Black History Month Highlight: John Deas

Feature image for blog post titled: Black History Month Highlight: John Deas. Image consists of Deas Island Cannery plaque and a photo of Deas Island Cannery circa 1875 by Community Stories Collection.

By Heritage interpreters Lauren and Mackenzie

The Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site strives to commemorate the many diverse communities who upheld and supported the fishing and canning industry along Canada’s West Coast. This Black History Month, we would like to highlight John Sullivan Deas – a Black tinsmith and entrepreneur who took a leading role in founding the Fraser River’s salmon canning industry. 

Deas was born in South Carolina, 1838, and immigrated to Canada in 1862. It was in British Columbia that he started in the canning industry as a tinsmith.  

In 1871 he opened his own Cannery and soon become the leading canner on the Fraser River. For 5 years Deas led the industry, often canning double the salmon of his competitors.  

By 1877, however, John Deas’ lead in the canning industry became threatened as rival businesses started opening along the Fraser River. Unfortunately, Deas sold his cannery in 1878 and moved to Portland, Oregon, with his wife and children. 

In 1880 at the age of 42, Deas passed away. Deas Island and the Deas Slough, where his cannery was once located, bears his name to this day. 

Reference: BC Black History Awareness Society‘s Earliest Pioneers (1858-1899) Stories John Sullivan Deas article