LOOKING BACK: Quathiaski Cannery tokens

  • Jun. 28, 2018 4:30 p.m.

By Beth Boyce

It may be hard to believe now, but Quathiaski Cove on Quadra Island was once the bustling economic centre of this area.

Before Campbell River had much more than a hotel, Quathiaski Cove was home to a post office, general store, police station, school and the Quathiaski Cannery. Although a major employer, you may be interested to learn that in its early years, the cannery did not pay its fishermen with Canadian currency.

W.E. Anderson, owner and operator of the Quathiaski Cannery from 1908 until 1938, initially used small aluminum tokens, rather than money, to pay the fishermen. Each aluminum coin represented the number of salmon caught from one up to one hundred. They came in denominations of 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. Clearly written on each token was the name “Quathiaski Cannery” and the words “non-transferable.” That meant the tokens could only be spent at Quathiaski Cannery’s general store, and could not be changed into any other form of currency.

Although this was a common practice at isolated coastal canneries, “Nobody was in favour of this system…it annoyed people that fish tokens, for example, couldn’t get you to a dance you wanted to go to,” remembers Tommy Hall, a Quadra Island fisherman.

Anderson eventually stopped this practice, bowing to the pressure of his discontented fishermen. Some have said that it was Chief Billy Assu and the other We Wai Kai fishermen who convinced him to stop using the tokens.

“It was in 1917 he stopped using tokens. Then they started using a fish book. When you delivered, they marked down how much fish you put in that day. With the fish book, if you wanted some money you could draw some but you didn’t need to take it all,” remembers Harry Assu.

Although the tokens were disliked, Anderson himself was not. Many remembered him fondly as a fair employer. When it came time for Anderson to sell the cannery in 1938, he asked his four top fishermen – Billy Assu, Harry Assu, Johnny Dick and Jimmy Hovel, all We Wai Kai fishermen – to choose the next cannery owner from among three competing bids. The fishermen chose BC Packers as their new employers.

The cannery continued to be a major employer and focus for the community in Quathiaski Cove until August, 1941, when it was consumed by a fire that quickly destroyed most of its buildings. BC Packers chose not to rebuild the cannery.

Several of these tokens are on display as part of the Museum at Campbell River’s collection, and are currently featured as part of the new temporary exhibit 60: Collected Stories from the Museum at Campbell River. The recently released book of the same name tells this story, and many more, and can be purchased at the Museum Shop.

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