Haysport, Skeena River

Haysport, Skeena River

by | Jun 18, 2022

Haysport is the site of a historical community and salmon cannery on the north shore of the Skeena River adjacent to the Grand Trunk Railroad, about 61 miles (100 km) southwest of Terrace and 16 miles (26 km) southeast of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The word ‘Skeena’ is derived from the Tsimshian name ‘K’shian’ meaning a ‘divide’. The lower Skeena flows through the Coast Mountains which along this section of the river are comprised of granitic rocks that formed during the Cretaceous creating a landscape of precipitous slopes. Most of the habitable land is along the river where tidal sandbars developed, however, these are frequently flooded at high river flows. The property was developed by the Massey & Freer Company of Vancouver which purchased 260 acres (105 ha) of land in 1909 and established the Haysport townsite in 1910. The company built a hotel, cold storage facility, a store, and a post office, and named the town for Charles Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Railroad at the time. In 1913, electric power was first generated from a hydroelectric plant on the Ecstall River, and the cannery was built in 1919. Until 1924, cannery tugs towed fleets of sailboats every day to the fishing grounds. When gas-engined boats were legalized, mobility became easier and salmon could be intercepted farther offshore. Technological advancements and the industrialization of fish processing quickly led to overfishing and regulations were implemented that ultimately controlled the fate of the Skeena River canneries. By the 1930s, the commercial salmon fishery was moved away from the Skeena River presumably for conservation reasons, and it became illegal to fish in the river. Gradually the canneries fell into disuse. and the Haysport cannery was closed in 1939. The post office was closed in 1963. Today all that remains of Haysport are the many pilings that once supported the cannery, a 0.25 miles (400 m) boardwalk onshore, and remnants of the old town that still litter the adjacent forest.

For thousands of years the Tsimshian, meaning ‘people of the Skeena’, have lived along the river. The Tsimshian people comprise the Nisga’a on the Nass River, and the Southern Tsimshian on the coast and islands, the Gitxsan on the Upper Skeena, and the Coast Tsimshian on the lower reaches of the Skeena. Ten groups of Coast Tsimshian had winter villages on the lower Skeena River. In late prehistoric times, they extended their territories toward the coast and built new villages on the islands where the weather was milder. They continued to return to their territories on the Skeena in the summers for salmon fishing. The S0uthern Tsimshian were the earliest contacted by Europeans. The joint fur trading expedition of Captain Charles Duncan on the vessel Princess Royal and James Colnett in the Prince of Wales visited what was probably the village of Kitkatla in 1787. Colnett believed that he and his men were the first Europeans seen by the villagers, although they already had trade goods and were eager for more. In 1792, the Spanish explorer Captain Jacinto Caamaño on the Aranzazu visited the village Ksidiya’ats on Pitt Island. In 1793, Captain George Vancouver was one of the first Europeans to visit the mouth of the Skeena River. The documented history of the Tsimshian begins in 1831 with the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post at Fort Simpson on the Nass River. Many of the Coast Tsimshian relocated and settled near the fort. But it was the arrival of the missionaries that brought a much greater change in the cultures of the Tsimshian. Settlers started arriving in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1876, the first salmon cannery was built along the Skeena River at Inverness and the number of operating canneries increased to 15 by 1926. The labor-for-wages of the local Tsimshian was sought by the industry, and a monetary culture soon developed along with a pattern of summers spent residing in company houses at the salmon canneries.

Pacific salmon have long been an important source of food around the shores of the North Pacific Ocean. Before Euro-American settlement, they were used for food and barter by Native peoples. Five species of salmon and steelhead, a species of anadromous trout, spawn in the Skeena River. Pink and sockeye salmon are the most numerous followed in order of abundance by coho, Chinook, and chum. Sockeye spawn in more than 50 lakes, rivers, and streams throughout the Skeena River watershed. The Babine Lake system is the most important sockeye producer with 90 percent or more of the Skeena spawners. Sockeye are concentrated in the larger rivers that have suitable nursery lakes at their headwaters, and the Skeena is second only to the Fraser River in Canada in its capacity to produce sockeye salmon which is the most valuable of the Pacific salmon. The sockeye salmon constitutes about 30 percent of the number and 50 percent of the value of the salmon caught from the Skeena River. Pink salmon are also important, but in recent years the catch has been greatly reduced. Chinook and coho are important in the fresh and frozen market. The chum salmon catch is small and of little importance in the Skeena River. Advances in fishing and handling methods in the last century have made salmon the natural resource for an important and highly developed industry. However, in the last 40 years, there has been a decrease in some of the fish species, leading to strict fishing regulations for the commercial fishery. Two agencies in British Columbia and one agency in Alaska are involved in the management of the Skeena fisheries. The Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has respon­sibility for managing all salmon fisheries in British Colum­bia. However, responsibility for steelhead rests with the Fisheries Branch of the Province of British Columbia. Since the majority of returning Skeena steelhead are caught in the sockeye fishery, federal and pro­vincial agencies must cooperate in managing both steelhead and sockeye stocks. Skeena sockeye are also intercepted in Southeast Alaska fisheries managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, therefore, manage­ment actions in the U.S. also affect the Skeena River salmon populations. Read more here and here. Explore more of Haysport and the Skeena River here:

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About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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