Wilfred Wilson, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 06 May 2016 (2 of 2)

Wilfred Wilson, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 06 May 2016 (2 of 2)

Abstract
Wilfred begins reflecting on the Japanese Canadian friends his father lost in the fishing industry as a consequence of their dispossession and internment. He talks about what happened to them when they returned. Wilfred moves on to describe the working conditions for people working in the fishing and canning industries during the 1970s and 1980s. He explains how the fishing industry has changed between 1970 and 2000. Wilfred reflects on his near death experience while fishing with his family members and how it impacted his life forever. Near the end of the interview he tells Alexander about his efforts to organize an event for fisher poets so that they can share their experiences with the local community.
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Alexander Pekic (AP)
Okay, so, today is May the 6th 2016 we are at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery doing an interview as part of the Landscapes of Injustice project and I am speaking with Mr. Wilfred Wilson today. We were talking a little bit about fishing and the interview you did earlier this week. So why don’t you continue, sir, with some of your thoughts and reflections.
Wilfred Wilson (WW)
I spoke with my sister who’s older than I. She had some knowledge of my dad’s feelings regarding the internment of Japanese. He didn’t think it was a good idea. A lot of friends that he had were forced to move and were interned. Anytime you lose a friend, that’s an issue for sure. That was it. Do you have any more direct questions?
AP
Well, so in terms of that, as you mentioned earlier you were born after the internment and the Second World War, do you have any direct memories of your father talking about the friends that he had and the friends that he lost and any of the events of that time?
WW
Just when he stated that they weren’t given a lot of time to gather up their possessions. I guess they were ushered out in a hurry, boats were seized, and all other items, and were sold. It created a huge backlog of boats and gear. The individuals that were authorized to handle those did well financially. I don’t know if any of that was dispersed to the proper owners. I suspect not. I don’t know. Oh, what he stated was when you have a reduction in the fleet of fishermen and even cannery workers, I would assume, it created a shortage of fishermen and he said it was good in a way because the less competition in any field is a factor. He was drafted to go into the war, my father was, and when he gave notice to BC Packers to sell his boat he said he had to be at Little Mountain the next day for the recruiting station there. They had stated that he wouldn’t be draft eligible, he’s going to be classified as essential for the war effort to be a fisher twelve months of the year. I think I stated that earlier. It affected his health dramatically. He got rheumatic fever. It was two years loss of his life as far as being incapacitated. So when he went to go back during the war he had to fish twelve months of the year. So it was dogfish in the winter months. The liver was derived from that for vitamin E was essential. It wasn’t synthetically made, I believe, at that time. It was needed for the war effort. He was saying that the reduction made it better for them fishing no doubt about it, but you’re into this five days a week fishery that they had at the time. So for a few months of the year you were going nonstop, literally nonstop. Sleep deprivation was a huge factor in fishermen’s lives, period. I guess that probably lead to my father being run down, too, in getting that rheumatic fever. Yeah, so, um, some of the friends that we knew of, they went to various places in the interior, Japanese that is. Men that I knew that were affected by it. They came back and they established themselves well. They’re a very industrious, hardworking, wise financially people. They did very well when they came back. I guess you’d have inspiration when you have everything taken from you to first of all decide you’re going to stay in Canada, I guess that would be a factor, you have to get over that, and then restart again in your life.
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AP
You mentioned that he lost friends. Did any of those individuals come back, your father’s friends that fished?
WW
Yeah, those are the men that I grew up to be around on a daily basis. I sailed with my dad the first time at eight years of age and so you were there on the weekends helping paint and what have you to get going. So you grew up with these men. The bulk of the Pacific Coast Camp, which we called Atagi’s because of the buoy yard, it was always, like, the cannery was shut down and it was used as a salt storage, mostly, my father said, Pacific Coast Camp. He pointed out that because of that salt storage that first row of wood that we used in that building was all incredibly well preserved. The Japanese came back to that area to tie up there and you always ... Once you found a spot that you were comfortable with, it would be your tie-up spot. The BC Packers owned it, the floats, and the Pacific Coast Camp. Atagi’s, I don’t know if they owned their own building or not but they produced wood boats out of there for, I assume, all their lives save for when they were interned because their dad was a master boat builder and they would have learned from him without a doubt. They had decade long experience in the making of wood boats. So, yeah, the boats that were there was Japanese in that camp. There was ... Over half, I would say, of the guys were of Japanese descent there.
AP
So you mentioned your father’s fishing twelve months a year back then. Was that because there was a shortage of fishermen after they removed the Japanese Canadian fishermen or was it just because of the war effort or a combination of the two?
WW
That was a prerequisite to be exempt from going overseas to fight in the war. They needed people to produce food for the war effort but that stipulation of twelve months of the year was a factor of being exempt.
AP
You mentioned the big backlog of boats here in the community and you suspect that they didn’t eventually go back to their original owners. Did he talk much about seeing those boats afterwards or anything like that?
WW
No, no. I don’t know where they would have gone. I could venture a guess but I don’t know how accurate that would be.
AP
I’m curious to know just your thoughts on Steveston and how it’s changed since you started fishing with your father and your reflections on what it’s like today.
WW
Steveston was a fish town in my youth. One of the things that comes to mind, there was always a smell of fish processing in the air and stronger at times than others. It was an isolated little community in the day and, like the rest of the world, it expanded here and there’s a dramatic reduction in the ... It’s been acknowledged that there was overcapitalization in the industry, boats, from my perspective. So now, with the way that they’ve changed the rules and consolidated more, there’s a lot less boats. It was all farmland here and an increase in population has encroached throughout all Richmond here but Steveston, in particular, has been built on.
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WW
It’s progress, there’s not much altering that. The world population being what it is, you just have to adapt. Minor issues, parking in the season, you know, it’s hard to come by when you’re running around for parts. I remember when that was never an issue. That’s somewhat irrelevant. Try and plan a way around that. It’s become a huge tourist magnet. People like being near the water. Every good day here now, you’ll see people here in large numbers. I know some of the guys I’ve grown up with that have lived here all their lives, I was raised in Vancouver so we commuted here. They see this huge influx of what we call tourists. It’s understandable why they would want to be here, such a nice area.
AP
Yeah, so you grew up ... You lived in Vancouver but you came out here. I guess your father would have come on a daily basis from Vancouver?
WW
Yeah.
AP
How long would that have taken him then?
WW
Commute?
AP
Yeah.
WW
We lived right near Maine and Marine, so my dad was a creature of habit. It was the same route, Fraser Street connecting to Five Road to Steveston, Steveston to Two Road, and then into the Steveston area here. The commute was pretty short. It was ... Being so young, I don’t recall but I would guess twenty minutes. I would think something to that effect. There was so much more farmland in Richmond in the day. It was amazing and to see now the encroachment of the land that’s being converted into non-farm use.
AP
Most of the other fishermen, I assume, perhaps incorrectly, lived in this neighborhood. Was it common, like yourself, to live in Vancouver and come out to Steveston to work?
WW
There were a few fishermen that lived in White Rock and other places, certainly some of the Japanese. Dad had one friend, I can’t remember his name now. He lived in Vancouver, the Japanese. Most, I would say, probably lived in the area or at ... I was thinking about this earlier. In the fishing industry in the day, the companies would provide housing and boats for the guys, and nets to startup a company. You had to prove yourself to be reliable but it was amazing and, I guess, in order to get the workers they had to provide these houses in the Steveston area, quite a few. I can remember that there was that transition away from that but their houses were still there and there were some of my dad’s friends that lived in those company houses at Pacific Coast Camp. That would have been removed, probably in the late '60s those were leveled. That shift to non-company boats was around that time as well. In the north they had company boats for a lot longer right until the late '70s and '80s. They had on the coast they had these houses as well around the canneries so that all the families would go. I can remember my uncle and aunt, Ed and Rose, who lived on Musqueam would spend the summers in a company house near Atagi’s or between Paramount and Pacific Coast Camp. You had close proximity to your work and it was a nice thing to be able to go home and have meals literally a little over 100 yards from where your boat was. It was a pretty nice little perk.
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AP
When you lived in one of the homes provided, do you remember what they were like inside?
WW
They were pretty rundown. Typical to not be owned by that individual and having different residences every year in the canning industry. They were comfortable. They were warm and had all the featured comforts. It was something that they were more than willing to put up with for that close proximity. A few of my dad’s friends that lived there as well, they were bachelors. So they didn’t have a strong desire for their own residence, I’m guessing.
AP
If someone is working for one of the canneries and they provide the boat, net, and home is that deducted from the pay or is that just a part of the, sort of, agreement of working for that company?
WW
Yeah, see my experience with that was more in the north because it was still carried on when I was starting my career. As far as their pay structure, I don’t know how that would have been worked out. It was becoming evident in my family that you owned your own boat you were better off as far as what your take home pay would be. It comes to mind here my ... Can we stop for one moment?
AP
Sure. Tape is paused.
WW
I’m thinking back now to the earlier years of when my dad was starting out fishing. There was the introduction of engines and my grandfather was in resident school at Cooper Island. Without going into too much detail, what he did state was there was benefits that he learned about carpentry, agriculture. Those were the two main things that he had said he benefited by. They were not the first but amongst the first to put engines in their boats. Grandpa had the ability to be able to do that. In the early days it was a lot of unknown. I remember my dad saying the advantage was huge over the guys that were rowing. Certain places on the coast, when there’s line fishing, you’d let the man almost get his whole net out, the one that’s rowing. Dad said “When you started setting you’ll pass him before he gets his net out.” That’s human nature, to take advantage of progress. There’s a man in credited with being the first one to put a drum on a gillnetter. He derived the power for that off of the main driveshaft via a belt. The problem with that is the engine has to be in gear to get your drums to turn. That’s counterproductive to being an efficient gillnetter when you’re worried about getting your net in a wheel. So dad looked at that the first year he’d seen it and he took it upon himself and was credited by a few as being the second person on the coast with a drum. He derived a better system and that was with an independent transmission and reduction gear attached to the drum. So, there again, human nature is such if you see a mechanical advantage and you have the wherewithal to try and utilize that, you can have a significant advantage for a lot of years. It took a long time for everybody to switch over. There were a lot of naysayers that felt that ... I remember dad saying “There’ll be too many fish fall off the net. They wouldn’t make it up passed the rowers. The loss would be significant.” That was never a factor. So, yeah, it leads to ... As a fisherman you’re a very independent soul, the bulk of us; gillnetters in particular. You’re used to always doing most everything yourself. I built my own boat.
00:20:02.000
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WW
The hull was an aluminum hull. It was manufactured, the hull, and the engine was placed but I did the rest of it at a young age with no prior knowledge. You see others doing it. So if they could do it, I could do it. You’re wanting to take advantage of the times as far as, in this case, with more horse power to go faster than the other guy to beat him to the grounds. That was a big trend for a lot of years. Now we’re going the opposite where guys still have the power but they idle around now because of the fuel cost and environmental issues is a factor for a lot of us. You don’t want to be polluting as much. I was involved in a selective fishing project starting in ’99 we did for a few years via trap. One of the observations or conclusions I came up with ... I could see doing that means of harvesting again. It was deemed to be too corporate controlled was one of the reasons why it was outlawed. Individuals didn’t have as much benefit but one of the things I arrived at was if the way our world is going here with global warming and that if it ever came back to, like, I had to sail again with limited horsepower, limited amount of fuel for the year, I could see myself doing that and still be productive. It’s just having others around you accept that as a means of helping because it appears to me that’s what it’s going to have to be. We won’t be able to roam as much with what we have. We used to cover the whole coast, literally from Alaska right to Washington. So that’s now reduced with area fishing but there may be still more along the lines of what I’m saying going back to that, probably not.
AP
So when you would fish from Alaska all the way down to Washington, you’d be out on the water for a long time or is it just throughout the year or a couple years you’d, sort of, cover that area? I’m not well versed in fishing practices.
WW
I just fished herring and salmon in that ... I had contemplated expanding. I was going to get into halibut. We started a family then and my wife said to me “Are you going to do this because you want to or you’re doing it for the money?” I said, “Well, both.” She said “If you’re doing it for the money only, you can forget it. You were gone almost six months of the day last year fishing.” I’m also a hunter and she goes “And that’s not counting your time going away hunting.” She said “If you’re going to be gone ten months of the year, I won’t be here and the kids won’t be here.” So I was young and I thought “Okay, how about this, when I’m home I won’t do any of the maintenance myself. I’ll hire people and I’ll have more time.” My wife said “Let me repeat myself. If you’re going to be gone ten, eleven months of the year I won’t be here and the kids won’t.” I thought about that and there is a high incidence in the fishing industry of partnerships parting because of the isolation. It’s hard on a woman. It takes a special woman to be able to raise kids for, in this case, half a year, making all the decisions and everything else where home life is involved. Yeah.
AP
So you fished for herring and salmon, you said?
WW
Mhm.
AP
Do both species require the same type of fishing or did you alter things targeting the different species?
WW
Well, for myself I ... When they reintroduced the roe herring ... You need a little history here on the herring fishery. Prior to my involvement, there was a reduction fishery on the herring. There were some that were canned but a good part of them were rendered down for their oil for industry. I know a few fishermen that were involved in that reduction fishery. They’ve seen it decline. They’ve seen the need to shut it down.
00:25:13.000
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WW
I can remember a couple elders telling me, well respected producers, they pleaded with fisheries at the time. They just felt that it was an inexhaustible resource and then there was a crash. I believe it was ’65 it was shut down and reopened again in ’72. A biologist I spoke with was shocked how quickly they came back when they were left alone. I think it was seven years. I’m not positive on that. I got involved in the roe herring there in ’72 when it first started again. So that, I did with an uncle of mine, seining. For me, as a young man, it was the best way to see a coast. The entire coast was open. There were no boundaries on that herring fishing in the early years. So he had been involved in reduction fishery with one of the better skippers on this coast, Elmer Martin Olin. So he’s seen every nook and cranny in this coast. So I got to sail with him to see a lot of those. That now with fuel costs and area fishing there will be less and less people that can say they’ve seen the coast. There again, fuel consumption is a factor. My uncle sold out his seine herring license and I got into gillnet herring in the mid '80s, which I did for close to thirty years. I got out here in 2006, I think it was, on the herring. A short story here, in two years I put ninety-nine tons in of herring to break even. It was illogical. That first year I was five tons short of getting my quota of fifty-four tons. It put me in arrears. The next year I caught the quota around fifty-four tons and I broke even. I go “There’s something wrong with this picture here.” You’re in the water there in March and it can be a pretty mean time of the year weather-wise. I thought there’s something wrong with putting in ninety-nine tons. In the old days, in two years you’d be a very happy individual. To break even and that, you know, men were getting hurt in that fishery. You get a lot of injuries and that. I got out. I just said “I can’t keep doing this.” Now, this year, there was only sixty-three boats fishing in the Gulf of Georgia for herring, not enough. A lot that were given out weren’t harvested. So there is a decline in young that because of that period there where there wasn’t a decent income and then now, turning the other way, I’m thinking of coming back out of retirement for the herring for next year. Very interested in getting into that. Now they’re starting to pay a little bit. And then salmon I did from the Nass down in various places gillnetting for salmon. I’ve been a boat owner myself since 18 years of age. So that’s, now, forty-four years I’ve been a boat owner.
AP
You said you were, at one point, thinking about getting into halibut fishing as well, right
WW
Mhm.
AP
What prompted you not to pursue that?
WW
The very fact that I wouldn’t have had a home life. Once I evaluated that I realized, of course, that’s too much to be gone that long for me, personally. I would like to have done it, to have experienced it along with a few other fisheries but, then again, you only have so many months of the year when you have that ability to be out. You have to be home a certain amount.
AP
So each of those species has a different season that they’re fished for and harvested?
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WW
Yeah. We used to leave on the third week of February on the seine herring and go to Barkley, come home in the beginning of April, middle of April. Some years we fished in May for the summer herring in the central coast. That was only for a few years. It wasn’t large enough stock to justify continuation and then back home when you start doing maintenance to start ... It used to be in the middle of May for the west coast, Barkley Sound. You go up until July, basically. The whole coast.
AP
So what’s it like out on the water? My experience of, you know, being out on the water is not anything I imagine that you’re used to, being out there for a long period of time and, probably, out much further. I’m just curious to know what it’s like for you when you’re out there and what that feels like.
WW
Every boat acts different on the water. I used to get seasick and then I got over that by ten, eleven years of age I would guess, but then when I started sailing with my uncle, bigger boats roll different. Inevitably, you’re going out in February, you’re going to get into some bad weather. I was ill the first tough weather we’d go through and then I’d get over it and be fine for the season until the next year again. That was, I don’t know, about ten years, eight years, whatever and then I got to the point where I had no more seasickness. When you’re on the water as much as some, that tough weather is not really a major factor. You do stop if it’s really bad. There’s no doubt about it, but what a non-fisher would deem to be undoable, dangerous, or what have you, undoable and dangerous, that’s just normal life for a fisher to be in those elements. I had friends say, I mean, they just can’t believe what you can go through. When you’re experiencing that on a yearly basis, what it is is part of the job. When I first built my boat, I wasn’t married at the time to my wife, but we went across to the Gulf Island and when it was come time to come back it was blowing. It was Sunday, she had to be back for work and she asked, you know, I said “We’ll leave the boat here at Galiano and get on a ferry.” She said “What would you do if I wasn’t here?” I said “Well, I’d go.” She said “Well, let’s go.” She regretted that. We took quite a beating at the end of the river. You couldn’t see the majority of the way across. You’re navigating by instinct. You can see but it’s not that often. It’s enough, but she ... And part of the process is, in this case when you’re not bow end but about a quarter in on the bow and it’s pounding a bit so you work the throttle to lessen the energy when you’re hitting those swells. She didn’t ask me anything at the time. I’m paying attention to my job navigating. She, afterwards, thought that was almost like a death warrant. She thought we were in a bad spot. There is an example of a non-mariner that just doesn’t know that that’s just part of what we go through. Around the mid '70s, I’m not positive on the year, it would have been for sure before 1979, we left to go to Barkley Sound in February and there was a storm warning to hit after midnight. My uncle thought we’d be into Barkley Sound well ahead of that so we proceeded on and it came up over 100 miles an hour that night, 115 at the peak. Seven men drowned. We worked on the deck twice, gave it a brand new polish, given it broke loose. We tried to put the stabilizers up. One got tangled on the rig and we got one stabilizer pulling down the stabilizer and the other one was tangled up on the rig and we worked on that trying to get that clear, unsuccessfully.
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WW
The theory is it’s more dangerous with one stabilizer pole out than none. I’ll give my uncle credit. He’s a master mariner. He got us through that. That’s the only time of my life I actually figured I wasn’t going to see the next day. There’s a bit more to that story but I’ll always remember listening to the lighthouse keeper. This poor guy was in shock. That kid Bill, he heard mariners that had gone on the rocks there and that. He was using the radio communications as a means of venting, I’m assuming. I thought of this after and that because he said “I hear these men crying for help, then all of a sudden silence. There was no more.” So the fleet was assisting us, the ones that were there already. That’s something etched in one’s memory forever, that. It was steady eight-seven knots and then peaked at 115. I’ll always remember that night.
AP
So you said seven sailors drowned?
WW
Mariners.
AP
Mariners, sorry. This will probably strike you as a silly question but when that happens are these men lost at sea forever? Is there any chance that you can recover anything in weather like that?
WW
No, they were never found and I don’t know that any other boats were ever found either. There’s a picture of Steveston here I’m looking at here now and there’s a monument at the entrance there that’s the mariners lost at sea at the entrance to the harbor here. I think it’s a nice monument there. It’s a big needle. That’s one of the things ... A net needle. That’s one of the things that was decided upon as a monument there and each family could pay to have their lost soul’s name engraved on that monument. I wave at that every time going in and out of the harbor.
AP
Where is that? Do you know?
WW
At the entrance, right on Garry Point.
AP
So, right there?
WW
Yeah.
AP
Okay.
WW
Garry Point.
AP
So I could walk up to it and take a look?
WW
Oh, yeah, big monument. You can’t miss it.
AP
When that storm hit, how far out in the water were you from the shore?
WW
Oh, we were only about three miles, I guess.
AP
So not that far out.
WW
Way up along Vancouver Island, yeah. Two coasts in it’s rougher and tougher. You go offshore but you get into the deep coast. Most waves don’t build quite as much.
AP
So further out, it’s almost counterintuitive. I would think that’s it’s more treacherous but I guess the closer you get the waves get bigger? Is that ...
WW
That’s what happened to a lot of men in that area where I’m talking about there. They want to cut the corner quick. They want to get out of it too soon. When you’re in the shallow end, that’s where the waves build significantly. Yeah, it’s a hard one to say you’re going to stay offshore when your desire is to be inshore under those conditions.
AP
How long did that storm last?
WW
Oh, it seemed to me ... I can’t recall. I’m going back to the mid '70s here but it was over twelve hours. We were only in it for maybe five hours, I guess, something like that, by the time we got into Bamfield.
AP
The fishing that you did throughout your career, what’s the furthers it ever took you offshore?
WW
Oh, I’m not really that far off. I’d say five miles, six miles would be the farthest I’ve gone off.
AP
Your boat, the one you built, how big is that?
WW
Not quite thirty-five feet. Thirty-four-six by eleven and a half beam. Oh, this is something that had occurred to me. After the war my dad was wanting another boat built and the standard at the day was seven wood beam by thirty-two foot long. Dad pleaded with these various Japanese boat builders to build a wider boat and longer. They really believed, at the time, that the sea worthiness would be lost. So dad pleaded for quite a while and they finally relented. They wouldn’t give him a foot wider. They gave him six inches wider. It’s just that the beliefs were that entrenched and I don’t know ... My dad had a boat built. He called it the River’s End and that was a replacement boat for the one from the year before that one had been built.
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WW
It’s rare but this was deemed to be an unlucky boat. My dad said it was just unbelievable. He couldn’t catch, couldn’t produce anywhere what he wanted. So he sold it after one year and he built the River’s End. I think that was when he pleaded with them to make it bigger. He got that one made a little bit bigger. It was roughed for a lot of decades. When I built my boat, he waited until the end of the year and he said “I’m glad to see you’ve got a lucky boat.” He says “I’m really glad, son.” “It’s important,” he says. He’s a firm believer in that. I’ve never been on a ... Well, I was on a boat vessel that sunk. We all survived but I don’t know if I’d call ... That’s the same boat when I went over 100 miles an hour winds with.
AP
So, that boat you were on, you guys got thrown from the boat and ...
WW
No, we were ... It was November 20th, 1979. In the Gulf Islands we were involved in the food herring. We did everything by the book as far as preparing to travel with a full load of herring. In those days they were dry. They were not tanked. They were stored dry. It’s quite a long story I don’t know if you want to hear it or ...
AP
Sure, yeah, please.
WW
We went through the routine of what you do pumping out, making sure as much water as possible. When we started going through path I had a funny feeling something wasn’t right. I stopped the engineer. We’re all family on this boat, six of us. The man that was engineer that I stopped going down was my uncle’s son-in-law. He’s a little resisting and he wanted to go down into the engine room. Like, wait until we get through the pass. He started to go again so I grabbed him. I said, “I’m not letting you go down.” We didn’t quite ... We got through the pass not on the outside of the Gulf side but sailed to seaside. We rolled over really quick. We did not get a mayday out. We were on our side for a while. A couple things I remember was going to the galley window there and looking. Well, first of all I went to cut the painter line on the power skiff which is holding the bow of the skiff on the jet. As we were going over I got my knife out. I’ve got to cut this painter line from the bow line. Then it dawned on me that the back is chained, so there’s no use. I mean, even if I cut that line off. I mean, the other thing was the battery was out. We had all names of problems. So we had it off, out of the power skiff, in the main engine room, charging on the auxiliary. I put my knife back, by that time we completely went over on our side and I remember standing on the galley window. I ran over there looking at this jacket I just got for my birthday and thermos and new shoes and they’re floating in the water. I remember thinking “How can I get these?” It dawned on me, of course it’s not worth it to go and rescue that but these are the things that go through my mind. My uncle was on top of the house steering when we rolled over. He’s a big man, really big at that time, heavy. We ripped every piece of clothing off the top of him there, including the rain jacket and shirt, trying to get him over the railing on the top of the house. A box broke loose and went against the smoke stack and he got his foot on it for power and that’s how he got over. The life raft had been inspected that year in June, this is November 20th. It’s supposed to function. My uncle and his son were quite a bit bigger than me and they’re taking turns pulling this cord trying to get it to activate and open up. The adrenaline’s flowing in everybody and that. So one’s pushing the other one out of the way and trying his best. My cousin Kenny put his feet against this life raft and wrapped that nylon cord around his hand. He was pulling with his whole heart and soul off and he broke it. So then now we realized we don’t have that to save us. The next step was to get what we call “scotchman”.
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00:45:00.000
WW
They are these orange balloons, shall we say, that are marked and are really durable. Six of them on board, six of us. Prior to this I had gone to the port hole on the companion way down to the engine room and it started pouring all over my gear and rain jacket until I finally found my floater coat, which was a recently new invention at the time. I remember in haste trying to get the zipper done up and not being able to. I told myself to calm down and get it zipped up. I did, went to the scotchman, they’re being handed out. The future son-in-laws ... There were two son-in-laws that were future ones. His scotchman got slashed in the haste. Why somebody was cutting the lines and securing them to the railing, I know not, adrenaline, instead of untying the knots is what I mean. The son-in-law, he’s not impressed. He’s got a scotchman that’s leaking and that. So I handed him mine. I said, “Take mine.” I said “I’ve got my floater coat.” Well, Kenny, this man that broke this cord I’m talking about on the life raft, he literally picked me up off the ground and he says “Is that mine? Is that my floater coat?” I said “No. I stowed it up myself and I tore the zipper. I swear, this is mine. Look.” So he cursed and let me go. I can remember watching the mast light disappear under water as she completed her roll. I remember seeing the power still laboring, just ever so little moving. I remember thinking that Jimmy doesn’t want to stop. So we didn’t get a mayday out. So here we are, now we’re standing on a keel and it’s slippery. It’s calm, reasonably calm. Luckily for us a boat by the name 'Pacific Ocean’ had come through Porlier Pass just when we rolled over and got onto the main channel on the radio and said “I think I just seen a boat roll over” and he took a bearing on us and he came right to us. In the haste of abandoning ship the first four went, I was holding my uncle because he was falling on the slippery hull. So he said “I can’t make that jump.” There, again, you’ve got a lot of adrenaline going because the skipper are coming and bumped and sunk the boat pretty hard when it first landed, first coming along side. So we had this fear we were going to go down and that. Anyway, they threw a rope to my uncle Smokey and he didn’t really try and jump for the Pacific Ocean, the vessel, Pacific Ocean. His son grabbed him by the back of the neck and put him on deck and we’re talking about a 300 pound man here. Then my turn comes and they throw me a rope and, by this time, they drifted further. So I’m thinking “I’m just going to jump in the water here and they’ll pull me in holding the rope.” Kenny did the same thing. He got a hold of the back of my neck and I can remember thinking, because the skipper had kicked the boat ahead again coming in and I remember thinking “I’m going to get crushed. I’m going to get crushed. I’m going to get ...” and I landed on the deck. I thought “I’m not going to get crushed.” It was amazing. We transferred from Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Post, I believe it was a government DFO vessel. Time frame, an hour perhaps. That life raft popped up when the Delta Star sunk, the vessel I’m speaking of that we were on. When it went down the pressure opened up the life raft. So that’s not something you fancy when you’re just staring death in the face and having to depend upon that life raft. So from there we were told we could be dropped off but it had to be on the Vancouver Island side of the Salish Sea. So we had a friend there on Salt Spring. The last couple things I’ll mention about this was we were dropped off on the wharf, we’re walking up the wharf, and we’re talking about what had happened. I’m beside my cousin Kenny, he’s the one that broke that rope on the life raft.
00:50:02.000
00:50:02.000
WW
He’s literally ... When he put one foot on the land and one foot still on the wharf, he started getting ill. Just that quickly, it hit him that hard, that quick, there. For me it was two nights later when I was home, in bed, when it hit me. In conclusion, I drove around going to friends’ houses who were all at work. I wasn’t thinking properly. This is two days later. I’m going to household to household to household and nobody’s home. Finally, it dawned on me “Dad.” I lived near him there. I go to his door, bang on the door. He says, “I was wondering when you were going to make it here. Come in and have coffee.” Within two minutes he had me talked down. I was back on earth, kind of thing by that time. That’s most of that, what I recollect on that.
AP
After something like that is it hard to get back on a boat and get on the water again?
WW
Interesting question. The company offered my uncle the Pender Isle, the big double-decker we called it, to look for his boat unsuccessfully. It was found two years, three months later. That’s another long story. So we used that Pender Isle, we went to Barkley Sound and we looked for a while to try and find his lost boat, sunken boat, and then we carried on and went to Barkley Sound again for the winter herring. He phoned me and said “We’re sailing tomorrow for Barkley.” I said, “Oh, uncle, I don’t know about that one.” “You better come and have lunch,” he says. So there’s a large group of fishermen at his house. They knew what we’d been through. My uncle’s brother-in-law said, you know, the whole thing about you fall off a horse he says. So I fill. I got over there about two weeks into that trip, I guess, but I had a couple moments there when you’re sleeping in the folk’s home in the bow. Those bigger boats, there again, the rows, long time coming back. I’d wake up and my stomach would be in a knot. I had these visions of going over again. So, like I said, it took a couple weeks and then I was okay with it. I’d say that was the same with the bulk of us, too. All the same men got back on the next boat and did go.
AP
Do you see the men that were on that boat often? Are you in touch with them? Some of them are your family.
WW
Yeah, my uncle passed away a couple of years ago. His son I see fairly regularly. Another man drowned. The one that was going to marry into the family, he drowned a summer or two after on the salmon season. The other fellow moved in with my aunt, the one son-in-law. Another man is in Nanaimo. I haven’t seen him for a long time.
AP
Did you guys ever talk about that, relive it through conversation or was it just something you just, sort of ...
WW
Oh, we ... Well, it actually was found. It was a Japanese family from Ladner, the Yamanakas, that found the rope that was attached to that hull. My uncle had thought that he was going to be able to raise that vessel again and save it. He loved that boat. It was brand new when he bought it and the first diver that went down to look, he came back up and he said the reason it was so hard to find was the various sonars were right at the bottom of a little gully that turned back upright again and settled in the bottom of this. So it just blended in with the bottom. My uncle packed an incredible amount of ropes. In that flack tie there was one that would make it to the surface. One of the Yamanakas there got into this wheel, tried raising it unsuccessfully, marked it with a bleach bottle. Back inland he mentioned it to a family friend and he gained a bit of slack on that rope so he cut it off. There was a splice on there. So I’ll back track. So this Yamanaka, I can’t remember the man’s first name, which one, showed it to Gordon Bennett. Gordon said “May I have it?” He took it to my uncle because he had a feeling and my uncle looked at that splice and he said “That’s my rope.” He knew. He finished it off in a certain way, that splice.
00:55:04.000
00:55:04.000
WW
So, it was raised through a lot of effort, again, that vessel. I was involved in part of it but they brought in a professional team and I was there when we removed the net to lighten the lift. I wasn’t there when it was finally raised but I happened to be on west, a mile on Hunting right after Day Height. It was a misty, not fog, it was a misty morning. I just come back to my little duck pond and I look up in the mist, out comes the Delta Star being towed by Gordon Bennett. It was the eeriest feeling to see that. There’s netting up in the rig, and there’s ropes up in the rig, and there’s growth all over this vessel. How in the world Gordon seen it, I know not. I’m standing on the dike. It turned out his deckhand, a good friend of mine, had been sent to go get more pumps. They were trying to get it in. They did get it in, the ladder, they did raise it but the pumps were plugging up with the debris in the hull. Brent had departed, Gordon sees me, calls me over and he says “You’ve got to help.” So I had some pretty mixed feelings about climbing back on board that vessel and seeing it in such a derelict state but we got it in and got it raised up and then I got out of there. I didn’t want to be around. It was too sad for me to see that vessel. Nothing was salvaged other than anything metal. Everything metal was salvageable, including the engine.
AP
So the metal parts just became scrap or they were reused?
WW
No, the engine was ... The man that broke that rope ended up putting it in his boat, that engine and reduction gear. It was, for whatever reason, no oxygen gets to it and there’s no rust as a factor. If you get on it right away when it’s pulled out of the water you can salvage it including two years, three months later.
AP
And the hull became another boat or ...
WW
No, it was totally ... Sorry, I didn’t mention that. When I first went down, he came up sitting there pretty as a picture, Smokey. “Did you check the hull?” He goes, “No, I didn’t.” This is another cousin of ours, a well-known diver. He goes, “No, I didn’t.” Down he goes again and it was in 119 feet, that low water, what they call main low water that’s an average low water. My uncle researched it. Supposedly anything below 120 feet, it will get turitos. It’s a worm that lives on wood and it was riddled, the whole hull was riddled. That diver went back down and he grabbed a chunk of the board and he broke it off easily. He’d bring it up and there’s turito holes as big as a finger going through this wood. The only wood they didn’t touch was the marine plywood on the cabin. So the hull is worthless.
AP
So all those boats were wooden hulls and ...
WW
In the day?
AP
Yeah, mostly made of wood, right?
WW
Yeah, the majority in that time. There was a few fiberglass ones starting to show around that time but the bulk were wood. On a completely different note here now, on those bigger boats they used oak wood for the corking between the planks. It actually creaks when you’re in any sort of seas. It’s a comforting sound because the boat is working. It has a life of its own. It’s amazing, you know, you hear that sound and you know you’re safe. You know the sound from a good one from a bad one. Those wood ones, they have a creak to it and everything like that. It was very comforting. It really was.
AP
I guess that creak, you can’t find too much anymore? They’re all metal boats now.
WW
Yeah, that’s right. There’s very few wood. There’s a few but not many, not many at all, mostly fiberglass, steel, aluminum. There was, for a while, cement ones but I don’t think that’s very common anymore at all.
AP
Does that change the structure of the boat? Does it change how it operates on the water? Does it change, you know, how it navigates?
WW
Steel is a way slower rower. It’s not one I like. Fiberglass, they seem fine; aluminum fine. You get used to it right away. Not really, but pretty quickly you get used to it. There are boats that are known to be cranky, wet, they call it. They have ugly rows to them and they have a lot of spray on them at times.
AP
If you could get one of those old style wooden boats, would you be comfortable getting back on one of those?.
01:00:00.000
01:00:00.000
WW
I’m mainly thinking about ... Because salmon fishing is not that lucrative anymore, last year was okay in Barkley Sound but it was only for a little over two months. Anyway, I’m contemplating prawning and there’s a wooden boat near where I tie up and there’s an old Norwegian that owns it and he’s put an incredible amount of hours rebuilding that. It’s a bigger boat. I often thought he’s really aged. He doesn’t fish anymore. He just works on his boat. It’s going to come up for sale one of these days but whether I’ll be too old to want to use it but I would love to be on that boat. He’s fixed that up nicely. It would be a good one to sail on. It would be a good feeling. There’s no doubt.
AP
So that’s a trawling boat?
WW
That really was a halibut boat, I believe. He tried seining with that as well, salmon. As far as I know he mostly had halibut. It’s about a, maybe fifty-footer, I guess. You know, I’m looking at this map here. Can I tell you a story about a cash buyer?
AP
Sure.
WW
In my youth, the corporate world had an iron control over the buying and selling of fish. There was one individual named Straddy. I don’t know his last name. He had a cash buyer. The corporate world’s control was so extensive my dad was totally free and clear. He owed no money to the company and that but he didn’t like selling during the daylight hours to this cash buyer. That was the case with the majority of guys, but he would go at night. What he stated was “He’s helping us keeping the prices up.” As minor of a consumer he is, it helps somewhat because, you know, if more of us are selling to this guy then, you know, the corporate world knows. Anyways, Straddy was well known. He used to wrestle professionally. I believe he was Greek. I remember his entrance but I didn’t see him. He was before my time. My dad told me his entrance was, he didn’t want down the aisle. He went over everybody on the chairs. He had these big, immense cauliflower ears from the roughness of the wrestling in the day. I remember those ears, they were big and pretty deformed. He was a big powerful man and I remember my dad telling me that somebody tried robbing him with a pistol, on the water, at the entrance to Steveston and I remember Straddy picked up a fish pew, which is a long wooden handle five feet long with a straight spear on the end with a slight curve for sloughing fish, Straddy picked up this pew and he says “Nobody’s robbing me.” He ran after the guy. The guy jumped overboard and swam to the beach and he didn’t get Straddy’s money laughs.
AP
So a cash buyer is someone who buys fish as opposed to selling straight to the cannery?
WW
Yeah, there’s more and more of them now. Even that good Adams River one we had there that was supposed to be record breaking numbers was in, I guess it was 2010. Anyway, there was an American they couldn’t ... There was not a lot of sockeye caught that year, in particular in Washington. So there were American buyers up here and their dollar being stronger influenced the price. The prices have this tendency to vary dramatically, generally going down. It starts out with a decent price. At the beginning of the season it’ll go down every week, quite often. That year there, it went up because of the American influence. There was, I would guess, maybe eight cash buyers, off the top of my head, that were here that year. The bulk of gillnetters were not selling to the corporate world. Some were, some, but the bulk were doing their own thing now, including going to the cash buyers. A lot of guys are value adding and marketing on their own.
01:05:00.000
01:05:00.000
AP
So a cash buyer, would he literally weigh your fish and give you cash in that moment?
WW
Yup, that’s right. Yeah. Some were notorious for being able to doctor their scales up. There’s something about the fishing industry that attracts characters of that dubious distinction, shall we say. The scale can weigh fine up to 100 pounds. When you start putting more all of a sudden you don’t get accurate readings. It’s one of the scans that they do. So you’ve got to build a trust up with who you’re working with as far as selling to.
AP
If you sold fish to the cannery, did they just monitor it and pay you out or did they also pay you on a daily basis?
WW
No, you book it. You book it and you’d go and get draws, drags we called it, on a weekly basis. In my youth, the man running the collector, the packer we called him, I didn’t realize just how significant his influence was with the people in the offices in the corporate world. What comes to mind now, my first year I ran a company boat and it turns out this was a standard ploy. They’d give you a boat that’s on its last; prone to a lot of breakdown. What they’re testing is to see if you have the desire to keep going. The boat I had was called Nell Boat Twenty-Six. My first company boat and it was breaking down every week, pulling by hand quite a few times and that. These are heavy boats so when you’re pulling a commercial net that’s 200 fathoms long by hand it’s a pretty tiring task but I was determined I was going to fish so I just persevered. We’re in towards September, the pink humpback time, and it blew pretty hard and the day wasn’t bad, wasn’t great production-wise. The wind would come up so my dad said “Well, I’m going to not fish” went delivered at the entrance to Steveston. I was undecided. I said “Okay, I guess I’ll bail, too. I won’t fish anymore because of the wind.” I go to deliver, Stan Leslie was the collector’s name, packer man’s name, and along comes another uncle of mine delivering. I asked “Are you going out uncle?” “Yeah, I’m going.” “Can I tag along?” He says, “Certainly.” So, that I know of, there was less than twenty guys went out that night. My uncle, on that particular stage of the tide, his favorite spot was at the mouth of the Fraser. So I go down there and I’m just a young pup, right, and I’m following him along and he’s a good producer so I’m happy to be in his vicinity. What happened out of that, Stan went to the company ... Well, he had asked me, that’s right, I remember that, when I’m delivering he says “You’re not going to go out in this are you, Wilfred?” “Oh, yeah. I’m going to follow my uncle.” He says, “I wouldn’t go.” This boats a pile of junk that I’m running. “I got my uncle near me. I’ll be alright.” So I’m going along and I wasn’t that productive on my first year but, there again, when you show that incentive, um, and I’ll admit to this, I actually sunk that boat twice that year, very inexperienced, and almost a third time. At the end of the season my dad told me “You better think about getting a land job, son. You’re not going to make it.” It felt like I was stabbed, literally. I remember that and I said “Dad, I’m going to do whatever it takes. I’ll get a job as a deckhand on a seine boat or a trawl or whatever it takes. I’m going to get my own boat.” This is at breakfast, when we were communicating. He sat there for a bit and he said “Okay, kid. One more year.” He goes, “If you can’t get your act together there’ll be no more help from me. You’ve got to buckle down.” I was young and partying a bit too much, enjoying freedom, no more school. My dad’s deal was no grade twelve, no boat. So, unlike most guys in the fishing industry I completed my grade twelve. A little later, nine months, say, into the winter there, at breakfast my dad said “I don’t know why, son, but the company’s willing to back you to buy a boat.” He goes, “I don’t know what they see in you” but then again I think back to with Stan and that and he watched me for the course of the year and that and he knew that I had that desire.
01:10:14.000
01:10:14.000
WW
So, yeah, they backed me for a boat and the engine went on the first year. They quit making that. That ended in 1952, I think it was, I remember it was a 235 cubic inch Chevy. I couldn’t get parts. I bought that boat the second year of finishing got in front of Smith River and the engine seized. So, I’m in debt already to buy a boat and the company’s not wanting to finance me more. So I sat there for quite a few weeks, missed a season of sockeye at Smith River, went and got the new engine at the end of the season and go from being eight grand in debt to fifteen thousand in debt at the end of my first year. I had an engine that worked and I paid that off in four years, ’73 to ’77, yup. I was going to go two years I would save after having paid it off and I got approached by a cousin that said “If we build two aluminum boats here I’m looking at, we can get a better deal.” I said, “No, I don’t think so Ed. I’m planning for two years of saving.” He goes, “Oh, come and look.” The next thing I know I’m signing a contract and it was the best thing that ever happened to me because it was the last year of the Fisheries Improvement fixed loan, 1978, locked at eight and three quarters in the early '80s when the interest rate soared in the twenty-first century, I was protected. That saved me, literally. So many men ... The trend was modernizing of the fleet. A lot of guys did and they paid full retail. I built that boat myself for a quarter of what some other guys paid for theirs, literally. Some of those men lost those boats to the banks.
AP
When the company provided the funds, they tacked on interest onto that or was it fronted, the money, and you paid it back through the fish?
WW
No, there’s no interest charged. There was a lot of ill feeling, shall we say, to the corporate world. In those circumstances there, they were actually amazing to me. They knew that they needed fishermen, I guess. To jump ahead into the more recent times, an individual stated to me the corporate world puts all their value in their vessels because they own the seine boats now, the bigger boats. He goes, “They’re starting to realize there’s a certain amount of value to the fishers.” They didn’t have the best working relationships but at that time, for me, it was amazing. I didn’t get that boat until May, the hull, I didn’t get to fishing until July 21, 1978. I was in arrears. I can remember my dad telling me, “Son, you just got to go. Just go. Worry about finishing it off later.” At the end of that first season I didn’t have my boat payment made due to the lack of fishing time. I’ll always remember the manager ... Sorry, I’ll backtrack. I was contemplating building a boat, decided on it, I was alone here, this is in the '70s. I couldn’t get financing. My next door neighbor, I got him a job fishing with an uncle of mine. He’s a clean cut guy. Two years, he bought his own boat, the same time as me and then in the winter of ’77 he bought a newer, used boat, but a good one, fiberglass. He had no problem getting financing and I did. I was frustrated but I’d given up. I tried three different banking institutes. Having been at the company, and my manager knew I was contemplating building, “How’s it going?” “Not great, I’d given up.” He goes, “Are you serious about this boat?” “Yes, I am.” “Just a minute,” he said. He picked up the phone, called the head accountant at BC Packers who happened to be the brother of a family friend. He picks up the phone, calls him, and he says “Just a minute, I’ll ask Wilfred. Can you be there in ten minutes down at the main office?” “Certainly.” Away I go, chatted with Nick for a bit. He asked the same question “You’re serious?” “Yes, I am.” He goes, “Let me see what I can do,” picks the phone up, calls the Royal Bank in Steveston, “There’s a young man here showing potential, he’s showing interest seeking financing. Just a minute. I’ll ask him. Can you be there in ten minutes?” “Yeah.” Down I go, I had the loan. Just like that, I couldn’t believe it; by the corporate word.
01:15:03.000
01:15:03.000
WW
So then when I didn’t have my bank payment made, my manager, I’d see him there after the season’s over, he’s aware. He says, “Wilfred, we can’t have you not make your payment on the first year, we’d know.” He’s qualified for that role and he had to be the overseer, my manager. I’d never seen him the whole time I’m building this boat. He was getting word from everybody else on the water because of the small world scenario. I was putting incredible hours on this thing, literally working until I was so physically exhausted I just dropped the tools I was using and laid down and I’d go to sleep on the boat. I did that a few times doing my best. So to jump back to that he says “We can’t not have you make the payment. What are you short?” He knew because he was doing my books, and it was three grand. He says, “We can give you that, Wilfred, and a thousand dollars more. Will that get you to Christmas?” I was so happy, “Oh, yeah.” So that was the only year I had problems making my payments and, of course, I had to pay them back, of course, but, then again, there was no interest.
AP
So when they give you the loan are you obligated to just provide fish to them or is it just sort of a ...
WW
No, not even handshake, just a gentleman’s agreement where, yeah, that’s what it was. I was so thrilled to have this boat underneath me. Another thing comes to mind now is I just paid that wood boat off and I had a little bit of money in my pocket but not enough for a down payment. So I go and look at this hull with my cousin and films and everything like that and I wanted to sign a contract but I think I was a thousand dollars short for a down payment to the bank. I had to go to my dad and he wasn’t well. He was ill at the time. So I talked with my sisters on whether or not to approach him. So we agreed that, yes, he was well enough to approach. So my dad said “Yeah, son, of course I’ll lend you $1000” but he goes “I am retiring soon. I want to be paid back.” I said, “Well, of course dad, you know that.” He goes, “I know, but I had to say it” he says. He goes, “To tell you the truth, you scare me sometimes in that boat that’s under you now.” He says, “I feel better if you have a newer boat underneath you.” He says, “You have my blessing.” I still have that boat. It’s still a good boat, a heck of a work boat. It’s been through an incredible amount. I’ve been through an incredible amount with it. That was in ’78 that I built it.
AP
Do you have multiple boats now?
WW
I do.
AP
And each one is for a different purpose?
WW
Yeah. In ’96, I believe it was, the government came out with area fishing. It made it very attractive to put up the three gillnet licenses on one boat and you could fish the entire coast, basically, because it was split into three areas. I went through a lot of soul searching deciding whether to stack licenses. A lot of men got financing to buy additional licenses because we were told we were going to get more fishing time. There was going to be less boats in the area, less fishers in a given area, you get more time. Well, it never really materialized and I know men that have lost their houses and wives and even boats to the bank, at the time. I was undecided whether to stack. You put up the three licenses on one boat. I kept mine separate. A little bit of research on the internet had shown that in countries like New Zealand, Australia, Iceland come to mind when the corporate world started to eliminate license access. They were controlled really immensely and it has here in Canada. Anyway, I thought, well, if it comes down to quota fishing and that I want to have my licenses here on the Fraser. So I kept my licenses separate, thinking it’d be easier to get but we still haven’t gotten quota yet. We’re the only fishery in British Columbia that’s not quota. Every other fishery is quota except for salmon gillnet.
01:20:04.000
01:20:04.000
WW
So I questioned my business decision keeping the licenses separate. I inherited my dad’s license so I didn’t have to put up the cost of purchasing it. So I have two licensed boats. I have a herring one that I’m very seriously, as I was saying, thinking about using next year than selling my end. I did some major renovations on that over the recent past here. I inherited another vessel that’s in dry dock here in Steveston that I just now decided I’m going to rebuild. I just bought a used engine for that two weeks ago. I got two years in mind to redo that boat. In fact, I have four and, like I say, I question myself on that. I actively got income from two.
AP
You have siblings. Are you the only one that’s out on the water fishing?
WW
Yeah. I have four siblings. Two older sisters and then my parents separated. I have a half-brother and half-sister. My brother’s fished with some really good seine boatmen. He gillnetted for a while, didn’t really like it but he didn’t like fishing. He’s actually a very gifted artist, west coast art. I will mention this, he has two pieces in the Museum of Man permanence collection. One is in Victoria permanent collection as well. . So his desire was not to fish throughout his life, complete life.
AP
You seem to want to fish quite early on in life. Was that something you always wanted to do and pursue even as a young boy?
WW
My dad pulled me out of school in grade two a month early. It was the year when the fish come back small but they come back early and he knew that. My parents had separated prior to that so he had problems getting a caregiver for the summer. So the girls, one went to my grandmother and another one went to an aunt and I went with dad at eight years of age. In the May, we left. That was the beginning of my career. I knew from a really young age that I wanted to be working on the water. I’d do a bit of tow boating in the winter months here now. It’s been slow this past winter. I hardly worked at all. A friend of mine, he got ... They kept one license, this one company and now they’re in the big waves with tow boats, water taxis. They’re both lifelong friends. I work with them when needed, kind of thing.
AP
Do you feel more at home, at east on the water or when you’re on land?
WW
There’s ... Really off. I went for the first time in the end of February to A Story of Oregon. In 1998 they started a fisher poet gathering there at the end of February and I was a reader this year. There’s fishermen from Alaska, fisherwoman, a large representation of fisherwoman, I was very impressed, out of Alaska present at this. So your question was ... There’s a poem I did. I debated for a few years whether to contact the people there and I did this year in January. So I missed the printing of the readers and that but they squeezed me in and it was a fabulous weekend. It reminded me, A Story of Oregon reminded me of Steveston thirty years ago. It’s still an old town, fish, log, not that there was logging here but logging is active there now. It was a very impressive weekend. I’m trying to now organize one here. I am. I’ve got a date booked for October 15th at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery here for the first ever fisher poet gathering. I’ve got word out there’s going to be a few people that have already stated they will participate. I’m getting a flyer made here very soon before the fleets sails on salmon. I’ve contacted friends on the coast that have agreed to put flyers out for me. My goal is to eventually have a trust fund for retired fishermen. I’ve been told not this first year. I better learn to crawl first before I go too much farther with this.
01:25:01.000
01:25:01.000
WW
There’s a lot of individuals, as I was saying, that are saying they want to be involved. The one in a story you have to have come from a fishing history and the songs, storytelling, and poems have to be regarding fishing. So, yeah, I’m at ease on both places. When you’re gone for so long you get tired of your own cooking, being a one man operation, sometimes two men with my gillnetter or deckhand. So you’re anxious when you get back. Not long after you want to go alone again, especially this time of the year with the maintenance issues. You’ve got money going out, nothing coming in and you’re doing all these repairs and maintenance and whatever. So it’s nice to just go again. When my kids were younger it used to bother me immensely to leave. It weighed very heavily on me but it was amazing, I would get to the mouth of the Fraser River, turn the corner to go north, usually to Prince Rupert, and all those issues get put behind. It’s a job. There’s part of you that gets focused for a few months, and you do think of home but if you’re a fisher you just want to be there. You want to be there and be productive.
AP
So you’re a poet as well?
WW
Yes. Yeah, an acupuncturist of all people is the one that said I should contemplate it and I did. Actually, I think I did a pretty good job on the story because I was complemented by a few people including a professor from Berkley University. It was an English professor. Her statement was “I know you’re a first time reader but you’re onto something.” She said, “Don’t give up.” She goes, “And I should know because I’m a professor” is what she divulged to me. I’m sixty-two now and I’ve been thinking “Okay, now what am I going to do here now in the latter part of my life?” Other than the hobbies that I have now, I’m looking for something more because as we slow down with age and that ... I think this poet gathering is going to be a huge fulfillment for a hole I want to fill with involvement. There, again, it’s going to be with fishers. A Story was a fabulous weekend; four days there and when you get together with your peers ... That’s what I used to love about the ... When we travelled the coast, you’re travelling with buddies. In the weekend, you’re with your peers and you get to chat about your work and eat good, maybe party a bit, everything and that. We would get so consumed with our work. We fished a lot, too. I fished twenty-five days in the month of July one year on the Skeena. So all you do is ... There’s no time to party. There’s no time to socialize in those years but on weekends it’s always nice to get together and, you know, in a group of guys one guy cooks certain things and other guys do their thing and have a potluck dinner on somebody’s boat. That’s a really nice bonus of the job.
AP
When you went to A Story, was that the first time you read your poetry?
WW
Yes, it is. It was. They had a cancellation so they squeezed me in at the last moment there and, yeah, it’s a nice feeling when you can ... because it was stated to me by others there in the audience that “You took us there. We were with you.” I guess that’s part of the objective of poetry when you can transfer somebody into your world, shall we say, in this case.
AP
How long have you been writing poetry?
WW
It’s been about five years now, I guess. I got kind of stale in my communication. I’m not a computer guy. I can use a computer but I don’t like it. I can’t sit more than five minutes. Anyway, I realized now I’m going to be doing this fisher gathering and I have to become better versed in computer use. So yeah, it was interesting when it was first suggested to me. I was asked if I’d ever written any poetry.
01:30:00.000
01:30:00.000
WW
I’m on the table receiving acupuncture treatment and I knew the woman well. I said, “No.” “Well, you should” she says. “You might find it relaxing.” So not long after, I’m in the household by myself having breakfast and there’s a pen and paper there. That was the beginning of it there for me. That first one is one of my betters I consider and that’s called Channel Blues. It’s a feeling that fishermen go through when you’ve been gone for too long and you want to get back. That’s what that one was about.
AP
You ever write on the water or is it when you’re on land?
WW
Mostly on land. A little bit ... I did a real good one and I lost it. I can’t recall it. It’s been bugging me, that one. No, it’s all experiences from the past that come to mind for me that I do my poetry on. Most of it is, pardon me.
AP
Here’s a question that might strike you as odd but I’m curious to know, do you like eating fish?
WW
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oddly enough, not during the season. My brother, when he fished, would keep one fish a week and we’d eat that. When you’re handling them on a daily basis it just, all of a sudden, loses its appeal to me. I bought an industrial vacuum packer with my family and it’s incredible quality. It’s a significant family gathering when we get together a few times a year to work on fish, be it canning or freezing. It’s a very happy time. It’s something we all look forward to. So, yeah, I eat a fair amount of fish in the off season.
AP
The fish that you freeze, do you grill it? I’m assuming you have a variety of ways that you prepare it.
WW
Yeah, my favorite is in soup or barbequing. I would actually say barbequing’s first and then soup and then frying, or, and then baking. I like sushi but I don’t have the ability to get that fish frozen cold enough. So it’s just in restaurants, that.
AP
Speaking of food and eating, out on the water, what are meals like? Do you take some food? Do you ever eat the fish that you catch when you’re out fishing?
WW
You keep them for the weekend. Generally, you’re so highball, we call it. So you’re just looking for something quick. I have a ... For quite a long time, actually. I would say a few decades. I had this habit of not eating enough when I was tired. I came home one year, I was 163 pounds and I was a mature man at the time. Right now I’m 220. My wife fed me like a king for a month laughs. She didn’t like the looks of me that year at all. Yeah, I ate a lot to put a bit of weight back on but you get so tired and that was me. I’d buy all the groceries at the beginning of the week and then I wouldn’t even use it. That one year, there was a young kid come down and he was looking to make pocket money. He’d wait on the water. He’d come and clean a man’s boat up, he’d help rack a net, he did the dishes. Whatever he’s willing to do to make a buck to help your life because the turnaround time is really short sometimes. The weekends when you’re no longer fishing, so if you fish three days of a four day week but the chances are, in season, you’re not taking any time off because you’ve got all the maintenance issues, ice, and fuel. It became evident to me at a young age that usually what goes on fishers is their legs from the years of bracing and abuse. So what I could do, I always enjoyed bike riding as a kid so I still bike ride to this day. I was bike riding this morning with my dog. I figured that would be a good way to keep the legs in good shape because on my boat, a thirty-five footer, you’re walking twenty, twenty-five feet back and forth throughout the summer.
01:35:00.000
01:35:00.000
WW
So I used to, in Prince Rupert, on a weekend, your nets on the rack, you get up, and you’d have a coffee, do a bit of network, and you’d get these waves of rain come there. You’ll see them and they go by pretty quick in the summer months so everybody retreats in and goes and drinks coffee. As soon as the rain quits, boom, you’re back out there again. It could be a five or ten minute break but it’s nice. Anyway, I used to bike ride up, do this ritual, have toast and coffee, network, develop a hunger, I’d bike ride up to Prince Rupert uphill, get a breakfast, and then stop at Safeway on the way down with my backpack and, you know, enough to buy to fit in the backpack. It’ll be easy to get it back because the boat ... not over buying, because I’d be going back for dinner twice a day on the good season. Like I say, you tire if you don’t cook. So I have sandwiches on the boat for lunch but I’d go up for dinner, bike ride up. That way I get all my grub back. You do feel better when you get the legs working out a bit.
AP
I’m conscious of the time and that you might want to get going. So it’s 12:20 now, do you want to wrap up for today?
WW
It’s up to you. I don’t, um, like this would be the end of this now and it would be basically it.
AP
Yeah, if you would like to end it, sure.
WW
No, I mean, as far as you’re here. Alex and Wilfred continue to discuss whether they wish to continue the interview.
WW
Sorry, I just drew something here now.
AP
Sure, yeah, please.
WW
My family had been involved in fishing for generations. Since the beginning of the canning we’ve been involved in fishing and that. As I mentioned, we’re very independent there. There was an uncle of mine that was probably one of the better fishermen that I’ve known in my life. He died of cancer over twenty years ago. At that time, the man that broke that rope, I won’t go into more about it, but Kenny, we said “You know, all that knowledge, all that history is lost. We’ve never sat and tapped into that. We’ve got to start recording” and we didn’t. This Christmas we had an elder friend pass away and a cousin pass away. So it came to me again about not recording. So I started writing some of my experiences of life, mostly on the water. I’d gotten out maybe 140 stories I recorded. Anywhere from one page to twenty pages. Most of them would just be relevant to my family to read and have an understanding of what we do. There’s lots in there that wouldn’t be of interest, I think, to a lot of people but it’s mostly, like I say, related to fishing. I’m wanting to make sure, and I stopped now but I will again next winter, write, again, some more. Those stories came so easily I didn’t have to think about them. Now, after so many, I’ve got to start thinking of different things now that click with me. I’m going to start writing down certain things that will stimulate my memory next winter.
AP
Yeah, I’ve often heard people always mention “I have a story but it won’t be interesting” or “It’s not relevant” but it always is. Anyone reflecting on things that happened in the past, or their feelings, it’s going to be interesting or relevant or whatever you want to call it to somebody down the line. I think, even just that whole idea of reflecting on the past and whatnot is important, independent of any other consideration. Someone down the line listening to that ... I’ve never been convinced that anything like that is ever irrelevant or not important. I mean, that’s just my view. It’s funny, my father said when he was a young boy he used to listen to the, at that point they would have been elderly people in his family talking about the history of their family and how they got to the physical location that they were at now. He said, as a child, you know, you listen to it, sort of, in the background because you’re being told to sit there and listen to it and you just want to go outside and play, and then you get a big older so you get interested in other things. He always said, “I wish that I had even taken just a couple pages of notes of names and where they came from and dates, and that would have been such a wealth of information.” Those people now are gone and, with that, all of that is gone as well.
01:40:11.000
01:40:11.000
WW
Exactly. Um, allow me this one. I was under ten, August, in the midst of the heavy fishing. The weekend, I helped the guy put a net on and the current was running so strong that he had to go out into the river to turn the boat to try and land it properly. Part of my payment ... I would have been eight, nine years of age. Part of my payment, well, my payment was a bottle of pop, an orange Crush pop. Coming in for a landing and that, I went overboard. I was on the bow, I had the bow rope and I jumped and in I went ... Well, Gordon completed the tie up, went up the float, up the ramp, and there were seven men standing up at the top there, various places there working. Gordon says, “Where’s Wilfred?” Well, my uncle bolted down and he’d seen my hand. It was August, like I say, the river’s really murky. He’d seen my hand and he said he got me by the hair. He literally picked me out of the water by my hair. I can remember when I stood on the float looking at this bottle of orange Crush still in my hand. I thought I was in trouble. So I bolted up the float, up the ramp, passed this group of eight men, now. Wally was behind me, whatever. It was rare but my grandparents lived right there and it was rare for granny to come down to the dock, and she had at that moment. She sees me and she started screaming. I thought that was at me. I thought I was in trouble. I went and hid in the bushes by the smokehouse. I missed dinner. Hunger drove me out. I can hear her screaming at these men when I’m in the bushes hiding there. As I say, hunger drove me out. Well, granny wasn’t mad at me. She was all loving for me when I come in the house. I was fed well and whatever. From that I’m working on a poem and, if I may, I’m going to recite part of it. I don’t have it finished but they say hell hath no fear like a woman’s scorned. On this day my gran raised the bar. Let me see now, um, there was rumor the pine didn’t settle more than a foot that day. The sockeye run was delayed by more than a week. Tough grown men shook in their very boots. Heads were hung ne’er even a murmur. Granny’s delivery of scorn that day will be remembered forever more laughs. Yeah, that was one life experience that comes to me.
AP
So your grandmother, was the shore, sort of, the realm of man and people that fished or did she just not get to the shore just because of what she did and ...
WW
Oh, no, she was getting on in age and all and more in the household. She used to go north with my grandfather. When Hell’s Gate happened on the Fraser, the salmon fishing just dried right up. It’s common knowledge but it’s not that commonly known but the Natives in the area around Hell’s Gate came from up river, ran down, and packed fish up. That’s why, in baskets. They know that they have to have some spawn. So my family started going to the Skeena because the fishing was so poor in the Fraser, and that’s in the company day like I was saying. I don’t know the title of it, my grandfather had packer and he was a manager. He asked me if I wanted to go north and he was given money by the company to dole out to these guys with the understanding that they would go north. So he had over thirty guys, that time. One story was, they were towing down through Hell’s, uh, Seymour Narrows when Ripple Rock was still there and that. The man on the wheel didn’t get them up in time and they had this major calamity going through Seymour Narrows with Ripple Rock still there. Anyway, granny and them, they stayed a week and a day to go up with those five horsepower Vivians or Easthopes or whatever the engine was and the whole family would go.
01:45:05.000
01:45:05.000
WW
They’d put a tent on the back of the boat so everybody would have somewhere to lay down and then the company houses came into effect. My grandfather fished for Cassiar and the company houses were there. So granny, when she got there, she didn’t go onto the boat anymore fishing but she was there as support and that. I always remember my dad telling me when the flag went up, that meant the bread was ready, and dinner was up and ready, what a certain flag meant. So they would just duck in and grab whatever and then carry on kind of thing and that. That was in my dad’s youth where that cannery shut down and that lifestyle was gone. Another one that comes to mind, my dad was a real young kid and he was working on a packer, physically exhausted, not being able to go to sleep by the skipper because they’re collecting fish. So dad found a spot between the fuel tank and the hull where he could go to sleep and not be found. They thought he fell overboard. A major incident there, everybody’s searching for him. Skeena has incredibly fast currents. It’s feared that he’s gone. After quite a few hours of sleep he’d come climbing out laughs much to the relief of everybody but I bet you a lot weren’t too impressed laughs. Yeah. Both my sons have no desire to fish. One is now saying that he may. He went through university for theatre and he’s enjoying it but it’s a tough job to make a decent living. Now, all of a sudden he’s starting to say he may want to fish if he could do it on somewhat of a part-time basis, like, say, three months of the year and then still pursue his acting career. I have those boats. That was part of the reason why I decided on more than one boat for my licenses. I’ll go back to that because we’re given a timeframe to decide whether we’re going to stack the license on one boat or not. I always go to sleep easy but I was waking up at one, two, three in the morning thinking about this decision and I have a lot of nights like that. They already announced that the Skeena was not going to open that year and Nass was not going to open so I wasn’t going to go north. So, consequently, I have all this energy and I consider I have, probably, the best garden in that year. I’m trying to decide whether to stack licenses or not and I’m out there getting troubled by slugs. So I’m really off subject here. A neighbor had seen me in the day and he goes “Wilfred, were you out in your garden last night about three in the morning?” I go, “Yeah, John, I was.” He’s like “I see this flashlight out there and I was getting ready to phone the police” he says “but then I thought, that’s not in the house there, that’s in the garden. That’s got to be that crazy Will.” I’m out there trying to decide what I’m going to do and help me to make my decision and one day at daylight it dawned on me. If I don’t stack and put my licenses on separate boats, I could have one in the north, one in the south, I could be home more, fly home, fish the Fraser, and see my family. As soon as I said that to myself, no more wrestling with this I’m keeping them separate. It did work a few times where I flew home and it’s pretty nice to be in the midst of it there. In the old days you’d be there at least another month. So all of a sudden just jump on a plane and fly down, fish a day, fly back up again. It hasn’t worked to the same degree. We’re not getting the fishing time here in the Fraser. The benefit was there for a while, no doubt. You get home here when there’s no fleet here on the Fraser, it’s a big, big advantage for production.
AP
Would you be happy to see your son get into fishing?
WW
Yes, but I also am a realist in that when my dad told me to get a land job it literally did feel like I got knifed. It’s just not what I wanted to hear. I’ve always said, to be good at something it’s known you have to have a passion, you have to have drive. I fully understand. I said that to my three children. To get good you’ve got to be committed and I understand. If they don’t like the water that’s understandable. I’m not going to make them do anything they don’t want. So it’s interesting to see him now look at it as an option and it happened to be a major shift in the net sheds in Steveston here now because they’re doing some reconstruction on the wharfs.
01:50:18.000
01:50:18.000
WW
So my net shed had to be moved entirely and my youngest boy who’s contemplating fishing was there helping. The forklift operator, I’ve known all his life. He’s younger than me, Japanese, and his dad tied up in the Atagi’s. He was commenting about how there’s nobody coming up. There’s nobody in the Japanese community that’s pursuing fishing. There’s going to be a huge hole in manpower, of fisher power. So my son’s listening to this and he started thinking about this part-time fishing and creating income to pursue time off for his acting career. So it’s interesting how it comes about because James, is this individual’s name, stated that no young people can afford to get into it now. It’s too costly, too hard to get the licensing. Well, I’ve got a boat, I’ve got extra licenses, I’ve got the gear. Kieran is listening to this and he’s soaking it all in. We didn’t say anything to James but, you know, Kieran’s in a position, and my daughter, out of the three children, likes to fish the most. She’s asked me a few years ago, “What are we going to do dad when you’re too old to fish? What are we going to do to get ours?” So we discussed the options, including a car topper, or getting aboard a family member’s boat, or what have you. So now this is potentially an option and I’m saying to these guys, you know, you can have this boat to get your food fished. You wouldn’t have to depend upon anybody else. Before my mom passed away, she stated to me ... Oh, pardon me. You’re going to open up another can here now laughs. There was a census taken in 1929 and my grandfather had gone through this troubled times at residential school. So him and his siblings didn’t register as Indian and tried a variety of communities to live in and settled in the Ladner area. My grandfather stated this is the best, by far. He said, “The majority here are hardworking people and they respect you if you’re a contributor to society.” There was racism, there still is in the world, we know that, but in that day it may have been a bit more. It was. My grandfather liked the respect that he was given in the Ladner community and so we settled there, but to go back to that not being registered, in the '80s my mother, who’s Native as well, got her status back. There was a law changed so she had me registered, without even my knowing. It’s interesting how, now, society has changed and we’ve become a melting pot. There’s not that same tension in our society. It’s a beautiful thing to see. My mom stated, at the time, “I’m not going to be alive forever. Well, I can’t be providing fish for the family. That’s going to fall to you.” She had registered me with her band in a village out on the Northern Vancouver Island area. In order for me to food fish I had to be in that area. So my grandmother was from Musqueam here in Vancouver. So I had asked mom if I could transfer. She said, “No.” She thought about it and that’s when she said “I’m not going to be able to provide fish. You are. It makes sense. You’ve got family here. You live here. You have my blessing. You can now transfer.” So I approached a cousin of mine at Musqueam and he said “Yes. If it comes to a vote, Wilfred, I’ll pull some favors. Don’t you worry.” So I transferred into Musqueam and then, now, like I say, I’m going to my kids again with them consuming seafood.
01:55:00.000
01:55:00.000
WW
There’s going to be, I hope, a satisfying feeling for me when I see my children want to run their own boat and if it’s just for food fishing I can live with that very nicely. I’d be very happy. So it’s come around again and, to go back to that about becoming Indian again, my uncle John I used to visit him a lot to have tea. He said, “You know, Wilfred, I’m wondering if dad’s rolling over in his grave knowing we’ve become Indian again” is what he said. So I thought about it a few days and I’d come back to my uncle, I go “You know, when I can remember grandpa, his passion for fishing was so strong, and the way society’s changed, uncle, don’t you think that he couldn’t sit on the dock when everybody else is out food fishing? Don’t you think he’d want to be Indian again?” As simplistic as that sounds, my uncle he says “You know what, you’re right, maybe grandpa wouldn’t be rolling over in his grave.” So we chatted about that quite a bit and he got registered again. My mom was the one that said “You know, we haven’t changed. We still live the way we always have, but now that society is becoming a little more understanding this is a good thing.” So, you know, we always hunted we always fished. Sorry, one more here. I used to barter with a man, an Asian man. He raised chickens for fish. He used to get around 100 chickens a year. A split wouldn’t survive. He’d usually lose three or four. One year a mink farm had an escape, and they did havoc on his chickens. Come time I get a call saying “We’re coming with your chickens, Wilfred.” “There was twenty-seven.” “What happened?” They told me about the mink and I said “This is all that survived?” He goes, “Yeah.” “Well, I can’t take these. Do you want to take them back or do you want to split them?” He says, “No, no, no. You gave us fish already. We’re going to buy our own for ourselves. So this is all you get this year.” So later that year, we were having one chicken a week with those fifty or whatever it was. Later that year, we’d run out, I’d go and buy a chicken at Safeway. In our household, when my wife’s busy with her work I cook. When I’m busy at this time of year, she cooks. Pretty standard for years. That year I’d bought the chicken at Safeway, cooked it, we’re eating it, and my son Kieran who was, say, maybe five years of age, he said “Did you get this chicken dad?” I go, “Yes, I did son.” He goes, “Oh, where did you go hunting?” I go “Thank you son. Thank you. I’m going to remember that the rest of my life.” He literally thought everything that we ate was either caught or shot by me laughs. That’s really good. I love that laughs. So I broke my leg rather severe five years ago, tibia fibula, four breaks from the knee to the ankle. I made a full recovery through quite a bit of self-determination; eleven month recovery. I still fished that year and that but you start getting a little more aware of one’s frailty. As you age and whatever and that you start having value changes when you have that input from your family. The reason I brought that up is in the blood test that was given to me, the doctor says “How is your cholesterol so low?” “I don’t know.” “What’s your secret?” “I don’t know.” She goes, “Well, what do you eat?” So I told her and she goes “That explains it right there.” She said “That would say why your cholesterol ... You have the cholesterol of a twenty year old.” If you’re fortunate enough to have ... It’s known that Natives on the coast here have high protein consumption and it’s still to this day and that for everybody but I more so hear it because we didn’t have a wide variety of vegetables so we’re big consumers of protein, fish, undulates and what have you. Oh, there’s a story. We used to eat sturgeon. It’s no longer legal now but back in my youth it was.
02:00:00.000
02:00:00.000
WW
What we would do is we’d ... They’re incredibly tough. They’re prehistoric. It’s proven that they’re that aged in their transition in history. I kept two. We released the under four footers. Because they’re so tough, you keep them alive until you get to the dock, tie them by the tail, hang them overboard, tie them to the railing, and if you leave them a couple, three days they’ll clean themselves out. It’s better for eating. So I got two hanging overboard there. They seemed to be three footers. I’m cleaning one, head’s off, guts are out. They have cartilage, not a spine. The main artery goes along the back of where the cartilage is. Head removed, I’m holding it by the gill scraping the blood off and down comes one of my cousins down the ramp. He called out to me, “Hi.” I look up and this sturgeon’s nerves kicked in and the tail came up and it literally cut my face with its tail, slapped me in the face. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I threw it overboard. My cousin says, “Well, have you still got the other one?” I go “Yeah, I do.” He goes, “If you’re going to throw them overboard I’ll take it” he says. So then a few more years go by, I’m married, working on my net in the yard, getting them up this time of year, getting ready, my wife calls me in for a sturgeon meal, just the two of us in the household. I sit down and I look and I got sturgeon and she doesn’t. I said, “What’s going on here?” She goes, “I can’t help but think how long these things live and the fact that there’s debris coming down from Prince George and elsewhere in the system on top of these. I’m not going to eat them anymore.” I look at my plate and I register what she stated, I push my plate away, and I go “Is there any more of that?” and she got up and went to the microwave. She knows me so well she had another meal ready for me there. That was the last time we almost ate sturgeon. That was around 1980. Shortly thereafter they were banned from harvest.
AP
Are the sturgeon still, the population in the water, is it very low now?
WW
I actually was on the board of directors for the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society that Rick Hansen headed at the time. When I broke my leg, that was over five months of zero weight bearing and eleven months in recovery. For an active individual immobility is really tough, really tough. So I wasn’t attending the meetings of the Sturgeon Society. I was contacted by them. I wasn’t in a good frame. So, anyway, they put a new law in and if you miss three meetings you’re off the board. To answer your question about population, I was involved in the tagging of sturgeon, quite a few. They were showing the numbers increasing. In my youth you could sell anything over three feet in length of sturgeon. The numbers were reduced dramatically. There was an incredible commercial harvest a century ago that decimated the population. They’re coming back well here now and we’re seeing numbers here now that we don’t see in the past. They’re more visible. The theory is they surface at high water to gulp oxygen to increase their ability to absorb food, whether that’s accurate or not, but you do see them in high water. We never would, in our younger years, see them. Now we see these big ones jumping at times. There’s a story my dad told me of when his youth fishing canoe passed in the Ladner area waiting turns, you’re anchored up, it’s Fall fishing, and it’s a giant sturgeon that’s being caught, and it’s doing a lot of damage. The boats were relatively low, around the twenty-eight footer length in that day, double enders. The sturgeon are being released a second, a third, and a fourth time by each man that’s coming down on the drift. It got to where nobody wanted the set. In the fishing, times are getting good and the fishing’s going to get better. One guy says “I’ll go.” So he sets. He caught the sturgeon. It’s a very shallow canoe pass. Dad said he’d seen this. This thing proved to be over 700 pounds later. This man gets it up, and this thing’s tired out now considerably after going through all this gear. The man actually put his arm in the throat of this sturgeon, right down it, and they have what they call scoots.
02:05:11.000
02:05:11.000
WW
The older ones get worn down. The young one’s is incredibly sharp and they’re facing the tail. This sturgeon literally, like anything with something crammed down its throat is going to react. It started squirming and it literally came right into this boat. My dad said they watched it. There’s no ability in that sturgeon to break the man’s arm at that stage because it’s so tired. It literally came right in the boat and he picked it up. He says, “I’ve got to go now. I’ve got to go on delivery” he says. That’s how they knew it was over 700 pounds. They’re all female, the bigger ones. So I regret not having parted better from the Sturgeon Society but, like I say, it was a pretty tough time for me at that time. I thought I may not be able to walk properly again, or be in pain, or have a limp, or whatever. So, I did everything that was stated to me to recover and I have. They actually discarded a half inch of my skeleton that history shows, that’s just below the knee, it shows that if it’s left it can get very complicated and to re-operate. It can be worse. So they said it may grow back, or it may not, and it didn’t. So I jokingly state that the creator robbed me of a bit of my skeleton to slow me down for everybody else to catch up a bit. The only time it troubles me is at heavy seas. On the second or third day of Fall fishing, more tougher weather, a few years ago I can feel my leg a little bit. So I thought that’s a sign, the end of the season. It was getting close, and after being on the bike for three out of four days in a row, everything felt good again. So it was one of those bodily damages you regret later but I have no pain, I have no limp, and I can walk normal. I’m a pretty happy guy.
AP
On that note, perhaps we should wrap up for the day?
WW
Okay, certainly.
AP
Thanks so much for talking and sharing all that. I really appreciate it.
WW
Oh, you’re welcome. I enjoyed it. I think the fact that it’s going to be, possibly be recorded or, you know, being heard because they’re getting to go back to what I’ve done. I see value to it for sure. I really do. Like I say, it’s changed our community here for sure. So you’re welcome and thank you. I appreciate it. Tape is paused. What I would think would be the first real indicator of global warming was there was a year when my dad was still alive, and he passed me in 1980, the sockeye were late, incredibly late. It looked like they were right off. There’s various runs that come at staggered times here. So we go through weeks here with no fish and then we had a day and a half of rain and they’d come through in a gang busters, all the various runs at once. They have what they call water color. It was thought they don’t develop that until they’re in the freshwater for a while. They stalled themselves off so long. At that time we fished here and they gave an opening at San Juan, it was late in the year and I was undecided whether to go. So I phoned an elder of mine who’s family. They’re in trawling for how they commercial fished. I phoned this elder and asked if he thought it would be worthwhile to go to San Juan. He laughed and he goes “I’m not going to tell you what to do. You make your own decisions. What I will tell you is ...” because he was retired and he was a legend on this coast. He developed the first offshore fishery, one of the first offshores for salmon trawling. His son and grandson are still involved doing tuna and other fishery’s, salmon, halibut. They work in a group of trawlers, close to fifty boats, and these men are incredibly efficient producers. They would get on to fish and know their patterns. Well, this year they were so late there was a stream of cold water on the west coast of Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte, that varied anywhere from a quarter mile to a mile and a half. The ocean’s so warm, that’s why they’re delaying their migration.
02:10:00.000
02:10:00.000
WW
They found this vein of cold water and they would stay in that. So these men have these temperature reading abilities of the ocean. So they figured this out. They used to, in the limited hours of darkness in the summer months, you’re talking four hours, they used to figure that they would go fifteen, twenty miles in the darkness. So they would run that far to be with that school again. So very efficient. Well, they’re doing this for a few days and they’re not on the fish at daylight. One of them says “I’m going to run quite away tonight.” He ran close to fifty miles. In the morning he was on the fish. He was going that fast. They were so late. So I did go to San Juan and I did get to the tail end of some good fishing there and that, but from that I’d come to the realization from talking with that elder that those fish knew when they were hundreds of miles away from the Fraser to delay their migration, and they did. They knew when that rain came that that was their chance. There’s a couple reasons why: the rivers rise, the river’s color, they have more safety, the easier the migration, and the temperature is cooler. That’s why they came through like they did there. The common theory was that they were twenty-one days late that year. A lot of people were stating that in that range. My dad said, “We think that they were late. They’re saying twenty, twenty-one days later, but you know what? They were right on time. They knew when to be here and that. We think they’re late but they’re not.” They adapted to global warming. They know. Now the fear is that they may have too many other schools in front of them that they won’t through time here and that. So we’ll see if they can adapt well enough to the warming waters. They feel spring salmon can. There’s some research in that they’re the most able to adapt. Anyway, that’s that one and that is the last one laughs.
AP
Thank you. Tape is paused.
WW
Around about ’79 or ’80 I went up the coast in my new boat with three friends sport fishing into Bute Inlet and Blockbro Inlet. It used to open the first Monday after April 15th on the Fraser for commercial spring fishing. Dad asked prior to my departure if I’m going to be back for the opening of the season. I said, “Yes, I will dad.” We had so much fun I was late getting back. I arrived the day that it opened, about eight hours into the forty-eight hour opening and the tide was just starting to get good. I stopped to visit with my dad and I’ll always remember this he goes “Wilfred, Wilfred, Wilfred, you’ve got year to play. You’ve only got so long to make a living. When are you going to learn?” So, literally, down goes my head, and I go “Okay.” So we chatted a bit more and I go “Oh, by the way dad has anything been caught yet?” He goes, “Not a fish. Not a fish yet that I heard of” which is not that unusual in the day the stocks were getting declined but also they’re directly influenced, their migration in the river, by the wells. We call them blackfish. They literally force the fish into the shallow, into the freshwater and they have to acclimatize quicker from salt water to fresh and a lot will continue in their migration upward. My dad had stated, “Eleven hours later, after the blackfish go by, you’ll get them in the river.” So the reason I mentioned that is it’s not unusual to have blank times when there’s no fish in the system but when my dad questioned my work ethic I got my back up. So I fished right through the whole forty-eight hours of what was left, the time left of it, whatever it was. Forty-eight hours or whatever without a fish until daylight on the last morning and it closed at eight A.M. We consider twenty-two pounders to be the best, what a charmed life. They’re not too big they’re not too bulky. Over time you, over the generations, you find that out they are the best. That morning on daylight there I think I ... Most guys had quit. I kept plugging away there and I get a fish in the net. You can see him from a distance. The cork ball. Seal preservation is a major issue. It’s become worse here now. At that time I picked up as fast as I could and in comes this. I remember thinking “It’s a twenty-two, it’s a twenty-two pounder.” I was so excited. It wasn’t caught that well. It’s called laying the bag, we call it, like a hammock the net is. So I’m gathering the web up to get this fish out and I’m ecstatic, like I say. I go to lift it with my foot, to get it out as gently as I can. This is a fresh fish and it hit my knee with its tail and it literally folded me, right to my knees. I got up and I’m not happy. It’s in the bag still, in this hammock. I gather the web up and I give it more effort this time. I kicked it too hard. It kicked and it goes to the side of the boat and it starts going overboard. I’m lunging and grabbing the tail and it’s getting out of my grip. It’s gone. Sighs. So I go in after it closes, no fish, and I tie up beside my dad. He goes, “Well, did you get our first fish of the year?” I go, “Yes, dad, I did but I kicked it overboard.” He goes, “Come and have coffee. I’ve got to hear this story.” So we go inside he pours me a coffee and he said “What happened, son? What happened?” Without saying a word I undid my belt buckle and I dropped my pants and I pointed to my right knee. I go, “This is what happened, dad.” It was all swollen up, like, dramatically swollen up. I told him about this fish beating me up and I kicked it overboard. He goes, “You know, I’ve heard some good ones. That’s right up there” laughs. I’ve actually never pulled a twenty-two pounder. I’m working on that one still, too. It gives people the impression you’re talking about a twenty-two gun. At the end I switch to it. You always return the bones to the sea of the first fish of the year and you share with as many friends and family as you can to let them in on it, and then you ask that they either put the bones back in the sea or give them back to you. That’s letting them know of your respect and that you want more to come and everything like that, but you’re not supposed to kick them overboard laughs.
AP
Great, thank you.
WW
Okay, thank you.
02:17:29.000

Metadata

Title

Wilfred Wilson, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 06 May 2016 (2 of 2)

Abstract

Wilfred begins reflecting on the Japanese Canadian friends his father lost in the fishing industry as a consequence of their dispossession and internment. He talks about what happened to them when they returned. Wilfred moves on to describe the working conditions for people working in the fishing and canning industries during the 1970s and 1980s. He explains how the fishing industry has changed between 1970 and 2000. Wilfred reflects on his near death experience while fishing with his family members and how it impacted his life forever. Near the end of the interview he tells Alexander about his efforts to organize an event for fisher poets so that they can share their experiences with the local community.

Credits

Interviewer: Alexander Pekic
Interviewee: Wilfred Wilson
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Gulf of Georgia Cannery, BC
Keywords: Pacific Coast Camp; Steveston ; Richmond ; Fishing Industry; Salt Spring Island ; Vancouver Island ; Life Raft; Sunken Boat; Skeena River ; Residential School; Ladner ; Indigenous Peoples; Musqueam; Indian Registration; Discrimination; Poetry.; 1940s – 2000s

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.