Geoff Meggs is currently the chief of staff to BC Premier John Horgan. He has been a journalist, Vancouver city councillor and executive director of the BC Federation of Labour. He is the author of several books, including Salmon: The Decline of the West Coast Fishery (Douglas & McIntyre, 1991), which won the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing. He lives in Victoria, BC.
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, 149 West Hastings Street
Strange New Country: Book Reading and Talk
Tickets: $11 (includes Museum entry)
When: Sat, June 9, 2 p.m.
Where: Vancouver Maritime Museum, 1905 Ogden Ave.
Additional Info: Co-presented by Vancouver Maritime Museum and SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement
**Please note that this event takes place off-site: Vancouver Maritime Museum, 1905 Ogden Ave.**
Hear gripping stories of the Fraser River Salmon Strikes of 1900–1901 in a dynamic presentation from award-winning author Geoff Meggs. Afterward, explore the Vancouver Maritime Museum’s latest exhibits; the price of your ticket includes free entry to the Museum.
Geoff Meggs' Strange New Country offers an impeccably researched account of the Fraser River Salmon Strikes of 1900, deftly positioning this historical moment in the context of contemporary British Columbian society. Meggs shares how Indigenous, white and Japanese fishermen collectives aligned despite their disparate interests to challenge Vancouver’s industrial elites for fairer wages. In doing so, he not only illuminates a remarkable year in history, but also demonstrates the power of social organizing across political and racial lines.
About the Book
Salmon gillnetting in the turbulent waters of the Fraser River at the turn of the last century was dangerous, back-breaking work. Skiffs were equipped with a single sail, but most maneuvering had to be accomplished by oars, an almost impossible task against any current or tide. Once towed to the grounds by a cannery tug, the fishermen were on their own for at least twelve hours, casting their 400-metre long nets out and pulling them back by hand. Their only shelter was a partial tent over the bow. Many came to grief on dark, windy nights as they blew out of the main channel to the mudflats of the estuary, or worse, the open waters of the Strait of Georgia.
When the powerful Fraser River Canners’ Association fixed the maximum price per salmon at 15 cents, fishermen united in their determination to win a decent living. Their strike shut down British Columbia’s second-largest export industry and effectively resulted in the imposition of martial law as the canners, frustrated by political deadlock in Victoria, called out the militia without government assent to achieve their ends. The strike has long been understood as a watershed moment in the province’s industrial history. In this revealing chronicle, Geoff Meggs shows it was even more than that.
Other strikes in that era may have lasted longer, many were more violent, but none drew such diverse groups—Indigenous, Japanese, white—into an uneasy, short-term but effective coalition. While united by the common goal of economic equality, strikers were divided by forceful social pressures: First Nations fishermen wished to assert their Indigenous rights; Japanese fishermen, having fled poverty in their homeland, were seeking equality and opportunity in a new country; white fishermen were angered by the greed of the tiny clique of wealthy Vancouver industrialists who controlled the salmon industry. This maelstrom came together in Steveston, a ramshackle clapboard and cedar shake cannery boom town that blossomed into one of the province’s largest cities for a few hectic months each summer.
In this compelling account, told with journalistic flair and vivid detail, Meggs leaves no room for doubt: this event marked BC’s turn into the modern era, with lessons about inequality, racism, immigration and economic power that remain relevant today.
Find out more about the work of our partners & join the online discussion in SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement Facebook group!