ALL ABOARD THE FISH SPECIAL!
Prince Rupert is the Largest Halibut Market in the World. What Does This Mean to the Canadian National Railway, to Canada and to You?
SCOTT I. DUTHIE
WHEN I got the first facts for this article, in Prince Rupert, B.C., and while travelling in the caboose of a “fish special” between Prince Rupert and Prince George, I intended to make it more or less polite “muck raking”, a la Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, el al.
Owing to the shortage of passenger refrigerator cars on the Canadian National Railways—a shortage which existed until June of this year—the C.N.R. was losing nearly $1,000,000 per annum in express charges on halibut and salmon, which they should have hauled fro m Prince Rupert to the Eastern consumer—and didn’t.
Here was a glorious chance to “pan” the G.T.R. and incidentally say a few caustic things about the Hon. J. D. Reid and others in whom the destiny of the Canadian Nati»nal Railways lies. But, lo and behold! someone “gummed up” the story by delivering at Prince Rupert early in June forty brand new passenger refrigerator cars of the latest type. There are now 102 such cars engaged in this lucrative traffic, and although it is estimated that at least 150 cars could be utilized, yet there is not now the acute and disastrous shortage that has existed for the past seven years.
A few months ago, in Montreal, Frederick William Wallace—whose short fiction appears in MacLean’s Magazine—wrote a striking article for the paper which he edits, “The Canadian Fisherman”. He entitled it “Strangling an Industry!—How the fishing industry of the North Pacific is being bluffed and humbugged by the Canadian Government Railway." I found Mr. Wallace very indignant over the situation, and he told me how the shortage of express refrigerator cars has long been a serious matter with the fish shippers of Prince Rupert. For some years Prince Rupert, he said, suffered from a shortage of refrigerator cars for transporting the immense quantity of halibut and fresh salmon which are landed, or which could be landed, at that port by Canadian and United States fishing vessels exploiting the fishing banks west and north of Prince Rupert.
During the war the fishing interests of Prince Rupert did not press their demands unduly, but during 1919 and 1920 they sent to Ottawa very urgent requests that they be given adequate facilities for marketing fresh fish.
Mr. Wallace’s plaint was that these refrigerator cars had been promised and promised but never delivered.
The month of May found me in Prince Rupert and I decided to investigate the facts for myself, and to report them as I found them, to the readers of MacLean’s.
World’s Largest Halibut Market
this is a fact which too many Canadians do not know—is the largest halibut market in the world. On the North Pacific coast west of Prince Rupert and as far as 700 miles north, the most productive halibut banks are situated. Prince Rupert is also a shipping point for a great deal of salmon from northern British Columbia and Alaskan points and is the market for a great variety of small flat fish, including soles. Prince Rupert black cod is one of the delicacies which every epicure is learning to know. Other varieties of cod are neglected, only because the demand is small.
When the boat on which our party was travelling reached Prince Rupert, the first sight which greeted our eyes was a fleet of small fishing vessels which had apparently come in within
the previous few hours, and now were engaged in unloading. These sturdy little vessels take ice and bait out to sea with them, and as they make their catches the fish are iced and stored in the hold of the vessel which is always kept cool. When the vessels reach port there is a great.race to get the fish marketed as quickly as possible. The quicker the market is reached the greater the value of the product of course.
Here enters the problem which involves the passenger refrigerator cars. If there is an adequate supply of these refrigerator cars in Prince Rupert when a fleet of boats arrives, then several specially constructed cars are attached to passenger or fast freight trains; or, if there is enough traffic to warrant it, and there are enough cars to handle the traffic, a “fish special” is rushed east. So that, under ideal conditions, a load of halibut may be landed at Prince Rupert Monday afternoon and be unloaded, iced and boxed and on its way east the following morning.
It is an extremely interesting sight to watch the experts as they handle these huge fish. Each box of halibut averages about 205 pounds and we saw several fish beheaded, tossed into their boxes, iced, with crushed ice, nailed up and ready for the “fish special,” all within a space of less than three minutes. One of the photographs with this article shows an expert wielder of the knife, beheading with dexterity a giant 80 pound halibut.
As the fish are packed, each box load is weighed and checked both by the fish company that is making the shipment and by a representative of the fishermen.
The fishing boats are usually operated on shares, and while the fishing is good and everything “breaks right” the members of the crews make very tidy incomes.
During 1920, 19,675,700 pounds of halibut, or approximately 890 car-loads, were landed at Prince Rupert. Only 500 carloads were shipped out by express by the railways, owing to the scarcity of express refrigerator cars. The balance was sold to thvarious cold storage plants.
On the North Pacific, at points other than Prince Rupert, there were landed about 22,000,000 pounds or 1,000 carloads. Of this it is conservatively estimated at least 65 per cent, would come to Prince Rupert, provided express refrigerator cars were available to take care of the trade. This would amount to 650 carloads, making the total number of carloads of halibut which could be handled approximately 1,540 or an average of more than four cars a day throughout the year.
Why we Didn’t Get Fresh Salmon
DURING 1920 more than 31,000,000 pounds of salmon were landed at Prince Rupert and vicinity. Most of this was canned. Owing to the prevailing shortage of express refrigerator cars none was available for shipping fresh salmon, although it is estimated by the Chairman of the Fisheries Committee of Prince Rupert Bo^rd of Trade that about 100 carloads of fresh salmon would have been shipped east had there been an adequate supply of cars.
During 1920 no express refrigerator cars were .available for shipment to local points between Prince Rupert and Winnipeg, consequently such shipments had to be made in baggage cars. This injured the business in fresh fish at these points, as frequently the fish did not arrive in good condition. -,
At least three express refrigerator cars per week would be required to take care of this trade, or 150 cars per year. At many Canadian points mixed carload lots of halibut, salmon and other fish had been ordered, but it usually has been impossible to supply these orders owing to the car shortage. This shortage has now been remedied.
The estimated total shortage of refrigerator cars during 1920 was at least 1,200. All each car has been taking one month to make the round trip—on the average—at least 100 new express refrigerator cars would have been required to take care of the business as it existed in May—without allowing for any increase. The railways are planning to reduce the round trip time to twenty days and when this is accomplished the shortage . will not be so acute. ■> ,
Faster Than Passenger Trains
A PARTICULARLY good opportunity to get in touch with the fish business, was afforded our party while in Prince Rupert. When we approached the wharf the first sight that met our gaze was a regular flotilla of small fishing vessels, all busily engaged in unloading their perishable freight, after what-appeared to have been very profitable voyages. You can see Tor yourself what the view looked like by glancing at the photograph reproduced on this page.
Not only were we shown over vessels, and one of the largest cold storage and shipping plants there, but the following day we .left for Prince George—four of us —aboard the caboose of a “fish special” which left for Chicago and other United States points at 9.20 A.M. on the morning of May 10. This train ran on a schedule considerably faster than the crack passenger trains, and while we sat in the cupola of the _ Caboose, we had during the
afternoon the satisfaction of rushing by the fast westbound passenger train which had been run on a side track .to permit us—the “fish special”—to continue our speedy passage east. Thus you can get a glimpse of the importance of this traffic from the railroad’s viewpoint.
SThis train had twelve cars, eleven containing halibut and one with fresh salmon. The estimated value of the fish on this train was slightly less than $30,000 and the express charges which the railways received totalled $11,506.75. made up as . follows: Car No. 1 - $1,059.73 Car No. 2 - 1,073.30 Car No. 3 - - 1,029.99 Car No. 4 - 816.65 Car No. 5 - 999.32 Car No. 6 - 998.14 Car No. 7 - 998.53 Car No. 8 ’ - 1,031.48 Car No. 91 - 939.19 Car No. 10 954.01 Car No. 11 815.50 Car No. 12 790.91
car accrues to the Canadian Express Co.
“You know”; said one of the "fish special” crew, “this fish business is really a wonderful one and is capable of such extraordinary development.
During the week of May 2
During the week of May 2
for example 130,000 pounds of halibut were turned away from Prince Rupert because when the fishermen tied up to the wharf they learned that there were no cars to take their product east.
“You may have heard tha. some of the crews make ‘big’ money; they do, but those .ho make unusual amounts work hard for what they get.' One crew of four men who were more than usually fortunate had been out four days and sold their catch of 13,000 pounds at the Fish Auction on the morning of their arrival for approximately $1,100. As this is hook and line fishing you can imagine they were a very busy crew and were not confining themselves to an eight hour day.”
If it were not for the fish business there would have been very little reason for Prince Rupert being made the western terminus of the Grand Trunk Pacific. But Prince Rupert has a geographical advantage here, which makes it the logical port for all the fish from the Northern Pacific coast points to be landed. Fish landed in Prince Rupert are able to reach Chicago, Toronto and New York very much more quickly than if they are taken on down to Vancouver or Seattle. United States fishing vessels generally would prefer—other things being equal— to land their catch at some port in the United States.
They “Were Wheeling It”
A TEST of relative speed in reaching the market was made in 1915. A large catch of halibut was landed at Prince Rupert, rushed aboard a “fish special” and then commenced a record journey for Chicago. The halibut on this train actually reached Chicago the same day that they would have reached Seattle had their vessel continued on south to the nearest United States port; that is, there is a gain in delivery of the time which would be taken to run a fish train from Seattle to Chicago.
“Of course,” interjected one of the crew, in telling this story, “when they made this record time they ‘were wheeling it’.”
During 1920 about ten carloads of fish per week left Prince Rupert in passenger refrigerator cars for points east and south of Winnipeg. The figures.are as follows:
January - 29 February - 31 March - 38 - 21 - 35 June - 39 July - 40 August - 51 September - 67 October - 57 November - 60 December35 Total - 503
A very large proportion of these cars went to Atlantic Coast cities, or cities on the Great Lakes, as the fisheating population seems to be largely concentrated in those sections of the country where the inhabitants have been accustomed to fish as a readily-accessible diet.
For the first few months of this year the figures are: January - 33 February - 42 March - 72
67 - 85 July6 -’ - 82 86 Total -467
There May be 100 “Specials” This Year
IT. WILL thus be noted that the season extends throughout the year, but is heaviest from March to November. ■ In 1920 the fresh fish moved mostly on passenger trains and regular fast freights, with a few “fish specials”. In 1921, however, there has been a policy of rushing them east on special trains and forty-six special fish trains
or “light trains” were sent out on account of fish, during the first seven months of 1921. in addition to this, of course, a number of cars mov d on the regular passenger trains and much cured and frozen fish on fast freights.
The immense importance of this business is shown when
you consider the cargo values. The retail value of the fish shipped out of Prince Rupert in 1920 was $4,000,000. and the approximate express charges on these shipments aggregated $450,000.
Shipments this year, have been much heavier and more frequent, and the express charges consequently larger.
I was informed that a large number of United States fishing vessels
would land their catch at Prince Rupert if there were adequate facilities for getting the product to the East. One resident of Prince Rupert itemized
twenty-eight of Uncle
Sam’s fishing vessels which he felt certain would
make their port of destination Prince Rupert, instead of Seattle, when shipping facilities sufficiently improved. This would mean that the majority of these twentyand
majority twentyeight vessels—and the wives and families of many of the members of the crews—would also go to Prince Rupert.
What Prince Rupert Lost
JOHN Dybhavn, Chairman of the Fisheries Committee *-A of the Prince Rupert Board of Trade, is authority for the statement that 4,000,000 pounds of halibut were lost to Prince Rupert last year and that this cost the city a loss in supplies and provisions of approximately $140,000. He adds that a conservative estimate of the amount lost in supplying vessels that would have made Prince Rupert their headquarters had transportation facilities been available totals between $250,000 and $300,000 annually.
Each vessel carries a crew of from three to thirty-five men.
Another loss to be considered is that which is suffered by the fishermen when they have to sell their fish for freezing purposes. During 1920 there was a loss of about 5 cents per pound on the fish sold for freezing, as compared with the price which the fishermen would have received, had the fish been shipped east in their fresh state. In addition to this, each box with a capacity for 205 pounds of halibut costs seventy-five cents. Think of the greatly increased business to the box manufacturers if boxes had been in demand for the 4,000,000 pounds of halibut which actually arrived at Prince Rupert last year and had to be taken to other ports because of car shortage. For this amount of halibut alone, approximately 20,000 additional boxes would have been required, and the box manufacturers would have received an aggregate sum óf $15,000.
Despite the complaints made by the Prince Rupert Branch of the Canadian Fisheries Association and the Fisheries Committee of the Prince Rupert Board of Trade, the Canadian National contend the manufacturers made every reasonable speed in delivering the seriously needed passenger refrigerator cars. As has been stated in an earlier paragraph of this article, forty new cars were delivered early in June, and one of the photographs with this article shows the first “fish special” which went east, entirely composed of these brand new cars.
Railway authorities contend that the Canadian National Railways had no need of this particular type of car previous to the taking over of the Grand Trunk Pacific. For a while the Grand Trunk Pacific supply was supplemented by some of the older cars, but as these had the Simplex trucks, they were not acceptable for general interchange between railroads. They were available only for local shipments and were so utilized for shipments to points on the Canadian National.
One Haul where there’s no Deficit.
A T AN early date, after the Grand Trunk Pacific Yx came under the control of the Canadian National, the Government Railway authorities state, an order was placed with the National Steel Car Company of Hamilton for more cars and the result was that forty new cars reached Prince Rupert a few weeks ago and increased the supply of cars of this type by 66 per cent.
There are now 102 cars available, but various estimates show that at least 150 cars could readily be utilized. Of course, these cars almost inevitably have to go back to Continued on Page 35.
Continued from page 21
the Pacific Coast empty, and thus there is the large expense of a non-productive haul. But for the sake of the development of this fish trade from a Canadian port, and for the sake of the future of the City of Prince Rupert, surely every effort should be made to give every possible encouragement to the business. It is one of the hauls on which the Canadian National Railway will not have to show a deficit from year to year. Will the Canadian National Railway make certain that there is no danger of the “Strangling of an Industry”?