Salmon in our Lives

Shaping our past, present and future

Wild salmon are the lifeblood of British Columbia. That might sound dramatic, but according to a 2011 survey in B.C., 70 per cent of respondents said provincial salmon runs are as important to British Columbians as the French language is to the people of Quebec.

If there were ever a place where salmon would actually take over a city bridge as they do in UNINTERRUPTED, B.C. would be it. Read on to learn why salmon swim right through the heart and soul of this province.

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Revered by Indigenous cultures

Wild salmon have always been deeply ingrained in the culture, spirituality and daily life of First Nations living in the Pacific region. For more than 10,000 years, Indigenous communities have relied on salmon for nourishment – creating innovative fishing techniques to catch only what they need, while protecting precious stocks.

Many of the nearly 200 First Nations also developed traditions to honour wild salmon as a precious resource. This reverence continues today – helping to infuse a profound appreciation for salmon throughout the province.

Legacy and livelihood

After settlers arrived from Europe, the Hudson Bay Company began exporting salmon from B.C. waters teeming with wild fish. A vibrant fishery flourished, led in part by immigrants to the growing colonies. Most notably, Japanese-Canadian settlers established a rich community centred in Steveston and the Fraser River salmon fishery, until Canada’s World War II internment policies intervened.

In order to preserve the perishable catch, the first cannery opened in the early 1870s,  and by the early 1890s, nearly 45 canneries were operating along the Fraser River. Both commercial and sport fishing grew along with B.C. Out on the water, fishing fleets began using radios, radar, sonar, nylon nets and hydraulically powered gear to make increasingly large catches. Overfishing eventually led to fish management policies that now link Canada, the U.S. and First Nations.


A wild education

In response to dramatically declining Pacific salmon stocks, Fisheries and Oceans Canada introduced the Salmonid Enhancement Program in 1977 (salmonids refers collectively to Pacific salmon and trout), building hatcheries and spawning channels, while working with local communities and First Nations to restore and preserve damaged streams.
The effort reached all the way to school classrooms, where most B.C. elementary school students can now recite the salmon lifecycle and map the transformation from alevin to fry to smolt with materials developed through the SEP (or you can find a refresher right here).

The Salmonids in the Classroom program takes these lessons a step further with tools and resources to help students raise salmon right in their schools. Children incubate Pacific salmon eggs and raise them to become fry, before releasing the swimmers into local streams.

Fueling economies, cultures – and imaginations

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, nearly 43,000 Canadian commercial fish harvesters and their crews were actively operating in 2016. In May of the same year, the price of a single Chinook salmon was worth more than a barrel of oil.

Beyond hard dollars and cents, however, salmon permeate the very fabric of West Coast culture. Visitors eagerly dine on wild salmon at tiny sushi counters through to high-end eateries and salmon festivals. The wildlife that attracts people from all over the globe would not thrive without salmon.

Fish-inspired art is literally everywhere in this province. Whether you’re driving past an urban wall, visiting a gallery or admiring a First Nations carving, salmon continue to inspire artists, authors, painters, actors, dancers, and even a national bestseller. Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s 2016 novel, The Spawning Grounds, is set around a fictional river in the Thompson-Shuswap region and details the impact of a declining salmon run – which brings us back to our own flight of imagination inspired by Shuswap salmon.

Come join us under the bridge from now through September 24th, and follow the sockeye back to their spawning grounds in the Adams River.

Feature Stories

Volunteers find passion & purpose with salmon

It’s salmon season in BC and that means volunteers are needed more than ever. Here’s how three first-time volunteers got inspired and then got their start in salmon conservation.

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Just Give Me A Rock

The volunteers have learned a lot in the last 30 years – about ecoystems and the way in which hundreds of natural elements intersect. “Give me a rock and I can now talk for hours.” Zo Ann says, picking up a rock and pointing to the significance of a miniscule creature found on its underside.

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“Grocery stores” for salmon fight impact of urban & agricultural development

Salmon in the Stave River are getting a leg up from the Fraser Valley Watershed Coalition and partner organizations, as together they put the ingredients for life back into this vital river habitat.

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Fewer salmon means mindful feasting at salmon festivals across BC

BC communities have long celebrated the return of the salmon to their rivers – now many are using their annual festivals as a way to call attention to the fact that fewer salmon return.

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The International Language of Awe

A chorus of oohs and ahhs for a spectacle that can be enjoyed by all

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Get a Stream Address

Salmon Sundays are an institution at the Mossom Creek Hatchery and Education Centre in Port Moody. Visit any Sunday and you’ll likely encounter one of the founders – Ruth Foster or Rod MacVicar – and a cluster of volunteers.

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More in Store when You Explore

Think of the Discover Salmon section at as a pool of stories to dabble in – plus it’s a pathway to great organizations with a wealth of information and research already available online about wild salmon and their importance.

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Resources and Links


UNINTERRUPTED: Now until Sept 24th

UNINTERRUPTED brings the heart of a wild salmon-bearing river to the heart of the city by transforming a downtown Vancouver bridge.

After dusk, audiences witness the extraordinary migration of wild Pacific salmon in a 30-minute cinematic spectacle that explores the connection between nature and our urban environments.

See the Show

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