Not many Stevestonites can claim to have a lengthy history in the area; however, not only was our cover model Ken Miller raised in Richmond, but he also spent all of his adult years living and working here, like four generations of his family before him.
Ken’s connection to this area dates back to his great great grandfather Robert Johnson who was one of Steveston’s early residents; he owned property along the dyke at the end of No. 2 Road at London Landing and helped draw up the original town site map.
Ken’s great grandfather Jim Trivett and his wife Katherine had a farm on the No. 2 Road property. They had chickens and a few cows and Katherine operated the area’s first door to door milk delivery service. Jim worked on the Steveston waterfront and helped build the four-mile long rock jetty that begins at Garry Point and runs out to the Lightship.
In the 1930s Ken’s grandmother Myrtle May Miller became the first female floor lady (foreman) at Imperial Cannery.
Ken’s father Gerry Miller was a bit of a local legend. He was born in a house on Second Avenue in 1928 and was the only Caucasian child within half a mile of his home. When children were out playing, passers-by would often remark about the “albino Japanese child” as he was very blond and stuck out from the crowd. By the time Gerry started school Japanese was his first language.
“The only time my dad spoke English while growing up was at home and at school.“
He adds, “Every day after regular school he went with his friends to Japanese school to learn how to read and write Japanese.”
Gerry shared recollections of growing up in Steveston in the book Changing Tides: Vanishing Voices of Nikkei Fishermen and Their Families. It was an honour to be included as Gerry was not a Nikkei fisherman, however he maintained a treasured relationship with the Japanese-Canadian fishing community.
Throughout his life he impressed and surprised people with his ability to speak Japanese. He felt extremely grateful to his childhood friends who enriched his life and enabled him to enjoy two cultures.
When World War II began Gerry was 13 years old. In an emotional passage he recalls the beginning of the Japanese internment when Japanese-Canadians were ordered from their Steveston homes. “Every day there would be more of my friends sent away. I would ride down to Steveston and watch them get on the train, then I would race along Moncton Street and up Railway Avenue on my bicycle, shouting at them back and forth till I could go no further.”
In the mid-1940s Gerry Miller began fishing in a rental boat from B.C. Packers and bought his own boat a few years later. After a few years of gill netting he quit and was hired to work on a halibut boat out of Prince Rupert. Following the war he went fish packing and eventually became a shore mechanic at Good Hope camp in Rivers Inlet. This is where he met his wife Rosemary. They married in 1953.
Ken was born in Bella Bella near where the family spent their summers. He was very young when he climbed aboard his first fishing boat, and says, “It was all I ever knew.” The rest of the year was spent at home in Richmond.
In the 1950s through the 1960s his father was the manager of Britannia Shipyard, which was still in operation.
Ken has fond memories of growing up. He remembers his father building him a go-cart with a lawn mower engine, which he would race along Steveston’s waterfront boardwalk. He says with a smile, “I would go faster than I should have.”
Like his father, Ken began working in fishing related businesses at an early age. He remembers his first job as a teenager working in a fishing store in Alert Bay.
His dad became manager for B.C. Packers in the 1970s. After a year at UBC Ken missed the fishing industry and decided to join Trites Marine in the boat repair division. He worked his way up to charge hand of the fibreglass workers and carpenters. In the summer months he ran salmon packers, which collect fish from the fish boats and bring them back to the fish plants so fishermen can stay out on the water.
In 1988 B.C. Packers moved Ken into management at their satellite office at Annieville in Delta. He managed the gillnet fishermen and oversaw hundreds of boats.
When his father retired from B.C. Packers in 1990, Ken was asked to relocate to the head office on Moncton Street.
Gerry’s retirement party was a big event attended by one hundred Japanese-Canadian fishermen who presented him with an oil painting of Steveston in thanks for many years of help and friendship.
Part of Ken’s new job as fleet manager was fish spotting from the company’s 185 Cessna airplane from Vancouver to Prince Rupert. The pilot would fly over the ocean and Ken would spot schools of herring and report their location to fishermen. He had many close calls, including a hair-raising tale of a mid-air collision. He reports, “Nothing kept us grounded. We would fly through gales and snowstorms. It was nuts.”
During one particular flight another Cessna clipped them at 500 feet. With good fortune, despite severe damage, both planes managed to land safely. Ken says, “Although I still felt a little rattled, the next day we hired a new plane and were up in the air again spotting.”
When B.C. Packers was sold in 1999 Ken worked for Canfisco on Vancouver’s eastside; after the company downsized he moved into a brief career in real estate.
In 2008 the fishing industry lured Ken back when American company Pacific Seafood approached him with an offer. The company was looking for a Canadian fleet manager to oversee their Canadian hake and ground fish trawl fleet. Ken now works from his home based office in Steveston that offers a terrific view of the fishing boats along the Fraser River.
“I am very lucky to have been able to live, work and raise my sons in this great community.” Ken Miller
He has witnessed Steveston go through many changes over the years. He points out, “Yes, Steveston has evolved from a cannery town to more of a trendy village, and that’s ok as long as the fishing industry presence is maintained. Fish boats and fishermen are part of what makes Steveston unique.”
He loves living within proximity of many great dining spots. He enjoys The Porthole, Steveston’s new wine bar, which he feels is a great addition to the community. Along the same nautical theme, he regularly joins friends at the Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant.
“I still have close friends from my childhood in the village and many others from years in the fishing industry,“ says Ken.
He adds, “Although being in the fishing industry sometimes means months away from home, I have no regrets. It has been a rewarding career. As I near retirement I reflect on how lucky I have been to follow my father’s footsteps in this interesting and often exciting career.”
Ken concludes, “I sometimes visit Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site to see my father’s pictures there and I hear my father’s voice as it narrates one of the many slide shows in one of the small houses and childhood memories flood back to me.”