St. Jean’s Cannery & Smokehouse

I grew up on the west coast but as a youngster, seafood was a ‘take it or leave it’ kind of thing. I was an idiot. The fishy and crustacean-y bounty of the Pacific Northwest is unbelievable, and you can find much of it in edible form at St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse.

Their head office is in Nanaimo and they have facilities around Vancouver Island, in Prince Rupert and Massett but I’m talking about the humble little storefront in Port Alberni. As opposed to the “tourist salmon” out there (overpriced, over-packaged and under-flavoured), this product is the real deal and its prices are solid. If you can’t catch your own or snaggle some directly from a local fisherman, then do what I do and buy some vacuum sealed frozen fish, thaw them out, remove any trace of labelling, and tell everyone you caught them yourself. For the suspicious, you can hang up some hip waders and spray them with saltwater.

Why yes, I did catch this albacore tuna myself. Erm…in the river.

Fish are sold in ones or twos, reds or blues. Their offerings are:

  • Wild salmon
  • Tuna
  • Oysters
  • Sturgeon
  • Cod
  • Halibut
  • Crab
  • Prawns
  • Clams
  • Marinades, jellies, antipasto, spices, sauces
  • Mushrooms (surprise!)
Clam nectar, no doubt made from clam bees.

Fish is a big deal on the west coast. Back in my day *hitches up pants and shifts weight to heels* children at school were taught the life cycle of salmon and were quizzed about the seven salmon species (Atlantic salmon of course being a myth). We were bonded together by the mutual discovery of how monstrous a male spawning salmon looks.

This is where the term “hell spawn” comes from, children.


We were also bound together by the inheritance of a decades-long hatred for the Town-Who-Shan’t-Be-Named over the title of Salmon Capital of the World. It’s Port Alberni, case closed.

Now, I’ve never been fishing but if you are of the hang-around-in-a-boat-wearing-your-lucky-hat persuasion then St. Jean’s also provides the service of taking your smelly carcass (the fish’s, not yours) and processing it for you. A sizeable chunk of their earnings comes from sport fishermen and various arrangements with fishing lodges up and down the coast.

St. Jean’s has been around for more than 50 years and it all started with a heavily-accented French-Canadian dude selling bags of smoked oysters from a shed in Nanaimo. According to their website its founder, Armand St. Jean (Hey! That rhymes in French!) grew up in St. Jovite Quebec, moved to Montreal, toured Canada, met his wife in Dawson City, and eventually moved to Vancouver Island. Here are three interesting facts about his life: He is one of 16 children, he was a wrestler known as The Flash, and he taught himself English by reading the Sears catalogue. Sears-iously.

When Armand passed away in 1990 his family took over the business and in 2015 majority ownership was transferred to five Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations. Here are some headline opportunities that were sadly not seized upon by local media to mark the occasion:

  • Fishy business transaction!
  • Previous owners canned!
  • New owners fishing for compliments!

See the goods at (because was already taken).