“It’s in the can…!”

Three little letters; such an unobtrusive little word – Can. It pops up in all sorts of local and popular vernacular. A positive little word – “I can.” In the recording and film industries – “it's in the can…” – again, positive use, indicating a successful shot or take (the “can” referring to the metal container used to hold exposed movie film or the print to be projected at the cinema). Or then there's the use with slightly more slang humour – “he's stuck in the can” – referring to someone who has been in the lavatory rather a long time!

Image of the Author at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery

The Author

For the good, hardworking folk of the Steveston district of Richmond, BC, “can” had a rather more basic, perhaps ominous, meaning, for in this case, that little word denoted the small cylindrical container that contained… Fish. Lots of it. For Steveston lies on the banks of the mighty Fraser River, just before it drains into the Pacific Ocean. And the Fraser often has lots and lots of fish – Salmon. Once a year, the salmon return to their birth places up-river to spawn anew, the famed “Salmon Run”, some years up to tens of millions of individuals making the arduous trip against the flow of the water. For centuries, the fish would have just the natives – early humans and bears – to survive on their journeys, but then came the Industrial Revolution, the sudden upsurge of human ingenuity, and the mechanization of all sorts of everyday activities, including food production.

With all these fish systematically being caught on the river, and hungry mouths to be fed all year round, some way had to be found of preserving the food, which would otherwise perish within just a few days. And the answer then was – CANNING. All along the Fraser River delta, canneries sprang up, hot, smelly, often dangerous, places devoted to the mechanical packaging of all this fish product into tins.

Image of mechanical knives

Whirling knives, no guard...

Here in the early 21st Century, pretty much all of these canneries have now disappeared, but a story remains of the sweat, toil, and often sheer personal sacrifice, of the people that worked in them – mostly folk from overseas, paid very little, and kept out of sight and out of mind by the more affluent classes of the population who hungrily and eagerly consumed the product without any more thought towards it other than perhaps how cheaply and conveniently it could be had from the local shop.

Image showing muck and grime

Tour guide Anna, on the subject of muck and grime

One such cannery in Steveston has been preserved by the government, and now serves as a museum, even a monument, to the bygone food industry which once existed here. Upon entering the place, one immediately gets the impression of an empire once run for huge profits by the affluent owners, whilst those that actually generate the profit – the workers – received no more than a basic living in return for exposure to considerable personal risk. And those workers were, generally speaking, mostly from overseas, perhaps vulnerable immigrants to Canada, at that time with little choice but to take whatever they could to support themselves and their families. Here in the context of the early 21st century, I am left feeling that the Gulf of Georgia Cannery stands as a slightly awkward, painful reminder to us all of the social injustice that once existed, and still exists today in parts of the world, in industries geared towards producing food, clothing and consumer goods for the greedy western world, all with the one overriding criterion – CHEAP and lots of it… A visit to this museum won't be comfortable for all, leaving the visitor, as it does, with a sharp jab in the ribs, a reminder of the social injustice which once existed in the western world, and often still persists in the so-called emerging economies.

Image of Peugh Stick demonstration

Demonstrating the use of a Peugh Stick

The tour began – Anna, our guide, at the helm – and a story unfolded which would make ones toes curl. Fishing for days on end in the early open boats, the grime and stench endured by those whose lot it was to clean and prepare the fish, and the sheer disregard for health and safety (by modern standards), with unguarded mechanical equipment and whirling knives and blades everywhere. Even tales of young children put to work from an early age, and infants who were still looked after by their working mothers even on the factory floor, even amid all this muck and danger.

Image of mechanical fish processor

The mechanical fish butcher...

The canning industry had pretty much died out in this part of BC by the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s, having lasted no more than about 50 years. The plant attempted to diversify, but closed completely in the 1970s. Here in 2013, a visit to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery is well worthwhile, perhaps not a laugh-a-minute carefree experience by any means, in fact more of a pilgrimage for those with a little sense of social justice about their consciences, and an essential education for those without. But I doubt any of the latter would ever consider setting foot in this neighbourhood… Shame, really. For them, food will simply remain something that just comes from the supermarket, without even a modicum of awareness of the actual hardship and danger actually faced at times in its production…

As a footnote, Anna, our guide, it turns out, will be heading to my native city of Bristol this autumn, to study as a historian at Bristol University. I wish you well, Anna – enjoy Bristol, a city of many memories for me growing up, and a place with its own often painful, but often beautiful too, story to tell. But for now, thank you, Anna, for looking after me at the Cannery and opening my eyes afresh to the world of those who work in all corners of the earth, toiling away to keep us lucky, but often ignorant, westerners supplied with cheap food and pretty consumer goodies…

Image of monument outside the cannery

A permanent monument to the workers



Two Young Ladies and a Little Dude

Stay at the Ramada Inn in Richmond, BC, for three consecutive nights or more this summer, and they let you “play for free”. Tourism Richmond have obviously promoted a great package of accommodation and attractions to entice folk to visit the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and Richmond in particular. Delighted to have found this most excellent offer, I swallowed the baited line with utmost glee, and duly arrived to be presented with my little book of vouchers entitling me to FREE entry into a variety of Richmond and Vancouver attractions…

Top of the list this morning – Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.

Hmmmmm… A rope bridge to walk across; Hmmmmm… A boardwalk built outwards over the gorge, literally suspended by wire rope; Hmmmmm… Lots of Chinese tourists piling into the park same time as me; well, can't complain about that, being a tourist, officially, myself. Walk, walk, walk… Trees, trees, trees… Hmmmmm…

But then –

Image of Little Dude

Lil' Dude (Make sure you get my good side...eh?)

In a small, so far quietly undisturbed little knook of the park waited two young ladies and their little feathery companion. Just like three seasoned stage performers they waited, the shady trees their Green Room, preparing for their entry into the limelight. Introducing Sara, Simone, and Lil' Dude the North American Kestrel…

Image of Simone and Little Dude

Simone: Hey Dude, I hear the Royal baby's called George Alexander Louis... Lil' Dude: Trips off the tongue, eh?

Upon Simone's hand Lil' Dude stood, looking at her longingly as she chatted away softly to him, then glancing away again just to check for stray predators, or the passing opportunity for a passing snack. Not that that would have done him much good, the passing snack, I mean, as the little chap was securely tethered to his mistress' hand. But the swagger and the expression said it all – Lil' Dude was clearly a professional, and had been for some time. Words were certainly not necessary for Lil' Dude to make his presence felt. “Aw, cummon Boss – let's get this show on the road…then gimme the CASH and let's get outta Dodge!” Union stalwart through and through was Lil' Dude.

Lil' Dude, though, is a seasoned pro, and was now on his perch; To the left, two, three, four; to the right, now…hold it… The little fellow stretched out a leg for a moment… Hold it… A little cheeky glance towards the crowd of two now gathered, then a wink towards the still outstretched talons. “Heh, heh, heh, sharp, eh?” (Little Dude is Canadian, after all, and even Canadian Birds of Prey say “eh?”, eh?). “Cor, tough crowd this morning, Boss…”, mused Lil' Dude (I'm sure), as his tail popped up and down (the Kestrellian equivalent to a human's foot tapping on the floor, in mild frustration with events running about as fast as thick molasis).

Image of Sara and Little Dude

Sara: My hero... Lil' Dude: Groan - Gimme a break...!

Curious crowds began to gather as Sara and Simone began off-the-cuff bird stories, and I stood and listened, transfixed by the regaling of these two young ladies. And Lil' Dude just stood their and listened along. What a pro! You know, Sara and Simone certainly knew their stuff, and the passion with which they recounted their love of looking after their feathered companions shone through with immense intensity. What a reassurance and inspiration to see this in young folk today, the same young folk who are getting run down daily on account of their indifference towards the world and society in general.

An hour or more just slipped past, the real world a distant speck on the horizon as I floated along with the stories of Sara, Simone, Lil' Dude and his friends. These two young ladies and their little friend really made my visit special this morning, and for that I say a huge “Nice one, chaps – and thanks awfully!” I moved on, deeper into the park, leaving the three of them now with quite a crowd of fascinated onlookers…

Image of Little Dude stretching his wings

Right, gimme the cash!


Escape to the Interesting

Image of Waterfront Park, North Vancouver

Waterfront Park, North Vancouver

The photographer's dream… Four clear days to escape. Four days, for a change not driving a bus. Four days just sitting, at last beside ocean, four clear days with nothing but sunshine in the forecast and the ocean breeze for company. Catch something interesting out of the corner of the eye and snap, the photo's in the bag.



Image of Canada Place, Vancouver

Canada Place

This is Vancouver, a world away from Kamloops, a totally different ambience. Parks and open spaces, but with the action and bustle of the city just minutes away. Beautiful people relaxing doing interesting things, not in a “funny” way, just Vancouverites being interesting. Interesting folk contributing to what makes Vancouver one of the world's most interesting, and eminently liveable, cities. Interesting. That's why I came to Canada…

Image of a totem pole

I say, TAXI!

Turn around, and there's a totem pole jumping out at you; turn the other way, and there are summer folk taking a sailing lesson. Then just fluttering in the breeze, horticulture with sizzling, stunning colour. The sun brings out the happiness in people, must be something to do with the chemistry of sunny rays. Lick, slurp, three ample folk with slightly over-sized paunches wander past licking ice creams; but they are happy. Then a middle-aged gentleman, silver hair sparkling in the sunshine, carrying a sheaf of official papers, strides past with purpose. Obviously a businessman or high ranking official on the clock, but he, too, looks happy. Not a tie or jacket about him – just smart and purposeful.

Folk gather their belongings and move on, and so do I. Much to see, much to snap through the camera's ever truthful eye.


Towards Business…

So, the exit from driving Kamloops' Transit buses happened, the travel back to the UK to visit mum in Bristol happened, and now the big leap towards setting up a little business has also happened.

Image of Widewanderer Workshop

Widewanderer's Workshop

Widewanderer is now officially trading in Kamloops, and although we've only turned over about $400 so far, the future holds all sorts of prospects. What am I doing? Answer, Imaging and Picture Framing, Digital Photography and the like. See my “Picture Framing” page for more details.

It's been a rather slower process than I would have liked, but we got there in the end. I went to a local pro framer in town, Cheetie by name, and she did a fabulous job of getting me started with basic framing skills – matte cutting with all the little extras, handling frames, metal and wood, glazing, equipment, even computer software for managing a framing business.

In the meantime, I bought a little modular house in the Westsyde district of town, with a lovely little addition on the side which has become my very own workshop. And a trawl through the classified ad sites like Kijiji lead me to some great deals on liquidated equipment and stock – Steve in Invermere provided me with all the “capital” equipment for less than a quarter of what it would have cost brand new, whilst Bill in Vernon sold me all his pre-made frames and raw moulding; instantly saleable stock!

Lord knows how much raw material I have mucked up – it's bound to happen in the early days – but the finished products are now coming out in decent shape. You know the scenario – I get a great piece of glass installed and the piece carefully put aside… The next day I see a little tweak that I've just GOT to do, and CRACK! The glass has split in twain. The expletive could be heard in Vancouver! It's all a big learning curve…

So, the artist is getting quite a buzz from his work. For your pleasure and delectation, some photos of the first finished pieces. Nothing like blowing one's own trumpet, eh?

Image of finished piece - Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl - Bill Davey. 3-inch oak moulding finished in white acrylic

Image of finished piece - Kamloops Titans

Kamloops Titans poster, oak frame finished in textured black, with v-groove matte

Image of finished piece - Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle - presented in a shadow box. Laminated photograph, v-groove matte. Plexi-glass.

Image of finished piece - 2141 Spirit of Kamloops

Spirit of Kamloops. V-grooved matted using red core matte board. Additional opening for title.

Image of finished piece - Cabot Tower

Cabot Tower - Double matte in oak frame, English Chestnut wood stain.

Image of finished piece - Never Ending Freight Train

The Never Ending Freight Train - V-grooved matte, additional opening for title

Image of finished piece - Know What You're Holdin'

Collector's piece - Know What You're Holdin' - Budweiser Bar Mirror with clock

Image of finished piece - Carmen

Collector's piece - Carmen - Metal frame refinished in Hammered Bronze enamel, half inch matte for extra accent

Image of finished piece - British Trains collage

British Trains - Collage piece, oak frame finished in textured black enamel