Spratts Oilery

In 1882 Joseph Spratt of Victoria, BC decided to start a floating cannery and fish oil plant at Coal Harbour which is in Burrard Inlet just past the First Narrows, and tucked round the corner of what is now called Brockton Point.  This bay was called Coal Harbour by the European settlers because of the coal found in what is now Vancouver’s West End.

In 1882 Burrard Inlet was still rich in fish, and its shores were lined with magnificent forests in spite of the logging that had been going on for over ten years.  Douglas fir trees over three hundred feet tall and one thousand years old stood where much of Vancouver stands today.

Gassy (because he talked a lot) Jack Dieghton had wandered over to Burrard Inlet from New Westminster in 1867 with a barrel of whiskey. He built a shack twelve feet by twenty feet at what is now the intersection of Carrall and Water Streets, and sold liquor to loggers and the mill workers at Stamp’s Mill (north end of Dunlevy) and Moody’s Mill (north shore of Burrard Inlet).

By 1882 Gassy’s Town, or Gastown, officially known as Granville, was little more than one block long on Water Street.  It consisted of a few hotels, saloons, and shops among the tree stumps and the skunk cabbage.  Giant firs loomed in the background.

Joseph Spratt planned to use herring as his major source of fish oil for his cannery.  This plan was reasonable as the herring run into Burrard Inlet was a large one on which the First Nations people had relied for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Motivated like most newcomers to the west coast by dreams of unlimited wealth, Mr. Spratt discovered a cost-effective way of fishing.  He would dynamite the fish.  The Native people were very upset with his method of fishing and warned him that something bad would happen.  He didn’t listen to them.

In 1885 Mr. Spratt had to close down his floating cannery and fish oil plant because the herring stopped coming to Burrard Inlet, and they never returned there.  He didn’t seem to understand that he was responsible for their disappearance.  His greed destroyed his enterprise, you might say, and it also destroyed an important fishery in Burrard Inlet for First Nations people.


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