A longtime Nanaimo business built by a small family into the last cannery on the coast has been sold, and its new majority owners hope it will bring new hope to coastal First Nations.
St. Jean’s Cannery, started by the St. Jean family 55 years ago, has been bought by a group of five Island First Nations.
For three generations, Nanaimo’s St. Jean’s cannery has been a family run business. Gerard St. Jean has worked in it since he was a young boy.
“First of all we had little plastic bags and we put the oysters in them, stapled them and he would go and sell them to the bars. Fresh oysters,” recalls Gerard St. Jean, the founder of the company’s son.
55 years later that little business in their backyard has grown to a large company. One processing millions of tonnes of tuna and salmon each year that’s marketed across North America and its Nanaimo plant that employs 130 people is now the last cannery on the coast still standing.
“There are no more canneries up and down the coast we really are the last person left,” says President of St. Jean’s Cannery, Steve Hughes.
“And now with this new group coming in now it’s going to grow the next stage which is even bigger,” says Gerard St. Jean.
For the first time in 55 years, the St. Jean family is handing over control of their company.
The buyers: five West Coast first nations from the Nuu-Chah-nulth tribal council.
“Oh it is exciting. I could hardly wait for this day to happen,” says Larry Johnson.
Larry Johnson is the President of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Seafood Development Corporation and says this purchase means opportunities for new opportunities for First Nations people.
“First Nations have always made there livelihoods from the ocean resources and its a really good connection back to the ocean resources being able to be part of today’s economy,” says Johnson.
“I like it because it’s going to stay West Coast,” says St. Jean. “You know we could have sold to some of the big boys or offshore but they would probably take the company and destroy it or break it up so this way it’s going to stay west coast. It will stay here and be based here.”
Just as Arnand St. Jean intended 55 years ago, building a brand that’s stood the test of time.
His family will still own some of the company but now thousands more stand to benefit from its profits.