It’s been smooth sailing since the NCN Cannery Corporation, owned by a group from Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations, joined St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse last year as the company’s majority shareholder.
The cannery, that was founded in 1961 by Armand St. Jean, operates stores and sport fishing depots in Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Campbell River, Richmond and more recently in Victoria and Tsawwassen.
“Things are going well, we had a good year last year,” said president for NCN Cannery Corporation Larry Johnson. “Our e-commerce is taking off and doing really well, I think that was a major contributor to our success for last year, even though it was a slower year for sport catch. We picked up in other areas of First Nations food fish processing and opened up in Mayfair Mall (in Victoria) as well as out in Tsawwassen, so those are new additions.”
The cannery has become the largest cannery and smokehouse in B.C. supplying, local, wild-caught salmon, tuna, sardines, clams and smoked oysters.
When Armand St. Jean, who passed away in 1990, retired in 1979 he passed the torch to one of his four sons, Gerard.
The 1990s saw steady growth as the cannery began canning tuna commercially.
According to the St. Jean’s website, the cannery also increased its focus on the sport fishing industry by making connections with fishing lodges up and down B.C.’s west coast—to the point where 40 per cent of the business was directly involved with sport fishing.
In the 2000s, the cannery expanded with a number of depots on the Lower Mainland, including two at Vancouver International Airport, and key spots in Campbell River and Port Alberni.
Hoping to retire himself, Gerard decided a change could help him do that and also allow the company to expand.
After looking to expand the company for several years, St. Jean’s brought in Steve Hughes, former general manager of Albion Fisheries Ltd. in Victoria, in 2014 to take over leadership as company president.
The Nuu-chah-nulth deal was 18 months in the making, after about four years of negotiations.
“We kept the same name, we kept all of the same great staff, the same great service and the name has a reputation that’s been around for 50 some odd years.” Johnson said.
“We wanted to maintain that same staff, give them comfort that things aren’t changing in any drastic way. We just want to try to incrementally get some of our people working in there as well and start incorporating some of our wild commercial access to go through there as well.”
Since the change in ownership, Johnson said the company is looking at diversifying their products and maintaining their Nanaimo plant.
“A lot of the places on the West Coast it’s hard to get fresh seafood in your local communities. When you think about places like Ucluelet you know you go to a store where there’s local products, so we’re going to look at things like that and try to build on what Gerard (St. Jean) has already done,” Johnson said.
The cannery’s seafood is caught all along the B.C. coast with depots in Prince Rupert, Campbell River, Vancouver, Tofino, Ucluelet, Bamfield, French Creek and Nanaimo.
“I know that our nations that are shareholders are very proud to own it,” Johnson said. “The Nuu-chah-nulth name is actually ‘people of the mountains facing the sea;’ that’s because we depended a lot on our sea resources.”