From 1913 to Today
The St. Jean’s Cannery & Smokehouse story starts with the birth of our founder, Armand St. Jean, in 1913. He grew up in St. Jovite, Quebec, with his mother, father, and 15 brothers and sisters. He moved to Montreal at 16 and became a wrestler known as “The Flash.” His wrestling tours took him across Canada and he taught himself to read English.
During the 1930s and 40s, Armand continued his cross-Canada travels while working in a wide variety of vocations: fruit picker, bouncer, miner, bartender, laundryman, and carpenter.
While building gold mining dredges in Dawson City, he met his wife, Betty. The couple had four boys in the Yukon before the family of six moved to Vancouver Island in the 1950s.
Vancouver Island gave him the opportunity to start his own seafood company, and it started with home-smoked oysters.
Armand cooked the oysters in the family kitchen and smoked them in a smokehouse which he built himself—in a shed behind his garage.
He would package the oysters into plastic bags and go bar-to-bar across Nanaimo, selling his “St. Jean’s Smudgies Smoked Oysters” to hungry patrons.
The oysters didn’t keep long in the plastic bags, so Armand invested in a hand steamer and started canning the oysters in glass jars and metal tins.
With the canning techniques in place, Armand acquired warehouse space, added more equipment, and added his family oyster chowder recipe to his lineup.
The legend of St. Jean’s canning and smoking techniques soon broke out and Armand began to offer customer processing for sport fishers in the area.
In 1979, Armand began talking about retirement.
While all four of his sons—Denis, Perry, Gerard, and Paul—had helped with the canning business at some point over the past 18 years, it was Gerard who put forward the intent to continue on the family business.
“It just hit me that this was a family thing, All that hard work had been done. I didn’t want all the recipes that Dad had developed to disappear.” – Gerard St Jean
Armand passed away in 1990, but his legacy and smoking and canning techniques lived on under Gerard’s direction.
The hard work paid off.
After gaining international attention for St. Jean’s products at Expo 86 in Vancouver, the business was able to open a new, larger headquarters on Southside Drive—the current location—in 1989.
The 1990s saw steady growth as the cannery starting canning tuna commercially and added a line of honey-sweetened candied salmon.
St. Jean’s started to produce products outside of seafood, including red pepper jellies, sweet mustards, and canned mushrooms.
In the 2000s, the cannery expanded with a number of depots on the Lower Mainland, including two at Vancouver International Airport, and in the Vancouver Island communities of Campbell River and Port Alberni.
The cannery also increased its focus on the sport fishing industry by making connections with fishing lodges up and down B.C.’s west coast.
In 2013, St. Jean’s acquired one of its largest canning partners, Raincoast Trading (Delta, B.C.), a company highly respected for its sustainable fishing practices. Raincoast continues to serve retail markets in the USA and Canada.
It was Gerard’s turn to move towards retirement.
And so, in 2015, majority ownership was transferred to the Nuu-chah-nulth, five Indigenous nations with a long and proud history as stewards and participants in BC’s seafood economy.
With this union, St. Jean’s Cannery & Smokehouse goes forward with a unique purpose and ability to grow and build upon these combined legacies.