Once Upon a Time, in 1877 to be precise, Mr Manoah Steves journeyed 3,600 miles/5,800 kilometers across the ten-year-old nation of Canada from New Brunswick to a portion of rich-soiled land where the south arm of the mighty Fraser River spills into the Pacific Ocean. He anticipated there would be abundant farming and fishing, and he was absolutely right!
Though much of what he and many others achieved in the area is now the stuff of history, the village that bears his name retains a remarkable charm where living history, wooden boardwalks and first-class museums seamlessly blend with contemporary festivals and attractions, creative eateries and quaint shops that make this seaside village one of British Columbia’s most popular destinations.
Moncton Street is the equivalent of “Main Street” cutting through the historic heart of Steveston. It is a good place to start a visit, especially paying a call at the quaint Visitor Centre to pick up information and tips on what is going on during your visit. You can easily stroll up and down Moncton Street within 15 minutes; however, you may equally well spend several hours exploring the shops and side streets along the way. Many of the original shops feature handmade products and exquisite designs by local artists.
Be a kid in a candy store at Steveston Candy Dish! You’ll find a tightly-packed mini-shop with old-fashioned jars and dishes full of nostalgic candy, liquorice, taffy, lollipops, and fresh-made chocolates. My resistance crumbles in the face of 15 yummy varieties of fudge made on the spot by owner, Shirley Hartwell. Alison Gardner
Steveston’s heritage sites illuminate Richmond’s fascinating history. The Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site was once the leading producer of canned salmon in the province of British Columbia, and is now a a popular museum. It presents the history of the West Coast fishing industry through fascinating guided tours and interactive exhibits that especially appeal to children.
Built in 1894, Steveston’s restored Gulf of Georgia Cannery (beyond the fishboats) is now an interactive museum that brilliantly captures the time when Steveston was the leading producer of canned salmon in all of British Columbia. Tourism Richmond
In its heyday, Steveston was known as Salmonopolis, playing host to over 20 canneries and hundreds of fishing boats that supplied the fish to keep them going. Nearby, Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site, an authentic representation of a once thriving community of canneries, wooden boat building and repair yards, residences and stores, now invites visitors to experience what life was like for European, Chinese, Japanese and First Nations/native workers in Steveston’s booming fishing industries a century ago.
Steveston’s waterfront boardwalk is laced with eateries positioned to enjoy the bustling activity. Tourism Richmond
Turning away from the natural preoccupation with boats and fishing, a pleasant walk beyond the historic downtown brings visitors to the park-like setting of London Heritage Farm, situated on a 4.6 acre site overlooking the Fraser River. Reflecting farm life in the 1890s, visitors may stroll among the traditional flower beds and gnarled orchard fruit trees, displays of historic farm equipment and tools, and check out the farm animals before stepping inside the farm house’s museum, tea room and gift shop.
To explore the outdoors by sea, there is no better place in Metro Vancouver than to set sail from Steveston for a bit of whale watching and a real sense of nature close-up. You are likely to spot sea lions, herons, eagles, a pod of black-and-white orcas (left), or even majestic humpback whales breaching out of the water! See Follow Up Facts box below for more information. Steveston Seabreeze Adventures
For anyone staying locally, you may rent a bike and explore the area’s many dikes and trails. Steveston is surrounded by a system of water-controlling dikes that provide perfect pathways for walking, biking, and just taking in the ocean and mountain views. You may choose to simply relax at nearby Garry Point Park, where, on a clear day, you can see all the way to the Olympic Peninsula in the U.S. state of Washington; or visit the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf to see what fresh seafood the local boats have brought in for the day.
Tasty cuisine offerings range from local shrimp at the Blue Canoe Restaurant (left) to Pajos takeaway Fish and Chips (right) on a floating wharf. Alison Gardner
When you’re done sightseeing and shopping, or just need a break before you head out for more, Steveston offers an array of restaurants, cafes, and seafood shacks along the Fisherman’s Wharf boardwalk. Pull up a seat at one of the lively eateries or order a takeaway battery recharger while watching fishing boats come and go from the marina. You’ll find a myriad of dining choices including many ethnic options.
Flagging 2017 as Canada’s 150th birthday year, expect even more-than-usual special events in Steveston to mark this July 1 milestone.
Also of note is the popular seasonal Farmers & Artisans Market at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery that is open on many Sundays from May until October. Check designated dates on the website.
With over 600 working fishing boats today, Canada’s largest fleet calls Steveston Harbor home. Alison Gardner
Entering its seventh year, the Ships to Shore Festival at the end of June is a popular multi-day event. Find out what historic Steveston was like when it was a port for fleets of sailing and working ships from around the world. Visitors are welcome to tour incredible boats docked at Imperial landing and Britannia Shipyards, and also enjoy dockside programs and entertainment. This is a free three-day family-friendly festival which includes a step-aboard water shuttle between docks.
Steveston Dragonboat Festival (below) is an annual one-day August event with plenty of food, entertainment and vendors to celebrate this colorful harbor competition.
Steveston Dragon Boat Festival. Tourism Richmond
Celebrating Canada’s birthday on July 1 each year since 1945, Steveston’s Salmon Festival is one of the village’s largest events with over 70,000 people attending. The highlight is the famous salmon barbecue, where over 1,200 pounds of wild salmon filets are grilled over open fire pits.
The Maritime Festival is a free family event in mid-August at the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site. It features unique and historic vessels, live entertainment and interactive activities for all ages.
Even in December when the good people of Steveston might be excused from mounting yet another event, there is the always-popular Christmas Festival in early December. The highlights of the day include a family-oriented parade, plenty of entertainment and Santa Claus arriving by boat at Fisherman’s Wharf. Throughout December, the Cannery will also be lit up with Christmas trees decorated by local merchants and organizations.
So what would our Mr Steves think of his village now? Even his Once Upon a Time beginning has taken a very 21st century twist with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC TV) adopting Steveston as the backdrop for filming its popular fairytale + real world series where the village doubles as the mythical town of Storybrooke. Of course, perceptive readers will have guessed that this TV series is entitled Once Upon a Time, launching its sixth season in September 2016.
Every year fans from all over the world flock to Steveston on filming days to catch a glimpse of the show’s stars, or any time of year to pick up a Storybrooke walking tour map at the Visitor center to identify the filming locations. Just one more reason to get acquainted with Steveston, the very real village within a city within a metropolis.
A Village within a City within a Metropolis: Steveston is a picturesque village within the city of Richmond (pop. 190,000) which is, in turn, part of the regional district of Metropolitan Vancouver (pop. 2.4 million). A good first stop is the Steveston Visitor Centre on Moncton Street to collect maps and information. Tourism Richmond’s website also offers comprehensive listings on what to see and do in Steveston as well as what to do and where to stay in Richmond, a city particularly known for its strong Asian influences.
Despite the many attractions and activities of Steveston Village, there is almost no local accommodation though there is plenty in Richmond. I stayed in a quiet residential area at the modern, purpose-built Seabreeze Guest House (right) about five minutes drive by car from the historic village center. The house offers three guest rooms with private en-suite bathrooms, a shared kitchen, a cozy den and large family room for guests, a deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Gulf Islands, and a continental breakfast included.
Steveston Seabreeze Adventures offers whale watching tours from April 1 to October 31. With comfortable inside seating and outside viewing, each of three 40-foot semi-covered vessels accommodate groups of 23 passengers. There is a certified naturalist/interpreter on board and hydrophones to hear the whales and other marine mammals vocalize. For a $10 round trip charge, there is shuttle bus pickup from many hotel locations in downtown Vancouver or Richmond.
Country Cycling and Walking: The Steveston area offers flat delta landscapes, a chance to breathe in the salt air and witness some spectacular sunsets for both walkers and cyclists. For example, from Steveston village out past the front of the guest house where I stayed, there runs the walking and cycling-friendly South Dyke Trail (left), 17 km in length. Village Bike Rentals in the heart of Steveston is recommended for renting bicycles.
No car? No worries! There are many public transit busses that run from stops in Richmond’s downtown city center area directly to Steveston. The bus ride takes about 30 minutes and is very convenient. There is also public transportation from downtown Vancouver (call Translink 604-953-3333 to get route and schedule information).
Other articles in our Travel Article Library spotlighting Greater Vancouver: a unique collection of Vancouver’s special places and spaces including untypical accommodations, eateries and attractions; and a visit to Granville Island, a vibrant historic and arts culture destination with a compelling story, just five minutes from downtown Vancouver.
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching alternative vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women travelers of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge Web magazine. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.