An afternoon in Steveston, BC

“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.

Steveston seaside promenade, Richmond, BC

Steveston seaside promenade, Richmond, British Columbia

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.

Signpost in Steveston, Richmond, BC

Signpost in Steveston by the sea, Richmond, BC

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.

Gulf of Georgia Cannery Museum, Steveston, Richmond, BC

Gulf of Georgia Cannery Museum in Steveston, Richmond, BC

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.

Canning line at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Museum, Steveston, BC

Canning line at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Museum, Richmond, British Columbia

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.

Boats in Steveston, Richmond, BC

Boats in Steveston, Richmond, British Columbia

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. 

Very special thanks to Tourism Richmond and Virgin Atlantic for their hospitality.

What would you do in Steveston? Have you been, and what did you make of it?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  10 comments for “An afternoon in Steveston, BC

  1. 18 June, 2012 at 16:11

    I like how much I learn from you about the West Coast of my own country, this is terrible but I had never even heard of the place!

    • Christina
      18 June, 2012 at 21:46

      Thanks Ayngelina, I’m really glad I can show you your own country! Given how big it is, you shouldn’t feel bad though. I’m from a much smaller country and am learning tons from blogs about my own region!
      I hope you get to spend a bit of time in BC sometime – it is stunning.

  2. 18 June, 2012 at 19:21

    Who would have known there was so much to do in a place like Steveston? Thanks to you, now I know. Its dark history sounds very interesting.

    • Christina
      18 June, 2012 at 21:53

      I know, I thought there wasn’t much more to it than being a pretty seaside town – which in itself of course is nice. But then it’s exactly these situations that we seek when looking for “off the beaten path experiences”; when we expect a sedate afternoon break and discover local “attractions”, quirks, what locals do, etc.

  3. 20 June, 2012 at 06:24

    We were in Steveston last year – charming place. Love your take on it, Christina!

    • Christina
      20 June, 2012 at 20:55

      Thanks Micki. Charming is the word. Slow pace, nice surroundings, quirky shops – really liked it.

  4. 20 June, 2012 at 13:31

    All the fresh seafood and especially fresh salmon would probably be the first thing I head for in Steveson. Love that bit in your article when you mentioned about “replicating the smell with a touch of a button,” now that would be an interactive museum!

    • Christina
      24 June, 2012 at 02:09

      Considering your focus on food, I am sure you’d love it there, Mark! Re the smell button… in this instance I am incredibly grateful that whilst many panels mentioned how awful the smell was, there was nowhere that actually replicated it. I suspect visitor numbers would tumble…

  5. 23 June, 2012 at 07:26

    Is a salmon run nearby every year? Would love to see one!

    • Christina
      24 June, 2012 at 02:12

      Cole, there’s actually a Steveston Salmon Festival. And yes, the salmon swim up the Fraser River, which is where Steveston is located – right where the river meets the sea. Must be quite a sight!

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