Born in Scotland in 1856, Henry Bell-Irving trained as a civil engineer in Edinburgh and Karlsuhe, Germany before returning to England to practice his profession. He and his wife Bella moved to Canada in 1882 where he joined the Canadian Pacific Railway as a surveying engineer. Three years later he headed west to Vancouver.
In the fall of 1890, Mr. Bell-Irving found, among family and friends in Scotland, the capital to consolidate nine west coast canneries, seven of them on the Fraser River, into one corporation, the Anglo-British Columbia Packing Company Ltd. becoming “the world’s top producer of sockeye salmon.” Through solid management the canning enterprise prospered.
In 1891, the company accounted for more than one quarter of British Columbia’s total salmon pack, and was the foremost packer of sockeye salmon in the world. In 1889, he chartered the 879 ton sailing ship Titania, bringing over the first direct cargo to Vancouver from Cape Horn. The return voyage was even more significant: he arranged a complete cargo of Fraser River canned sockeye salmon, the first shipment of its kind from B.C. to the U.K. One of the industry’s early challenges was the cans, which were made almost entirely by hand. In conjunction with the Pacific Steel Metal Works and Norton Manufacturing Co., Mr. Bell-Irving formed the Automatic Can Company (ACC) in 1896. His leadership was instrumental in ABC Packing, taking the majority of shares in the ACC.
Mr. Bell-Irving played an active role in maintaining the welfare of the fish canning industry joining others in urging the federal government to establish a treaty with the United States on fishing regulations of the Fraser River salmon. His perseverance resulted in the establishment of the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commissions three decades later.