June is BC Seafood Month

Why are we at St. Jean’s Cannery particularly smitten with June? June is BC Seafood Month! It’s a time to recognize and celebrate the bounty of seafood available to us on the west coast as well as the quality of the seafood industry in the province.

The Comox Valley on Vancouver Island is arguably the annual hot-spot for BC Seafood Month celebrations, including:

BC Shellfish & Seafood Festival

Western Canada’s largest seafood festival consists of 40 events over 10 days (June 9-18). Events include tastings, dinners, industry tours, celebrations, and chef demos with more than 40 top-level chefs taking part over the course of the festival.

BC Seafood Expo

BC Seafood Month - Chef Ned Bell

Photo: BC Seafood Expo / Comox Valley Economic Development Society

Part of the BC Shellfish & Seafood Festival, the BC Seafood Expo (June 12-13) brings leading seafood producers, exporters, international buyers, and educators together for two days of education sessions and networking/sales at the BC Seafood Expo Trade Show. The keynote speakers for 2017 include Ocean Wise Executive Chef Ned Bell and host of CBC’s ‘Under the Influence,’ Terry O’Reilly.

Enjoy BC seafood this month–whether at home, your favourite restaurant, or right after a fishing trip! We are proud that our Pacific Northwest wild salmon and tuna are primarily sourced from BC waters (the fisheries stretch from Oregon to Alaska) and our primary source of oysters is Vancouver Island (Baynes Sound/Fanny Bay).  We offer our thanks to all of the fishers and seafood producers in BC who treat oceans and fishing grounds with respect, care, and environmental sensibility.


Nanaimo cannery and smokehouse sold to First Nations group

The cannery and smokehouse that Armand St. Jean started in 1960, selling oysters and soup to local bars and grocery stores, has been purchased by the Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation.

The sale was announced Friday with a celebration at the cannery on Southside Drive.

Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation represents five West Coast First Nations from the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council.

Gerard St. Jean, Armand’s son who has worked in the business since he was a boy, said it was time to make a change that could both move him toward retirement and allow the company to expand.

“Time. Age. By the time I finish the next three years working with them I’ll be 70, so it’s time to wander on,” St. Jean said.

The cannery is the last on the B.C. coast, but sells canned and smoked tuna, salmon, oysters and other products to Canada, the U.S., even Australia and has 130 employees.

St. Jean has looked to expand the company for several years and brought in Steve Hughes, former general manager of Albion Fisheries Ltd. in Victoria, in 2014 to take over leadership as company president.

St. Jean’s also purchased Vancouver-based Raincoast Trading Company in 2013 to access a larger customer base and distribution to grocery chains and heath food stores.

The Nuu-chah-nulth deal was 18 months in the making, after about four years of negotiations.

St. Jean said there were other bidders for the cannery, but the decision to go with Port Alberni-based buyers was better for his staff, the company and the community because St. Jean’s stays with a local owner.

St. Jean’s is now run by a board of directors comprised of St. Jean, Hughes, and other First Nation and non-First Nation members.

“Their whole mandate is that the company stays as it is and stays profitable,” St. Jean said. “They said, specifically they don’t want to be known as a group that came in and destroyed a company.”

Hughes said the Nuu-chah-nulth are closely connected to the seafood economy.

Larry Johnson, Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation president, said the deal re-establishes his peoples’ connection with their traditional livelihoods.

“Not only do we want to raise the awareness of St. Jean’s, but also do the things that he’s doing well already and try to do them better if that’s at all possible,” Johnson said.

Expo 86 - Jasperdo/Flickr

Expo 86 Saved Our Lives

Expo 86 - Jasperdo/Flickr

Expo 86 – Jasperdo/Flickr

I was nine years old when the ‘world’s exposition’—Expo 86—came to Vancouver and set up a bulbous, rainbow, multicultural, sky-defying shop in False Creek.

Expo 86 - Vancouver Sun

Vancouver Sun

Colourful pavilions trumpeted the accomplishments of countries far around the world, known to me only previously through atlases. Each stop offered a stamp for our mock passports; I learned how to write my name in Arabic and Japanese. We watched and tried to comprehend the local weatherman doing his broadcast from in front of a blank green screen. A robot mascot skidded over pavement while trams and skytrains shushed overhead; a slice of the Jetsons below the otherwise wild western woods and coastal mountains.

Expo 86 (logo)Many British Columbians are reliving similar memories as we read about Expo 86’s 30th anniversary; CBC has a number of retrospective articles and entertaining videos exist online. But at St. Jean’s, Expo 86 wasn’t just an exercise in civic pride—it was a lifesaver for the company.

In 1985, the cannery was in the midst of expansion plans when interest rates skyrocketed and the economy sank; the business appeared to be hurtling towards bankruptcy. While just holding on into 1986, a company on Salt Spring Island approached St. Jean’s about producing canned seafood for Expo 86. Their initial order? Five thousand cans of smoked salmon.

As if revived by lightning, the cannery leapt into this mammoth order and the salmon turned out to be a hit. More orders came in. The flush of revenue saved the company in the short term while the national and international attention on St. Jean’s products at the world’s exhibition has helped to grow the company in the long-term. Just like Vancouver, St. Jean’s has continued to grow since 1986: proud to represent the best of the west coast of British Columbia.

-Matt Carter

NDN Annual Give & Go event another rousing success

Annual Give & Go event another rousing success

NDN Annual Give & Go event another rousing success

Nanaimo Daily News
Friday, December 11, 2015

The 13th Annual Give & Go event was a rousing success.

Vehicles from individuals and businesses streamed through the Daily News parking lot Wednesday in Nanaimo, dropping off enough donations to fill a Salvation Army truck and another van.

Event organizer Cathy Webster says she co-ordinates the event to fill a need in the community.

“At this time of the year if you’re not able to provide for your family it can be extremely stressful and I believe this event does alleviate this for some families in our community,” she said. “The event runs on a zero budget and only made possible because of the businesses generosity, without them there would be no Give & Go.”

Dawne Anderson of the Salvation Army said more than 6,000 pounds of food was donated, valued at $14,600, as well as $2,300 in cash donations.

“The generosity of all the donors this year is huge for (Hamperville). There are over 2,000 hampers, this will go a long way to help fill those bags,” Anderson said.

Some of the major donors to this year’s Give & Go included Canadian Tire with $2,000 worth of food, St. Jean’s Cannery & Smokehouse with a pallet of canned goods and Steve Marshall Ford with their annual assistance and generosity.

V3 Media provided the Christmas music for the event.

Pull-tab can lids | St. Jean's Cannery

The Pull-Tab Seafood Can Lid – A 1990 Game Changer

All of our canned seafood comes in tins with an easy-open pull tab lid–something that was radical for canned seafood in Canada back in 1990.

Pull-tab can lids | St. Jean's Cannery

The pull-tab can lid idea was originally brought to St. Jean’s by the Hagensborg Food Company. The company had found a similar can in Norway, and wanted to use that design for a new line of paté, to be processed & canned at St. Jean’s.

However, the Department of Fisheries kiboshed the idea; the law at the time stated that can production codes had to be stamped and embossed on the lid of a seafood can. St. Jean’s knew this wouldn’t have worked on the pull-tab lids, and rigged up a setup to print the codes on the bottom of the can (as is still done today).

After performing an extensive number of special tests to prove that these lids wouldn’t crack (and pointing out that vegetable canners had already been putting production codes on the bottom of cans for years), the government gave the go-ahead to use the lids. Soon after, they were adapted for salmon cans; 25 years later, they are on all of our canned products, helpful and handy as ever. Thank you, Norway, for helping us flip our lids!

BC Family Fishing Weekend – June 19-21, 2015

June 19-21, 2015 is Family Fishing Weekend in BC!

BC Family Fishing Weekend | June 18-21 2015

Now in its 16th year, it has become a Father’s Day weekend tradition. In addition to a number of FFW events throughout BC, there are a number of ways you can fish for free this weekend (ie. without needing a fishing license).

Check out the BC Family Fishing Weekend webpage for more details–and if you land a catch, bring it on by one of our stores or depots and we’ll turn it into a seafood specialty!

Thanks to the Family Fishing Society of BC for coordinating these events and for the promotion of responsible fishing for anglers of all ages.

Bon Vivant: Vancouver Island food ‘n fun

Bon Vivant Vancouver IslandOne of our favourite sources for ‘food ‘n fun’ knowledge–as relating to Vancouver Island food, beverage, and local food events–is Bon Vivant on Vancouver Island. Created by Hans Peter Meyer and filled with posts and stories about farmers’ markets, food trucks, must-attend culinary events, artisan food producers, and more, the website and active Twitter feed are very informative sources for anyone looking to dig deeper into the Island’s craft culinary scene. It’s especially valuable for food fans in the Comox Valley. Highly recommended!



The People on Cannery Row

By Goody Niosi

“I had an engineering company in Vancouver and I came over here to help my dad sell the business. He was getting old at the time and wanted to get out of it. I worked with him for six months and decided to keep it.”

                And so Gerard St. Jean stepped into the family business in 1978 and went from engineering design in the forestry business to canning and smoking salmon, trout, tuna, Alaskan Black Cod, clams and mushrooms. “We produce a product that we’re proud of,” Gerard explains, “that’s one of the reasons I stayed in it.”

                He goes on, “We’re high profile because we do gift packs; we have a mail order business and do fish for sport fishermen. We smoke and we pack…we do all kinds of things. We cold pack and we can four pound tins for institutions and companies back east. We do a lot of commercial work. In fact, we’re sending out two containers of salmon to Japan this week.”

                St. Jean’s Cannery, in the south end of Nanaimo, occupies a unique niche in the canning market. There are only five or six major companies that can a lot of salmon; that means 600 cans a minute on an automated system. “We’re a hand-packing operation,” Gerard says. “We speciality pack. We run around 60 cans a minute. There are smaller canneries but we have a little niche where we fit in. Other than the smaller canneries, we are the only custom cannery on the Island. We pack for a high end store in Japan and other speciality markets.”

                A large part of St. Jean’s business is mushrooms, specifically wild chanterelles. The company ships the chanterelles to Europe: Germany, Switzerland, France, Sweden–about a hundred tons a year–and pine mushrooms to Japan. “Mushrooms happened in a big way in British Columbia in the late 70s and we got into them in ’81,” Gerard says. “We have stations from Oregon all the way up to Alaska; the stations are places that families or anyone who picks mushrooms can sell to. The mushrooms are brought into the stations, collected and shipped to Nanaimo.”

                Another major part of St. Jean’s business comes from sport fishermen and most of those fish come in from the fishing camps from the Queen Charlottes, Campbell River and Ucluelet. St. Jean’s trucks go up and down the Island, picking up the fish; those trucks also make three trips a week to the Vancouver airport and pick up the fish dropped off there for processing. Most fish used to be canned but with so many processing options available now, canning is not necessarily the most popular way to go. Now a sport fisherman can have his catch smoked, lox style or barbecue style. They can choose sweet Indian candy, plain canned, smoked and canned, filleted, steaked and frozen and know that their product will be shipped overnight by Fedex.

                Gerard explains that this has been a tough year and it doesn’t worry him one bit. “I expect to see it come back up,” he says. “Over the last years as the big fish have been coming back from Alaska past the Queen Charlottes, both the sport and commercial fishermen have been targeting the big trophy fish. Less of them have been coming back. What the government wanted to do this year was make sure the fish got back up the rivers so they cut back how many fish you could keep. Everybody in our business realized that was true. Unfortunately there was so much negative publicity, fishermen got the idea you couldn’t keep any salmon. That wasn’t true. It was just the spring salmon that you couldn’t keep. The inside of the gulf wasn’t shut off: it was wide open. There was good fishing in Campbell River. But you have to cut back sometimes. You have to then restock the fish.”

                Gerard’s father started the business in 1963 in the back of his house. Now the company employs between 35 and 50 people with a payroll close to $600-thousand a year. During the summer months, the busy season, St. Jean’s employs college students for jobs like putting labels on the cans; labels that read, “This one didn’t get away.”

                A sport fisherman comes in the front door and heaps his catch on the scale. The fish are given a tag, “Just like at a dry-cleaner’s,” Gerard says. That number is written on the cans and all the cans are sorted by number. The customer gets back the fish he caught–guaranteed.

                Eight to 10 thousand pounds of fish come through the cannery every day. The average weight of a sport fish that comes in is about 40 to 50 pounds. Gerard has seen sixty and seventy pound salmon come in. A 50 pounder will yield about 85 cans.

                A new product for St. Jean’s is canned Albacore Tuna. “Most tuna is cooked off the bone,” Gerard says. “The natural juices are all poured out and then they add water or oil. You’ll see the labels on the cans read “Tuna in water” or “Tuna in oil.” We filled it fresh off the bone and pack it without water or oil. I think that once you taste it, you’ll stay with it.”

                This intrepid correspondent felt obliged to put Gerard’s claim to the taste test. I took home a can of tuna. I opened it with the trademark easy-lift top. I forked the white meat onto a slice of fresh sourdough bread. The meat is very firm; there is no oil, no water, only solid tuna. I take a large bite. It seems fine. Just to be sure, I take another bite. I decide on further investigation. I devour the slice…then I eat the rest of the tin. No doubt. My taste buds are ruined for any other canned tuna. Long live St. Jean’s!

A Taste of the Pacific

Seafood farmers create niche markets with B.C.’s fine catch

By Judy Creighton
The Canadian Press

                Many of the customers who stop to pick up fresh oysters at Mac’s Oysters Ltd, in Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island waste no time digging into their purchase.

                “People open the containers in the car while they are still in the parking lot and eat them raw,” chuckles Gordy McLellan Jr., the affable general manager of the busy clam and oyster plant on the old Island Highway 25 kilometers south of Courtenay.

                The company, founded by his grandfather 51 years ago, cultivates oysters and clams on about 97 hectares of shoreline both at Fanny Bay and on leased land near Powell River, B.C.

                Mac’s employs about 50 people, some of whom spend their days shucking oysters or digging clams to be sent for processing or fresh consumption in other parts of western Canada and the U.S.

                McLellan says demand for oysters and clams is growing, especially in the value-added processing market.

                “There is a lot of interest in ready-to-serve meals such as oysters Rockefeller,” he says. The most common version of this is oysters on the half shell topped with a mixture of spinach, butter, breadcrumbs and seasonings which can be either baked or broiled.

                The clams and oysters from Mac’s are trucked south to St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse in Nanaimo. There, the oysters are smoked and canned and the butter clams are minced and packed into tins.

                Gerard St. Jean, son of the founder Armand St. Jean, whose first profession was wrestling in the 1940s and ‘50s, says his dad started the cannery and smokehouse in the garage of their Nanaimo home in 1961.

                “He started out by making clam chowder and smoking oysters,” he says, “and that led to the canning and smoking of sport fish.”

                About 20 years ago, St. Jean joined his father in the business and assuming ownership when he died in 1990.

                And although it’s a small cannery, St. Jean notes the business fills a high end niche, and sells by mail order through the Internet at www.stjeans.com.

                The canned products include smoked salmon, albacore tuna, salmon, smoked oysters, butter clams, seafood soups and chowders and patés.

                “We also package mustards, antipastos, wild Vancouver Island mushrooms such as chanterelles for specialty stores and supermarkets both in Japan and the U.S.” says St. Jean.

                Recently the cannery added a gift shop and puts together gift baskets containing its products.

                During the fishing season, the smokehouse is constantly in use as sports fishermen bring their catches in for smoking and canning.

                “We deal a lot with the lodges and fish camps and those areas where people are fishing,” says St. Jean. “Now that the allocation for spring salmon is going towards sports, we are filling many more individual orders.”

                Sports anglers can take their catches to St. Jean’s where they will be custom canned, smoked, vacuum packed and filleted, says general manager Gwen Gates.

                In the smokehouse, individual catches have a choice of smoke — hot (barbecue style), Indian candy, honeyglaze and lox.

                “The smoking process takes about a week and canning can be done in four days,” St. Jean says.

                The following recipes were developed at St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

Linguine with Red Clam Sauce

1 garlic clove, minced
30 mL (2 Tbsp) olive oil
¼ chopped onion
625 mL (2 ½ cups) crushed tomatoes
2 mL (1/2 tsp) oregano
1 mL (1/4 tsp) basil
30 mL (2 Tbsp) chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 284 mL (10 oz) can butter clams (minced)
450 g (1 lb) linguine

Brown garlic in olive oil in a heavy skillet or pot. Saute onion until transparent. Add tomatoes, oregano, basil, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add clams and cook another 5 minutes. Cook linguine in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain. Spoon sauce on top and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Serves 4.

Lomi Lomi Salmon Tomatoes

1 box cherry tomatoes
1 185 g (5 ½ oz) can smoked salmon
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
Dash pepper
Squeeze lemon juice
30 mL (2 Tbsp) chopped parsley

                Cut off and discard tops of tomatoes and cut very thin slice off the bottoms so they will sit steadily. With tiny spoon, carefully remove pulp from insides and pat dry. Cover and refrigerate. Combine tomato pulp, well chopped with rest of ingredients, cover and chill. Fill tomatoes with the stuffing about two to three hours before serving and arrange on lettuce leaves on a serving platter.

Smoked Salmon Cheese Ball

1 225 g pkg cream cheese
125 mL (1/2 cup) cheddar cheese, grated
1 158 mL (5 ½ oz) can smoked salmon
30 mL (2 Tbsp) chopped green onion

                Mix all ingredients well. Form two balls and roll in flaked almonds. Serve with crackers or crudités.

Fish Facts

  • In British Columbia, allocations for spring salmon catches are directed to sports fishing, rather than commercial, because of declining stocks.
  • Oyster farming is becoming more common and one of the species being produced is an all-purpose bivalve mollusk which goes by the name of crassostrea gigas.
  • Manila clams are a wild species and can be cooked in the shell fresh, while the butter clam is ideal for chowders. The littleneck is a steamer clam.

Businessman's Father Helped Him Succeed

By Goody Niosi
Harbour City Star – April 1997

                Tossed in amongst the paperwork that litters his desk, is a card that says “thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you…from the gang at Chase River.”

                The Chase River Community Organization is only one of many groups that owes thanks to Gerard St. Jean. But if you ask him what he’s done to deserve those thank-yous, he grins and shrugs. “I helped them out,” he says.

                St. Jean helped them out by donating $3,000 as seed money to help them get started on their neighborhood plan. St. Jean cares about the community. He has been deeply involved in Plan Nanaimo since its inception and now he wants to see the plan come to life.

                But if you ask him about himself and the contributions he makes, he’ll talk about his wife, his children, his mother and especially about his father–a remarkable man who was a very strong influence in his life.

                “We’re from the Yukon,” says St. Jean. “We came to the Island in the early fifties. My father worked as a saw filer in the mill. In the sixties he started playing around with smoking oysters in the house. He started a little cannery in the back of the garage.”

                From smoked oysters, St. Jean’s father turned to clam chowder. He found a building on Franklyn Street, cleaned it up and got to work. Within seven months, he was broke. He went back to a full-time job at Hub City Paving. But Armand St. Jean refused to go bankrupt; he was determined to pay all his bills.

                “The American people came up here to take their machine back,” says St. Jean. “So they went to the house. Dad wasn’t there, so they went to the plant. There he is, he comes out of the plant, covered in dirt. They took one look at him and said, ‘If you’ve got enough invested to do this, you can keep the machine.’”

                Armand St. Jean was not the kind of man you could keep down. The American canners suggested he can salmon. It seemed like a fine idea. Armand fixed up an old boathouse and started canning sport salmon.

                Things started to work out. But then Armand St. Jean had his first stroke. Gerard took a leave of absence from his job as an engineer in the Vancouver to help out.

                But instead of helping his father wrap up the business, Gerard ended up constructing a new building in downtown Nanaimo. In 1985, the business went broke again. The early eighties were tough on businesses everywhere.

                But St. Jean’s Cannery managed to hang in there; 1986, the year of Expo, marked the beginning of the boom years. And that was the year that St. Jean’s moved to its present location on Southside Road. Gerard St. Jean has made the business a highly successful and respected cannery. But he gives the credit to his father.

                “Dad was a pioneer,” says Gerard. “He was a very interesting man. He was a professional wrestler. That’s how he came from Quebec to here. He learned how to speak English out of the Sears catalogue.”

                Armand died in 1990. One legacy he left behind was his capacity for hard work. “He always worked long hours,” says Gerard. “We got to know him better in our teens and early twenties. We’d go to the bar, have fun and leave at about ten and say ‘Let’s go down and see dad.’ He was a really good friend at that point. And we’d all go down and sit around the back table and he’d bring out a big pot of shrimp he’d just cooked. He’d be salting fish and he’d have the TV going. He was still smoking and salting at 11 at night.”

                Everyone loved Armand St. Jean, Gerard recalls. The mutual love of Armand for people and they for him is another legacy the father passed on to the son.

                St. Jean’s Cannery is a business with long-term employees and loyal workers. And it’s because of the boss. Gerard insists that work has to be fun. “If it’s not fun, I won’t do it,” he says. But beyond fun, Gerard really cares about his people.

                “I tell my people, ‘This is what our job is, this is how much we can afford to pay’” says Gerard. “If you want to go to school and learn more things, if you have a chance to better yourself, go for it. I’ve had kids who’ve worked for me and they’re teachers now and it’s great. I’ll always back them up. I’ve got one worker now who’s taking college courses. If she has a chance to get a job that pays more, that’s her right. That’s her developing and going on. I don’t like to lose those people but if they’re going to go, I say ‘Hey — go for it!’”

                Gwen Bontje is Gerard’s bookkeeper; Gwen Gates is the plant manager. They’ve worked at the cannery for 12 and 17 years respectively. How do they describe Gerard St. Jean?

                “He’s a pain in the neck,” laughs Bontje. “Actually he’s a great boss. He’s probably one of the best employers in Nanaimo. He treats each of us as individuals. Once he feels that you’re responsible, he leaves you entirely alone; he never interferes. I don’t think he knows anything about my work and yet I’m in complete charge of all his finances–he trusts me.”

                “He works hard,” says Gates. “He’s out on the floor and he’ll be out digging ditches with the next guy. That’s why he’s successful–he doesn’t run his business from the office–he’s right out there with the people.”

                “And he spreads himself so thin,” says Bontje. “He’s with the city planning council, the Chase River Community, the baseball club, the football club–you name it, he’s involved. He’s very much behind the kids–he takes them everywhere. He involves himself.”

                “He gives all of himself,” says Gates. “Whether it’s here or in the community.”

                “He gives,” says Bontje. “Everyone that comes who asks, every organization, Gerard gives–a gift box for a raffle–whatever. He supports everyone. He has never turned down anyone.”