excerpted from “The Spirit of Steveston: A History of the Steveston Community Society”
by Victoria Kendall. © 1986 Steveston Community Society
The Steveston Salmon Festival has evolved from a July 1st “Sports Day” themed event which was held as a fund raiser to build a playground in the Steveston Park in 1944, to one of the largest non-profit Canada Day celebrations in Canada. The Marpole-Richmond Review headlines read “Steveston Sports Day Best in Living Memory of Present Residents”. A testament then to the over sixty year tradition of commitment to this community by the residents which is as strong today as it was then.
In 1946, Sports Day saw the added component of the first “Salmon Queen Pageant”. The Salmon Queen would reign for one year over a town whose character had been shaped by the presence of salmon and the influence of the canneries.
The prospect of the Salmon Queen contest gave the July 1st Sports Day more publicity than ever before. Newspaper headlines proclaimed “Salmon Queen Competition is Gaining Momentum Daily,” and pictures of the Princesses illuminated the pages of the Marpole-Richmond Review for weeks. Steveston Park was overrun with festive energy. The 1946 Dominion Day celebrated not only Canada’s birthday, but it was the first national holiday since the end of World War II. Vancouver celebrated in style with a parade which featured Salmon Queen Carnival floats inviting everyone back to Steveston for the Carnival parade. When the floats returned to Steveston, they brought with them scores of people who joined the Steveston crowds lining Moncton Street. The celebration which had begun as a sports day had blossomed into a carnival!
Steveston had certainly changed from the boom-town days of street brawls and saloons. Economic recession, racial prejudice, and war had altered the face of the town, but the durability of its character as a closely-knit fishing community was now attested by the symbolic success of the Carnival.
From 1946 to today, there has been a myriad of changes, from the parade route and more notably the name change from Richmond Salmon Queen Carnival to Steveston Salmon Festival. There has not been a Salmon Queen since 1986. Despite these changes, there have been other components which have remained constant: one being that the Festival is always a homage to Steveston’s salmon empire; the other is the enthusiasm and dedication of the citizens of Steveston to host “Canada’s biggest little birthday party” each year.