Like many cannery communities, Britannia was a self-contained world that provided not just jobs, but also places for its workforce to live during the fishing season.
Stilt houses like these were once termed “knock down houses”, built at sawmills in New Westminster in the 1880s, then disassembled and shipped down the Fraser River on scows (small barges) to Steveston. When the scows arrived, the buildings were reassembled by carpenters on site, resulting in entire cannery villages appearing almost overnight.
Britannia was culturally diverse, but jobs tended to be divided between cultural groups, and living conditions were segregated. Segregation was a normal part of cannery life, and groups of workers were assigned to living areas that reflected their ethnic background. The different designs of the homes at Britannia tell us stories about the workers who lived in them, and the relationships between them.
The Manager’s House is a glimpse into the life of a more affluent family, in stark contrast to the living conditions of the Japanese, Chinese, First Nations and white labourers who lived in buildings only steps away. The exhibits inside the Manager’s House are based on the lives of the Shorey family, who lived in a large white home on the west side of the Britannia site. George Shorey was the shipyard manager who moved his family here to convert the cannery into a shipyard in 1917-18. The Shorey family lived at Britannia until 1960. There are many stories of their lives here spent at work, at home and on the Britannia site. Their family stories are the inspiration behind the displays, audio recordings and image projections. These stories provide a window to understanding what life was like for a manager’s family at work, home and play.
The Men’s Bunkhouse building once served as temporary accommodation, only occupied during the summer season when the fishery and cannery operations were in full swing. Mostly single, white fishermen and temporary labourers bunked together in cramped conditions, and shared a common area where they played cards and socialized after the work day. The exhibits, projection and audio recordings inside this building interpret the grit and grime of everyday life experienced by temporary white labourers.
The Point House is believed to have at one time been the home of Musqueam Chief James Point and his family at its original location in Steveston. Displays inside touch on the lives of the local First Nations people during the early canning days, and explore how housing styles reflect the various people who occupied them. A short film, These Walls Can Talk, introduces Britannia’s different housing styles and their occupants.