“Steveston, a historic fishing village.” “Steveston, Canada’s largest fishing port,” or “Steveston, home to the ‘Monster Cannery.'” Steveston really is a lot of things to a lot of people, but one thing it certainly is not, and that is boring.
To be honest, when I discovered Steveston was on the itinerary for the WhyYVR Virgin inaugural flight trip, I was pleased as I had heard it was a lovely spot to go cycling along the coast. But I had not expected the history and culinary delights we found during that one afternoon.
The dark and smelly side of Steveston
A couple of hundred years ago, Steveston’s tagline may well have read “Steveston, where salmon come to be canned, brothels thrive and opium dens flourish”. Steveston was founded in the 1800s and quickly became the place with the highest density of canneries in the world. Now how’s that for an odd fact?
The only visible remnant of that canning history heyday is the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Museum.
The Gulf of Georgia Cannery has been around since 1894 and functioned as a cannery and reduction plant. Its thousands of employees from various countries and cultures canned the west coast salmon, and it wasn’t the only cannery – there were 14 more. It really was the hotspot of salmon canning.
Today, it is the only cannery that still stands here on Steveston’s waterfront, albeit now in the state of a museum. Plenty of interactive displays and exhibits tell the story of those workers, their hard lives and the whole canning process. The great thing is that this museum has clearly been designed with interactivity and visitors’ potential short attention span in mind, and that is why some interpretive displays really grip your attention, for example with facts on how awful and wide-reaching the smells of the reduction plant were; the vivid descriptions can trigger some wrinkled noses, and one is glad that the museum didn’t go as far as replicating the smell at the touch of a button.
Fact sheets on displays also challenge visitors to think of their own fish-eating habits and what the future holds for salmon farming. It actually makes for quite an interesting excursion. The museum is open year round from 10 am to 5 pm.
Steveston, the seafood paradise
Today, Steveston is part of the city of Richmond, just south of Vancouver, where the Fraser River meets the Pacific Ocean. Richmond is known for its large Asian population; 65% of Richmond’s residents are Asian, and so it is not surprising that the Vancouver Sun claims Richmond to be the home of the best Chinese restaurants outside of China.
Not only can you get great sushi in Vancouver, and of course Richmond, but Steveston really ups the ante with all its seafront restaurants. Visitors are tempted by a plethora of dining options, including fish and chips style outfits and more upscale restaurants serving wild salmon, shrimp and halibut from the fishing boats in Steveston’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
More things to do in Steveston
Once you’ve had some seafood and visited the cannery museum, don’t be ready to leave Steveston just yet. Apart from the little boutiques on the boardwalk, there is a vibrant cafe scene, artisan bakers and some nice shopping to be done, for example at one of Richmond’s Asian-themed shopping malls.
The Steveston Farmers and Artisans Market is held outdoors every other Sunday from May to September, where over 50 vendors sell fresh local produce, jewelry and art. And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, maybe you would like to go whale-watching? Steveston is the place to do just that, normally between April and October.
Getting to Steveston
Virgin Atlantic fly to Vancouver from London four times a week. Steveston is approximately a 10-minute drive from Vancouver airport.
Disclosure: This activity was part of my #WhyYVR competition win. My trip to Vancouver was courtesy of Virgin Atlantic and Tourism British Columbia. However, all opinions are my own.