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Changing Times For Fishing

The current cruise ship terminal at Ogden Point used to be the home of B.C. Packers. This was primarily a salmon and herring offloading and storage facility. With the decline of fisheries, the building fell into disrepair. B.C. Packers went under in 1990 and the building was subsequently demolished.  Just to the east of Fisherman's Wharf, where Pier One now stands, was Oakland Fisheries. They too specialized in offloading salmon and herring, but 1979 was the last big boom year for herring in Victoria. As fishing dried up and waterfront land became invaluable, Oakland's fate was sealed and it closed down in the mid 1980s.

Trollers still make their home at the dock today, but instead of numbering in the hundreds we have only close to a dozen boats. Dwindling salmon runs and allocation issues caused the federal government to embark on a massive buyback from the 1990s until the present day. Most of the small boat fleet has been retired as a result. The remaining boats tend to be larger freezer-equipped vessels that may have several other types of valuable fishing licenses attached to them.

As salmon fishing became less viable, many of these larger boats turned to the offshore albacore tuna fishery. This fleet heads out towards the end of June. The season lasts until the weather turns nasty, usually in October. Some of the bigger vessels head out eight hundred miles or more in search of the perfect water temperature where the fish thrive. Smaller boats tend to stay less than one hundred miles offshore, but may cover an area stretching from northern California to Haida Gwaii.

Some of the tuna boats that call Fisherman's Wharf home include the Redeemer, Equalizer, Nordic Spirit and Sea Ranger. In the summer, these big boats come in with their holds stuffed with frozen tuna, to the RBS Seafoods tuna offloading area at the west  end of the facility. Millions of pounds of tuna are offloaded annually, and sent by reefer truck to Vancouver and beyond.

Fisherman's Wharf is also home to small crab and prawn fleets. Both are trap fisheries, with participants limited to 300 pots per license. Prawn fishing occurs in May and June and is generally conducted in waters between two and four hundred feet deep. Crabbing is usually done in waters less than one hundred and fifty feet deep. In addition, there is a small quota-based fishery for red and green urchins occurring in the winter months. After heading to their favourite spots, divers descend beneath the surface to harvest these sought-after animals. These catches are also offloaded at the Huron St. Dock and trucked to Vancouver.

Much like barnacles stuck to a rock, fishermen continue to be an important part of the history of Victoria's Fisherman's Wharf, and indeed the harbour as a whole. As long as people continue to value and demand sources of sustainably caught local seafood, we are confident that they will continue to be a fascinating part of our waterfront.


Archival Photos


Waterfront of  'Laing's Ways' shipyard, Major Bay, early 1890's
Source:  City of Victoria Archives, ref. # 96609-01-6533

The part of Victoria Harbour now occupied by Fisherman's Wharf was called Major Bay in the 1850s. Fort Victoria was only a few years old as a Hudson's Bay Company trading post. People of the Coast Salish First Nations traditionally harvested shellfish on the mud flats of the bay.

In 1859, Robert Laing, a shipwright from Scotland, founded one of the earliest shipyards in the harbour there. In the boom years that soon followed, he built at least three stern-wheel paddle steamers for the ' Cariboo Gold Rush' trade on the Fraser River. The largest was the 110-foot 'Fort Yale' in 1860. His yard also repaired many local vessels over the years, including the Hudson Bay Company's long serving side-wheel paddle steamer 'Beaver'.

The family home in the near right-side background of this photograph was that of Captain James Raymur, who commanded trading vessels in the West Indies and China tea-clipper trades before he settled in Victoria in the 1860s. The point of land it stood upon still bears his name today.



Sealing schooner 'W.P. Sayward', built on Laing's Ways
Source:  "Photo of the schooner W.P. Sayward courtesy of Ruth Laing and her late husband,
Walter Laing (great grandson of Robert Laing) of Victoria

The next economic boom in Victoria Harbour was the fur-sealing fishery in the North Pacific.

In 1882, Robert Laing launched a 68-foot sealing schooner on Major Bay for his son Andrew , who became its first master. Coast Salish people hunted seals in their ocean-going canoes and some employed their skills on the sealing schooners. Victoria was the home port of nearly 100 such vessels in 1895.

When Andrew Laing retired from the sea, he made his home on Erie Street, managing his late father's shipyard. In 1889, Laing's Ways launched the 157-foot steam tug 'Lorne' for the Dunsmuir coal interests. The locally renowned 'Lorne' remained in service until 1936. Andrew Laing died in 1897 and his shipyard closed soon after.



Waterfront scene, Major Bay, 1947
Source: British Columbia Archives, ref. # I-20702

For nearly half a century following the end of Laing's Ways on Major Bay, the landside became overgrown. The quiet waterside of Major Bay was in free use by float-home dwellers, small day-fishing boat owners and transient barges moored to pilings beyond the low tide line. Float homes in BC were first built on log rafts to house coastal logging workers. In Victoria Harbour however, they were affordable housing.

In the near middle background of this photo, the former home of Captain Raymur has given way to three Texaco Co. oil storage tanks. The small house on the right, over-looking Major Bay, was built about 1884 for Captain E. Myers of the coastal side-wheel steamer 'Maude'.  Happily, this house at the corner of Superior and St. Lawrence Streets remains to remind us of a bit of the past around Major Bay. The wood frame house across the park at 27 Erie Street, built in 1884, is the only other one that survives from this era.

By the end of 1947, all the free users gave way to the present Fisherman's Wharf facility, built by the federal government for the larger fishing vessels then beginning to dominate the industry.

Fishing Vessels at Fisherman's Wharf in 1952
Source:  British Columbia Archives, ref. # I-26933

The historic shoreline of Major Bay in this photo includes the rocky point of land just west of the original ramp landing deck, which was called 'Shipyard Point' in the 1880s.  In-filling of the bay to the present shoreline took place in the Winter of 1965. In the early years after its opening in 1948, Fisherman's Wharf was part of a largely industrial waterfront. Some of the small day-fishing boats remained there inside the new main dock.  One float-home also remains moored near the access ramp. The larger commercial fishing vessels are already moored and rafted together in great variety on the finger docks.