- BC Games
Steveston’s lure is greater than its coffee shops
Its signature product was once what came from the Fraser River—now it’s more likely from Guatemala.
Steveston, beloved by its residents and tourists, hasn’t lost its seafood shine, but coffee shops are quickly becoming king. All the big purveyors of pumpkin spice lattes are now in the village, doing business alongside longtime haunts and new trendy coffee cloisters like Rocanini.
Tucked away in the southwest corner of Richmond, Steveston has the feel of a distinct neighbourhood. Just over 25,000 people live here—13 per cent of the city’s total—and residents and visitors alike are drawn to its history and waterfront.
“People just love the waterfront atmosphere,” said Coun. Harold Steves, a politician since 1968. “That’s what people like. A lot of people go down to buy a fish, but even if they don’t just to walk along the waterfront to watch the boats there that are bringing fish in, just the whole atmosphere of the harbour and waterfront is a tremendous draw.”
Steveston boasts many of Richmond’s favourite sites: a waterfront village, unique shops and services, Garry Point Park, Gulf of Georgia Cannery, Britannia Shipyards, Steveston Park and dyke trails. It’s also a place where Richmond’s early history is rooted.
Harold Steves’ great-grandfather Manoah Steves, and wife Martha Steves, were the first settlers in the area. They came by way of New Brunswick, purchasing 162 hectares (400 acres) in what is now Steveston. Harold Steves continues to farm a portion of that land today.
“We don’t know why they came to B.C. All that’s been passed down in family history is that Manoah had bad heath and he came to B.C. for a more healthy climate,” he said.
Manoah and Martha chose the Steveston area in particular because the marshland was similar to what they were used to in Moncton, New Brunswick.
“He understood how to dyke and drain marshland and farm it, and he knew that alluvial soils were the best types of soil,” said Harold Steves. “He came out here, got a map of the islands and delta, and marked a spot on the map he wanted. There was nobody else here except for the First Nations people, and he chose this spot.”
That was the fall of 1877—two years before Richmond was incorporated as a municipality. Harold Steves still has the map scrawled on by his great-grandfather.
Pioneers in the Steves family saw canneries begin to sprout up and soon realized the area would become a major point of interest in the future. In an early editorial of the now defunct newspaper Steveston Enterprise, they wrote, “At the mouth of every great river there’s a major city.”
Steveston soon became the fastest area of growth in Richmond. That continued into the 1950s, as Steveston offered more affordable land than Vancouver, while still being connected to downtown by an interurban tram.
Today, most of Richmond’s growth is in City Centre. Growth in Steveston is projected to be modest due to constraints on available and developable land. And the growth that is taking place is being carefully planned to preserve its unique heritage character—particularly in the historic Steveston Village.
Richmond’s 2041 Official Community Plan calls for higher density in Steveston Village, while conserving heritage. City officials are also encouraging new waterfront connections and public access to the waterfront.
City officials also want to maintain and enhance the visitor appeal of Steveston, by retaining waterfront commercial uses and adding attractions. And, where appropriate, encourage mixed use projects that include an employment component.
Change is inevitable on riverfront lands owned by the Steveston Harbour Authority. Its industrial lands are still used by the fishing industry, and although the fishing fleet and fish processing operations may still be thriving, the industry isn’t what it once was.
Preserving Steveston’s character has long been on city officials’ minds. As canneries started to be boarded up in the ‘80s, a heritage study was ordered, and born was the idea of serving more tourists while maintaining the area’s charm.
In 1918 Steveston was declared the Salmon Capital of the World, boasting the largest port in the world, said Harold Steves.
“Rotterdam was the largest in tonnage, Steveston was largest in vessels. That gives you an idea of how it developed. So we thought if we can capture that aspect of it and carry on with that vision, then the town and the community will survive, and it looks like it’s doing pretty well.”
The Gulf of Georgia Cannery was saved, then Britannia Shipyards. Other projects aimed at preserving heritage are ongoing. The city is restoring the Japanese Fishermen’s Benevolent Association building, which was added to the Steveston Museum’s site in the heart of the village in 2010.
The building, due to open next year, will contain exhibit and rental space and will tell the story of the Japanese Canadian experience in Steveston. And yesterday (Thursday), the city officially opened the restored Seine Net Loft at Britannia Shipyards.
Waterfront lots owned by the city between Britannia and No. 1 Road could also bring change to Steveston in the future. Steves recently travelled with senior staff to Mystic, Conn. for ideas. The historic east coast waterfront village could serve as a model for future development here.
Said Steves: “It’s a mecca for anybody interested in waterfront redevelopment in North America.”