Situated in Richmond, Metro Vancouver, Steveston is a vibrant neighbourhood steeped in history and brimming with charm. Nestled on the southwest corner of Lulu Island, it was established in the 1880s and emerged as a strategic port and bustling centre for salmon canning at the Fraser River’s South Arm. The village’s enchanting early 20th-century architecture lures the film industry and tourists alike, creating a lively atmosphere reminiscent of a time gone by.
The story of Steveston began with the arrival of Manoah Steves and his family in the late 1870s from Moncton, New Brunswick, via Chatham, Ontario. As the first European settlers in the area, they laid the foundation for what would become a thriving town. Named after Manoah Steves (originally Steeves), the townsite started developing in 1880 with a crown grant to his son, William Herbert Steves. In the next decade, over 100 individuals purchased the 237 small lots in this original grid-patterned subdivision, marking the inception of Richmond’s first subdivision.
The salmon canning industry kicked off in the area in 1871, with the Phoenix cannery establishing itself in 1882. By the 1890s, there were around 45 canneries, nearly half located in Steveston, lending it the alternative moniker ‘Salmonopolis.’ The village brimmed with life each summer as a diverse crowd of Japanese, Chinese, First Nations, and European fishermen and cannery workers descended on it. This burgeoning year-round community, coupled with the significant boatbuilding industry, fueled the local economy.
Although Steveston aspired to rival Vancouver as a port, its ambitions fell short during World War I, with factors such as peaking salmon runs in 1913 playing a part. Despite the decline and eventual cessation of canning activity in the 1990s, the heritage of this industry remains firmly rooted in the village. The Gulf of Georgia Cannery, built in 1894 and once the largest in British Columbia, was designated a National Historic Site in 1994, alongside the Britannia Shipyard in 1991.
Steveston was not immune to calamity. Notable fires in 1908 and 1918 caused significant damage, including the devastating 1918 fire that obliterated three canneries and numerous buildings. The Marpole firehall was the closest, but it was still half an hour to an hour away, depending on road conditions.
The history of transportation in Steveston is preserved with the static tram car 1220, a reminder of the BCER Vancouver-Marpole-Steveston interurban tram that operated between 1905 and 1958. Additionally, the Steveston Museum & Visitor Centre, once a pioneer bank building, also operates as a post office, further underlining the village’s historical charm.
In conclusion, Steveston stands as a testament to the resilient spirit of its early settlers, their industrious endeavours, and the vibrant multicultural community they cultivated. It’s a neighbourhood where history and modernity intertwine, offering a captivating glimpse into the past while looking forward to the future.