Tourism and hospitality businesses across Metro Vancouver are participating in the social media movement #WeAreTourism. We are supporting each other by sharing these stories of challenge and hope. 

This is one story.

A museum, an attraction, a community gathering place, a field trip destination, and a piece of British Columbia’s history.

When it was built in 1894, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery was the biggest salmon cannery in Steveston and a leading canned salmon producer in British Columbia. It became a national historic site in 1975 thanks to a local movement brought on by the Steveston Historical Society. After the cannery was closed, Parks Canada took over ownership of the property. Later in 1994, its centennial year, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery opened its doors to the public.

Despite its status as a national historic site, the Cannery is operated by a local not-for-profit organization on behalf of Parks Canada. The Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society is responsible for interpreting the site, creating programs and events, and managing the day-to-day operation, including raising 50% of its operating funds.

The summer season is usually packed with tourists and visitors. “Between November and March,” explains Mimi Horita, Marketing & Visitor Services Manager of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society, “we would shift gears and focus on the community, holding winter markets, Christmas events, and school programs.”

And the Cannery was just starting to gain momentum on its school programs. In 2019, it drew more than 5,200 Metro Vancouver students from as far as Chilliwack and Abbotsford, providing guided tours and facilitating hands-on activities.

Then everything went on hold in mid-March when the Gulf of Georgia Cannery closed its doors due to the global pandemic, including its full line-up of events and programming for 2020. Thankfully, full-time administrative staff were able to continue working from home, creating virtual programmings so the public could enjoy #MuseumFromHome.

It took the Cannery 1.5 months to prepare for its re-opening in mid-July. The size of three ice hockey rinks, the Cannery is not an outdoor site, but it has open air circulation and ample space to ensure physical distancing. New cleaning protocols have been put in place, and high touch items have been “removed, replaced or reimagined”. Guided tours are no longer available, so guests have been following a one-way directional flow with carefully planned stations for a self-interpretive tour. An online gift shop was also launched so visitors and locals could provide their support in the comfort of their own space.

“It was heartwarming for our volunteers to reach out to us about coming back,” acknowledges Mimi. The team has worked hard to ensure the safety of not only its staff and visitors, but also of its volunteers. “If locals want to get involved, consider looking into volunteering with the Society.”

And the Cannery continues its engagement with the community. It replaced its annual multicultural celebration, The Pull of the Net, with a virtual event this September where performances were filmed ahead of time on-site, then posted online during a week-long celebration.

“All the festivals, performances and concerts were cancelled,” says Mimi. “The performers need revenue, too. We want to continue our support of the arts and culture sector.”

It has also created a take-home kit for teachers to help students learn the history of the fishing industry. The Cannery has now begun to consider welcoming schools back in a safe manner.

Visitation might have decreased drastically this summer due to the lack of international visitors and cancellation of events and other programmings, but its ticket sales was at 40-50% compared to last year, which, according to Mimi, was a hopeful sign. This fall and winter could be a different story, as the number of locals visiting the Steveston Village is expected to dwindle down.

“If we don’t get people coming from outside of Steveston to Steveston to support everybody, stores and shops and mom-and-pop businesses would shut down,” comments Mimi.

The Society has reimagined its annual fall and winter events, with safety measures in place. When locals visit the Cannery, Mimi suggests to “make a day or an afternoon to visit, and enjoy the entire Steveston Village because there’s so much to do!”

Because, we are all in this together.

ARTICLE BY: Joyce Lam, Kumquat Marketing
SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT BY: Kelly Liberatore, Creative Contessa Marketing
PHOTOS BY:  Mark Kinskofer, Vision Event Photography