Land Without Limits


Namu Cannery | City of Vancouver Archives

Looking for a ghost town? Well, maybe not all that many ghosts can be found in the region, but, there is a sense of past cultures and industries inhabiting the land. One of those stories of boom and bust can be found in this small, now mostly abandoned community. At the confluence of the Burke Channel and Fitz Hugh Sound, 95km/59mi southwest of Bella Coola, the town of Namu (a Heiltsuk (helts-uk) First Nations word that means ‘whirlwind’) stands as a reminder of past success and misplaced optimism. Between the 1930s and 1980s, when B.C. Packers operated a cannery here, Namu was a hub of activity for commercial fishing along the central coast and boasted a population of up to 400 cannery workers, fish processors, maintenance personnel and their families. However, high transportation costs and low fish prices in the 1980s forced the shift from canning to fish processing with the fish being shipped south to Vancouver and west to Japan for canning. When B.C. Packers sold Namu, in the early 1990s, an unsuccessful attempt was made to establish a resort here. Alas, it failed. Today the town-site continues to be visited and used as a stopover point by coastal travellers and fishermen, and the ancient shell midden (a midden is a mound containing shells, animal bones and other refuse that indicates the site of a human settlement) makes it a continuing source of curiosity for archaeologists who have discovered local evidence of cultures dating back nearly 10,000 years. Research shows that Namu is one of the earliest radiocarbon-dated sites on the B.C. coast.