Canneries & Fishing Culture
Prince Rupert was built on fishing, and it has lost nothing of those origins today. From the Ts’msyen People’s deep connection to the North Pacific to the boom of the commercial fishing and canning industry in the early twentieth century, Prince Rupert’s past and present are irrevocably linked to the sea’s bounty.
Boardwalks at North Pacific Cannery. Image by Shayd Johnson.
The North Pacific Cannery National Historic Site is a must-see when visiting Prince Rupert. Just past the nearby village of Port Edward, about 30 km from Prince Rupert, the Cannery is a collection of wooden, tin-roofed buildings spread along a tidal riverbank and connected by a series of boardwalks. Mullioned windows set high under the eaves stream a soft, filtered light on a scene of canning machinery, draped fishing nets, and artifacts depicting working life on the coast. Built in 1889, the Cannery occupied a strategic spot in the Skeena River estuary, sheltered from the open ocean but with easy access to rich fishing grounds in Dixon Entrance and Hecate Strait. Until a road was built in the 1940s, its multicultural workforce of Japanese, Chinese, First Nations, and Europeans lived on-site in cottages and bunkhouses. Exhibits, guided tours, original architecture, historically-inspired cuisine, and the pristine wilderness surroundings tell the story of an industry that played an integral role in BC’s economic, cultural and natural development over the last century.
Museums, Galleries, and Performances
By visiting our museums and galleries, you’ll learn about the area’s importance as a coastal hub for culture and trade going back thousands of years.
The Museum of Northern BC’s monumental Northwest Coast longhouse displays exhibits representing thousands of years of local Indigenous history. With enormous bark-stripped cedar posts and beams, high ceilings, and skylights, the building’s structure is almost as impressive as the collection inside.
In the halls and galleries of the Museum, you will discover domestic and ceremonial artifacts that bring to life the richness of Indigenous society, coastal economy, and culture, from the most ancient times through the period when Europeans first arrived to participate in the world-wide fur trade and fishing economy, to the modern period and the Indigenous Peoples’ on-going defense of their unceded territory.
You will also find exhibits highlighting the economic and social life of the early residents of Prince Rupert.
Lobby at the Museum of Northern BC. Image by Simon Ratcliffe
The Museum of Northern BC’s Ruth Harvey Art Gallery is named after a woman who, in the 1950s, pioneered the celebration of Northwest Coast culture through painting, especially crest (totem) poles and Northwest Coast architecture. Exhibitions in this gallery display the rich and diverse artistic culture of the community and the region. Artwork to make your visit memorable can also be found at the Ice House Gallery, an artist-run cooperative in Cow Bay, which also showcases the artistic wealth of the region, with works of art from pottery to weaving, painting, and other media.
At the Kwinitsa Railway Museum, visitors can discover the history of the founding of Prince Rupert as the terminus of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and a gateway to the Pacific, from its early colourful tent towns to the first sale of city lots. Here, visitors can also experience the way of life of the station agents who kept the railway operating in stations like Kwinitsa every eight miles along the track. The Firehall Museum features many artifacts demonstrating the history of the fire department since 1908 and the Prince Rupert City Archives, located at City Hall, offer a unique glimpse into the history of the community. With an ear to the ground and a little planning, you’ll find that Rupert also plays host to an array of artistic experiences that rival anything you’ll find in a larger community. On any particular weekend, you’ll find a diverse range of performances to enjoy. From music, to theatre, to comedy, you can find it across Prince Rupert. Check out the Lester Centre of the Arts or the Tom Rooney Theatre to catch a show.
A Historic Trade Gateway
The Prince Rupert Harbour has been a centre for Northwest Coast trade for thousands of years. Here the Ts’msyen hosted their neighbours through a complex system of trade alliances, which included passage through their Skeena River territories, and across the open waters to Haida Gwaii.
In the modern period, Prince Rupert’s deep natural harbour and sheltered location has also made it an ideal trading hub, with the area touted from the early 1900s as a possible site for a world-class port.
Today, from any vantage point overlooking the water, one of Prince Rupert’s main economic drivers is immediately apparent in the numerous freighters from around the world anchored in the harbour.
Birds eye view. Image by Marty Clemens
One of the main reasons that our community has developed over the past century is its safe, deep, ice-free harbour and its location days closer to Asian ports than other North American ports. Over the past decade, international shippers have taken note and Prince Rupert’s port business has grown exponentially. The Prince Rupert Port Authority (PRPA) has spent the last decade encouraging the development of a multi-crane container port, as well as accommodating export facilities for grain, coal, and wood pellets. Prince Rupert is also a summer cruise ship destination.
The growth of the port economy in Prince Rupert is just another way that the people of Prince Rupert continue to look to the sea for their wealth. There is a local understanding that our tough little city, with its interwoven fabric of diverse peoples, would not exist if it weren’t for the residents’ willingness to work hard in the difficult conditions that coastal life sometimes entails. From the enduring Indigenous People upon whose traditional territory Prince Rupert stands, to the generations of immigrants who made the city what it is today, Prince Rupert’s most important facet is its determined, hardworking people.
Ła Bała Sg̱a̱n a Kxeen – Welcome to Kaien Island.
Prince Rupert sits on the ancestral territory of the Ts’msyen Sm’algya̱x-Speaking Peoples. Ts’msyen means “People inside the Skeena River.” For countless generations, Ts’msyen communities presented the familiar line of post and beam houses along the forest’s edge in sheltered bays, with magnificent canoes drawn up on the beach and tall crest poles telling the story of each house and family.
The Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Dancers and the Wii Gisigwilgwelk (Big Northern Lights) Dancers. Image by Dave Silver
Plan your Prince Rupert itinerary by discovering the unique businesses that operate here.