canners’ offer, fishermen decided to strike, demanding a price of 25 cents across the fishing season. The strike received wide backing. Fishermen of First Nations, Japanese, and European backgrounds joined in, with support from First Nations shore workers.

Lasting until the end of the month, the strike featured many intriguing episodes, not least of which was the arrival of the 6th Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles (see photograph) on July 24th to enforce martial law. It also leaves us with many lasting questions. With a final agreement of 19 cents across the entire season, which side won the dispute? Is this a story about the unbreakable economic power of the canners? The remarkable collective power of the fishermen and their allies? Both? How did racism and sexism influence the course of the strike, within or without the strikers’ ranks?

To learn more about the strike or about anything else cannery-related, drop by sometime and ask one of our interpreters! Also check out our collection of books in the Cannery Store!

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