From Music to Art

The North Pacific Cannery National Historic Site is a must-see.

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 river bank 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 depict working life on the coast. It’s a rustic and evocative place to spend a few hours wandering and getting some great photos. 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.

If you head out to the Cannery, you can join a guide for a tour, or explore on your own through the interconnected buildings, boardwalks, and trails. The mess hall has been converted into a great little seasonal café that serves fresh, historically-inspired lunches, and the gift shop is full of funky souvenirs and handmade wares from local artisans. 

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Back in town, the Museum of Northern British Columbia sits perched on a bluff above the harbour.

The Museum's coastal longhouse style is a perfect fit for housing displays that represent thousands of years of local First Nations’ 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. Exhibits that document the rich coastal First Nations culture, as well as the period of European contact, the presence of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1800s (and the resulting impact on coastal life, trade, and art), and the pioneer history of Prince Rupert. There’s even a small but exquisite collection that explores the mystical shamanic tradition in First Nations culture. In the Monumental Gallery, you have a chance to see how First Nations art is far from being simply history: pieces hundreds of years old are right beside ones recently created. Throw in the large sections of totem pole on display and huge floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on to the harbour, and you’ve got a great spot to sit and stare out at the scenery, while experiencing Rupert’s long history. 

If contemporary art is your thing, the museum is also home to the Ruth Harvey Art Gallery, a space for rotating exhibitions by artists from around the region. To take a bit of art home with you, check out the gift shop, which has an excellent selection of coastal-influenced souvenirs, books, and other treasures. If that’s not enough, Rupert is full of small artist-owned galleries and larger cooperatives; there are lots of opportunities to check out great local art. Many local shops, cafes, restaurants, and hotels feature works of art on their walls or their tables that are available for purchase or at the very least, open admiration. Speaking of which, don’t forget to take in the murals all over town. They’re a point of pride for locals and it’s well-worth wandering around to see what you can find. 

With an ear to the ground and a little planning, you’ll find that Rupert plays host to an array of artistic experiences that rival anything you’ll find in a larger community. On any particular weekend, especially in spring and fall, you’ll see posters around town advertising live local music. Tickets are typically under $20. Theatre is also alive and well in the city; small-town thespians pull big laughs during the summer stage festival and throughout the year there are dinner theatre events and other smaller productions. 

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Once or twice a month, you can catch shows featuring world-class dance troupes, international recording artists, or children’s entertainers at the local 700-seat performing arts centre or the smaller, more intimate playhouse. Often, local artists get the chance to open for these more established performerswhich means you can support local talent while checking out a bigger show. 

Rupert is a culturally diverse place, which bumps up the entertainment factor.

More than fifty percent of Prince Rupert’s population is made up of the several local First Nations, each of which has organizations that promote traditional artistry. Seeing dozens of men, women and children, cloaked in handmade button blankets and fantastical carved masks dancing and singing in full-throated unison, is a spine-tingling, unforgettable experience—if you get the chance, take it. Rupert also has a number of other cultural associations—Celtic, Portuguese, Filipino, and more. Each coordinates its own events periodically, dazzling the community with traditional dress, music, and dance. Look for posters or ask around; for the price of a ticket you often get dinner included—usually food associated with whichever culture is hosting. Most of these events are fundraisers too, with silent auctions on the side: you never know, you may just go home with that blender or hand-knitted touque you’ve always wanted.  

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And for photographers – Prince Rupert offers plenty of opportunities to capture inspiring imagery.  Both the natural surroundings and the quirky buildings and businesses provide ample inspiration.  Don’t miss the chance to snap a shot of the many murals, an interesting community project that saw  artist Jeff King partner with local businesses and community groups to paint the towns otherwise plain backdrops with colourful scenes inspired by the coastal setting.  Everyone has their favourite whether it is the swooping eagle adorning the side of one of the hotels, or the comical crabs in front of the seafood shop, they each tell an interesting story and add a funky dynamic to the town’s landscape. 

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