What's in a name? The Crab Dock
by Adrienne Mason, Tofino
What is still known today as the "crab dock" got its start in 1948 when Pierre Malon and Bill White went into business together to start up a crab cannery.
Pierre Malon and Bill White first met at Clayoquot on Stubbs Island. Pierre and his wife, Madeline, had taken over the operation of Stubbs Island, with its hotel, beer parlour, and store, from Madeline's father Walter Dawley. The Malons, as well as Bill and Ruth White, and Bill's sister Betty Farmer, ran the operations, helping out wherever something needed doing. "We ran the hotel, beer parlour, and store," said Ruth. "We ran it all." Within a year or so of arriving, Bill and Betty bought the island from the Malons and their sister, Jo Brydges, soon came to help out, too.
If you go to the current "Crab Dock" (the government dock on Olsen Road) and look to the right past the Mini Motel, you can see the original red crab cannery building on the water. William Lornie first built and operated the cannery. In 1948, Pierre Malon bought the property and the operation. The Malons, who'd been living in Victoria since selling Stubbs Island, moved back to Tofino to take on the new venture. They were joined by the Whites, who moved over from Clayoquot after selling their share in Stubbs Island to Betty Farmer. Bill and Pierre became business partners and started up Tofino Packing.
The partners ran the crab boat Stubbs Island and canned the crab they caught. Ruth remembers a long concrete table on the lower floor of the building where they packed the crabs (and later clams and salmon). The cans were stored in the upper level. Several women from Tofino and Opisaht worked in the cannery.
Although there was a small dock in front of the cannery, the Stubbs Island was usually moored at the government dock on Olsen Road.
The crabs were kept there too. They were tied up in floating boxes at the end of the dock nearest the cannery and would be pulled over to the cannery at high tide. Today, you can still buy crabs at this end of the government dock in the little blue building with the sign "Crab Dock."
The Malons lived in a house on the cannery property, while Ruth and Bill lived up the hill in a house that now sits above the Weigh West. Both couples had young children when they first began the operation. Ruth and Bill had two boys: Mike and Peter, while the Malons had three children: Joan, Suzanne, and Robert. As the children grew, Ruth and Madeline worked in the cannery as well.
The cans from Tofino Packing were not labelled, but were sold to BC Packers and sold under their label. For a while, live crabs were also shipped out of town. Ruth would drive the truck to the airport to meet the plane. "It was okay as long as it wasn't foggy," said Ruth. Then, like now, poor weather and thick fog often grounded the venture. They also shipped live crab by truck. "Michael would drive out with the crabs covered in wet canvas," said Ruth.
In the 1960s, the cannery expanded to include salmon. Bill and Pierre went into partnership with Ben Hellesen and built the dock, Tofino Packing, which was located where North Sea is now. The partners would buy fish at their dock and pack it at the cannery. The expansion of the operation meant they needed more workers, including teens. "It seemed like anybody over the age of 16 worked at the cannery at one time or another," said Mike White.
The business venture came to an end in 1964 and the assets were divided among the partners. The fish dock went to Hellesen and Bill White got the crab boat, Stubbs Island, and started crabbing full time. Pierre Malon sold the property to Betty Farmer and Jo Brydges and returned to Victoria with his family.
Betty and Jo were well known by now for their fabulous gardens and their handiwork is still evident on the property near the old cannery and the Mini Motel. The cannery building was never used as a cannery after it was sold. Several people remember though, that the boat shed was where Betty and Jo's handyman, Freddie Thornberg, carved his last canoe. After the property was sold again in 1973, the cannery building was converted into living quarters, and has provided a home to several people over the years. And, of course, the long association with this corner of Tofino to the sale of crab remains with the current Crab Dock.
Adrienne Mason is a local writer, historian and biologist. She has published many historical and childrens books. More about her can be found at www.adriennemason.com
The history of the Tofino Crab Dock, at the end of Olsen Road in Tofino, by Tofino historian and author Adrienne Mason.