With three canning lines running, each one consisting of approximately 10 machines, you can only imagine how loud it was in the Gulf of Georgia Cannery during its heyday. As all of the machines were steam-run, for each one to function, pulleys and axles had to consistently rotate, adding to the noise. All of this made it difficult to hear in the cannery and adding insult to injury, many people who worked for the canneries had hearing impairments, having spent years working in noisy conditions without proper protection (times have changed; now you can’t walk into a functioning cannery without ear plugs, it would go against regulation!).
Today is World Listening Day. In honour of this, I would like to take a moment to recognize how challenging it was for cannery workers to listen to one another. Most of this had to happen outside of the workspace – on breaks and after work. But inside the cannery, they couldn’t hear each other, their bosses or foremen, and they probably couldn’t hear themselves think due to the noise. As such, they had to be very selective about what they were to communicate, narrowing it down to the most important subjects. When dealing with thousands of salmon a day, the most important communication was about salmon. In order for the workers to know what species of salmon was coming down the line next, rather than yelling over the sound of the machines, they invented a sign language to represent the species of salmon to be processed (refer to the image above). When the line had to be adjusted, the hand signals were made, and while no no one could hear beyond the noisy machines in front of them, they could see the hand motions letting them know what to do next.
Why don’t you give the salmon sign language a shot?