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Heritage Week at Britannia Shipyards

Black and white photo of old boatworks building with fishing boats outside
Heritage Week “Layer by Layer”

Heritage Week is an annual event in February that celebrates and showcases local heritage across the province to encourage our communities to visit, share and learn more about the heritage of our own backyards.

This year, Heritage Week takes place between February 19 to 25, 2024, with the theme “Layer by Layer”. We invite you to discover the layers of heritage at Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site through the stories of the Richmond Boatbuilders building. Follow our daily blogs and social media posts to uncover the multi-faceted history and significance of this recently restored building, from a general overview of Steveston’s Japanese boatbuilding communities and families, to deep dives into traditional Japanese boatbuilding tools, including a look at related videos and archival photos.

Richmond Boatbuilders at Britannia Shipyards

In 1932, Japanese Canadian boatbuilder Saeji Kishi began construction on the Richmond Boatbuilders building. A rare example of a pre-Second World War boatworks, this building is an essential legacy of the Japanese boatbuilding traditions in Steveston. Saeji Kishi and some fellow Japanese boat builders began their business building boats for West Coast fishermen using Japanese traditions and West Coast materials. They crafted 24 to 26-foot wooden gillnetter fishing boats in this shop. Saeji worked with five carpenters plus two or three additional carpenters during busy times to produce multiple boats per month, sometimes working on four boats at a time.

Japanese Canadian Internment 1942-1949

In 1942, over 22,000 Japanese Canadians living on the West Coast were forcibly uprooted from their homes. During the Second World War, the Kishi family and those working at the Richmond Boatbuilders and surrounding boatworks were sent to internment camps or as forced labour in farms and camps throughout British Columbia and further East.

During this time, the Richmond Boatbuilders were leased out to different companies, including the Lubzinski Brothers and their prosperous ship wheel manufacturing business (visit the Seine Net Loft at Britannia Shipyards to learn more about their work). It was not until four years after the war ended that the Japanese Canadians were permitted to return to the West Coast. Some of the Kishi family returned to Steveston but were not permitted to buy back their original boatworks. The Richmond Boatbuilders building was leased to various boat builders, including Sadajiro Asari, who returned to Steveston in 1950. It was Asari who built the wooden gillnetter Silver Ann, the last boat to be built at Richmond Boatbuilders, in 1969. 

New wooden boatbuilders building with large dark brown barn doors and picnic tables arranged in surrounding park.
Richmond boatbuilders in january 2024
Richmond Boatbuilders Today

In 2023, the Richmond Boatbuilders building underwent a major envelope restoration. In Spring 2024, its doors will re-open to the public, with new exhibits that explore the history and experiences of the boat building families and their tradition of craftsmanship. In addition, wooden boat restoration programming will allow visitors to view and experience the legacy of this heritage. Look for more details to come on this exciting new addition to the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site.

Up next for Heritage Week –  Crafting Tradition: Japanese Wooden Boat Building