The boats were stocked with fish and spilled guts, and the sounds of high-pitched calls above our heads from flying seagulls warned us of potentially being defecated on. The smell of fish hung heavy below our noses from the steamy weather and would temporarily be swept aside from the river breeze. Stepping over gaps in between the wooden planks of the riverside dock in the afternoon light, we watched crowds at Steveston Village in Richmond openly defying social distancing protocols for an opportunity to return to their version of “normal.”
The city of Richmond in the Lower Mainland lies south of Vancouver, across the Fraser River. The district is known for their large Asian population where you can find an array of delicious eateries that offer cuisine from Japan, Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan and more. You can even indulge in fine eats at the busy Richmond Night Market, open every summer (except for this year), which is a large food market offering tasty dishes from numerous Asian countries, and is even a favourite foodie-hotspot for famous Vancouver-native, Seth Rogen.
Visiting Richmond means you must also experience the spiritual life of Asian-immigrants, many of whom are Buddhists, by visiting the zen atmosphere of the International Buddhist Temple—the architecture of which resembles Beijing’s Forbidden City.
If you are travelling to Vancouver for the first time, no visit to the city is complete without a day-trip to Richmond and Steveston Village, the popular commercial fishing market. From downtown Vancouver, either a 30-minute drive will deliver you to the village or an hour transit ride. The district is an important aspect of the coastal region’s past—in particular, its history of the fishing industry. Here is a short guide on Steveston and how to spend your time there.
Fishing in Steveston
Millions of salmon per year swim through the Fraser River of BC to spawn, a major source of food for the region’s population.
Before Europeans settled into BC during the mid-18th century, the land belonged to over a hundred distinct indigenous communities who occupied the region for over 10,000 years. Salmon was and is not only a valuable resource for indigenous communities but also a vital aspect of their culture and identity. The mass harvesting of salmon for business began when European settlers arrived.
Steveston Village is a significant site for modern western Pacific Canadian history. Many fishers took advantage of the large amounts of salmon runs in the Fraser River. Steveston once housed the largest salmon cannery in BC. During the 19th century the Gulf of Georgia Cannery transformed salmon fishing in the west coast into a major commercial industry, and became the largest producers of canned salmon. You can now visit the cannery and take a tour. It was one of many canneries lined up along the shoreline of the river.
Today, along the boardwalk on Steveston many fishing boats dock to sell seafood fresh from the sea to locals and visitors.
When we went to visit the village earlier this month the docks of the pier were buzzing with a long winding line of customers waiting to purchase fresh shrimp at the Fisherman’s Wharf. While roaming around the village we saw many carrying clear bags of fresh shrimp.
The Wharf has the largest commercial fishing fleet in Canada. They sell spot prawns, dungeness crab, sea urchins, shrimp and more.
Japanese History at Steveston
Along with the cannery and the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site where you can learn more about the details of the fishing industry, you must visit The Steveston Museum to learn about Japanese settlers and their history in the Japanese Fishermen’s Benevolent Society.
The site explores the historical arrival of the first people of Japanese descent, their many contributions to the fishing industry and the Steveston community, including the tragic reality of their internment during WWII.
Museums and Galleries
The village is bubbling with so much history that a trip to Steveston would be uneventful without at least visiting additional museums, including galleries. Enjoy the Steveston Tram Car 1220 built in the 1900s, or wander through the Richmond Museum soaking up the historic cultural past of the charming city. Admire art exhibitions at the Richmond Art Gallery and attend a performance at the Lipont Place venue. If you are strolling through the village it is inevitable to browse through the public art exhibited on the streets of Steveston.
Shopping & Eating
Apart from fresh seafood and history, the quaint village offers recreational activities such as shopping in independent boutique shops, and casual dining at the numerous cafes and restaurants. We visited the Best of British shop, built to provide Brits with a taste of nostalgia through stocking up various typical British goods such as Yorkshire Tea and Jaffa Cakes.
In almost every instance I tried fish and chips, I was disappointed by the dish, even while travelling in London and Edinburgh. I find the deep-fried cod or halibut usually served flavourless. I prefer my mom’s seafood dishes that use loads of Indian spices. However, when we visited the Dave’s Fish and Chips cafe in Steveston, I was struck with the deliciousness of the food. The cod was covered in perfectly fried batter with the right amount of crunch, the fish tasted fresh and the tartar sauce was perfectly balanced and smooth.
So, the next time you are travelling to the west coast of Canada and looking for the roots of the region’s food culture, then a visit to the fishing village of Steveston is essential.
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