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Seafood connects diverse cultures and communities at Cannery's new exhibit

Fish Tales explores stories shared through immersive displays that celebrate the seafood and fishing traditions of various cultural communities in Richmond
Fish Tales.

Storytelling is at the heart of Fish Tales, a new community-based exhibit at Richmond's Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site in the fishing village of Steveston. 

Built in 1894, the iconic building is situated over the south arm of the Fraser River at the river's mouth, where fishing transpired over generations, and hauls of salmon and herring  were canned and processed at the site.

Inside the Cannery in lane two, parallel to the restored canning line, the immersive exhibit connects you to the people—the storytellers—who share their tales brimming with rich and authentic accounts of personal experience.

"Fish Tales is all about how seafood connects diverse cultures and communities," says Elizabeth Batista, interim executive director of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society.

"The exhibit is divided into three subthemes surrounding seafood: how you obtain it; the ways you gather together and celebrate it; and thirdly experiencing the comfort of enjoying a home cooked seafood meal with the generational knowledge passed down by members of your family."

Fish Tales. Photo provided by Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society

Community storytellers

Each section includes a TV displaying stories told by the oral history storytellers from various cultures.

Diverse members of the community will share their stories, showing commonalities between their cultures and their experience with seafood.

"There are stories about memories of families of different cultures going to restaurants, trying something new, and being excited to get together for events," adds Batista.

Her personal favourite? "How families show their love and compassion for each other by sharing their seafood, and how they serve it to their families."

"There's a beautiful story about a woman who shares her love with family by peeling her children's shrimp, which I relate to with my own family; my mother would debone the fish before putting it on my plate—and I felt loved."

The conclusion section gives visitors an opportunity to sit down and review cookbooks about seafood, as well as view pictures of the oral storytellers posted on a fishnet.

"It's really exciting because you'll probably recognize somebody within the community," says Batista." The exhibit will grow and evolve as we continue to collect more stories. We also have a selfie station to make a memory for yourself, so the exhibit offers lots for everyone."

Fish Tales. Photo provided by Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society

Exhibit inspiration

Fish Tales was inspired by Dr. Henry Yu with UBC’s Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies (INSTRCC). The collaboration started as a student-led story-sharing project that centred around seafood discussions. The goal is to bring forward more diverse stories that people could connect with and make the connection to the Cannery.

"I like to think we were successful because of his inspiration and his work with his students," says Batista. "This is an exhibit about the people that shaped Canada’s West Coast fishing history."

Batista believes, "Every story is important, and I'm extremely proud to bring those stories of people into this physical space. I invite our community and visitors to be part of that, and be part of our exhibit."

Come and discover "What's Your Fishtale?" by visiting Fish Tales, which is ongoing until spring 2025. For more information, and to submit your own stories for a chance to be featured in the exhibition, visit the Gulf of Georgia Cannery website.