Prince Rupert Seafood lover’s delight

From the air, it’s easy to see why life in Prince Rupert revolves around the sea. An archipelago of pine-covered islands hugs a fjord-indented coastline bordered by forested mountains. The city of 17,000 souls sits on Kaien Island, off B.C.’s northwest coast, just 40 miles south of the Alaska Panhandle.

Its mile-wide, 14-mile-long protected harbour is the world’s third largest and deepest natural ice-free port. Ships crossing the Pacific to Asia take a day or two less time from Prince Rupert than from Vancouver. This is why city founder Charles Hays hoped to create a port to rival Vancouver’s. Hays planned to make Prince Rupert the western terminus of the transcontinental Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) Railway. He lured eminent architects to design B.C.’s first planned city, dotted with magnificent hotels. Unfortunately, when Hays left for Britain to raise money for the venture, he booked return passage on the Titanic and never saw his dreams fulfilled.

In 1914, two years after his death, the first Grand Trunk Pacific train chugged into Prince Rupert. The world was at war and the GTP merged with Canadian National Railways to avoid bankruptcy.

Although Vancouver became the bier city and seaport, the sea still dominates life in Prince Rupert. The tangy salt air stimulates appetites for fresh halibut, salmon, shrimp, crab and other seafood.

Prince Rupert has a surprising number of restaurants per capita, and most of them serve seafood. Air B.C. ground staff rave about the grilled sockeye salmon and lightly-breaded halibut and chips at Breakers Pub. Smile’s is popular for deep-fried seafood in casual surroundings. Bistro-style Peg Leg’s Seafood Grill overlooks the harbour. The Crest Hotel is an elegant place with a fabulous view of the harbour.

Epicurean and Zorba’s serve seafood with a Greek touch. Galaxy Gardens, West End and Fairview offer Chinese-style seafood, while Herbie’s and Cu’s add Vietnamese flavour to fish. Opa specializes in Japanese sushi. La Gondola treats seafood with Italian flare.

Allied Pacific Processing Plant operates the world’s largest salmon cannery here. It packs a 48-pound case of salmon every five seconds, 18,000 cases every 24 hours.

In the early 1900s, 284 canneries lined the coast. With the advent of refrigeration, transportation, automation and consolidation, the canneries closed, one by one, until today only 43 remain.

A half-hour drive from Prince Rupert, on Highway 16, brings you to Port Edward, the site of the oldest and last remaining cannery village on North America’s west coast, once nearly 1,000 people lived and worked in the North Pacific Cannery. It was founded in 1889 as a village where European bosses presided over segregated communities of Chinese, Japanese and First Nations workers. (Live performances in the museum bring their stories to life.)

The main building displays fishing and canning equipment. A boardwalk leads to the company store (circa 1939) which stocks vintage boxes of White Owl cigars, cans of insect spray, bottles of Kik Cola and tube radios. In the storekeeper’s home, visitors see rubber boots in the closet, bottles of Watkin’s Lemon Extract and Pepto Bismol in the kitchen cupboard, and tinkertoys in a child’s room.

Farther along the boardwalk, a bunkhouse built for Caucasian bachelors houses the Inverness Bed & Breakfast. The Mess Hall, now the Cannery Café, serves great salmon burgers, barbecued salmon, clam chowder, homemade pies and breads.

Those anxious to go whale-watching take harbour tours or go deep-sea fishing, and need not worry about treacherous seas. The city’s many charter companies go out only when the weather warrants safe trips.

Sports fishermen can bring their catch to the Cow Bay Fish Market and Deli. Jim Rushton and Paddy Jones will filet, smoke, freeze, vacuum pack and ship it back home. The shop also sells tasty smoked sockeye, salmon paté, jumbo prawns and halibut filets. All of which make wonderful souvenirs from the seafood capital of B.C.’s northwest coast.

For more information on Prince Rupert, phone 1-800-667-1994. For details about Air B.C.’s flights from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, call (416) 925-2311 or 1-800-925-2311.