Meziadin River Fish Ladders

Meziadin River Fish Ladder Statement of Significance


The Meziadin Fish Ladder complex consists of a concrete passageway which allows spawning salmon to navigate Victoria Falls on the Meziadin River, a technical fish counting and sampling facility which extends over the Meziadin River, and a seasonal camp for fishery technicians. The complex is located approximately 50 kilometres east of Stewart, B.C., in the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine.

Heritage Values

The heritage value of the Meziadin Fish Ladder is found in its early and ongoing contribution to the conservation of the salmon resource, in its cultural values related to First Nations use of the Meziadin River for fishing, and in its current use as a fish ladder and fish counting facility.

The current facility, constructed in 1966 by the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, replaced an earlier fish ladder, built in 1914, at the same location. It is important for its natural and geographical association with the Meziadin River and Meziadin Lake, an important spawning lake within the Nass River system.

Cultural significance is found in the past and current use of this locality on the Meziadin River for salmon fishing by First Nations, and in their traditional knowledge of the river and the fishery which has assisted government conservation efforts since the late 1800s. The historic place is called Lak-an-Zoq by local First Nations as it was the site of their daily fishing activity. Today, this significance is seen in seasonal fishing camps and smokehouses along the north bank of the Meziadin River, the monitoring of the fishery by technicians representing the Nisga'a and the Gitanyow First Nations, and the use of traditional dipnet fishing methods by the Gitanyow.

The Meziadin Fish Ladder is historically significant as an example of early fish enhancement policy and activities undertaken in northern British Columbia and demonstrates the early understanding of the importance of the Meziadin River in the Nass River salmon fishery. Most early fishways in British Columbia were constructed to mitigate barriers to fish migration caused by the construction of dams for hydro-electric generation or mining purposes. At Meziadin, however, it was the location, length and steepness of the Victoria Falls that prevented the passage of salmon upriver to Meziadin Lake. The value of the Meziadin salmon resource was first documented by provincial fisheries inspector C.P. Hickman in the early 1900s and helped lead to provincial and federal government cooperation in the construction of the original fish ladder which opened in September 1914. Today, 70 to 80 percent of the Nass River sockeye run returns to the Meziadin system, which translates into an average of 200,000 sockeye counted each year at the facility.

The Fish Ladder is valued for its natural history, scientific and conservation importance, emphasized through the natural cycle of the salmon and the seasonal nature of fishing and fish counting at the site. The original unmaintained fish ladder was replaced in 1966 by the current ladder when hydro-electric development was considered on the Nass River and studies found that the 1914 ladder was no longer effective in allowing more fish to reach the spawning grounds.

The 670 foot long Fish Ladder is valued for its engineering, design and physical form. Bridging both the upper and lower Falls, the Fish Ladder has 33 ascending pools providing access to spawning grounds above the falls. A concrete weir at the lower falls directs fish into the fish ladder, while a buttressed design of steel and concrete make the structure impervious to river currents. The vertical slot design allows fish to either freely navigate the ladders or to be manually directed by technicians.

The site is also important for its social, educational and interpretive values. The public can view fish leaping over the weir at the lower end of the Ladder, observe activities of fisheries technicians as they conduct daily counts of returning salmon and biological sampling, and understand the cultural values of the site through interpretive signs.

Character Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the Meziadin Fish Ladder include:

  • remote location,
  • direct connection and relationship to the Meziadin River and Meziadin Falls
  • views to the Falls from the steel walkway over the fish ladder
  • public viewing area at the foot of the fish ladder, and views of operations at enumeration facility
  • the concrete and steel fish ladder structure with its buttressed design
  • the fish counting and sampling station,
  • site of seasonal camps
  • continued use as a First Nations fishing and fish processing area along the river edge, below the falls
  • interpretive signs

 Meziadin Fish Ladder Sign

Copy of the Meziadin Fish Ladders Heritage Interpretive Sign on Highway 37

Special Thanks To:

Mark Cleveland and Gregory Rush, Gitanyow Fisheries

Richard Alexander, Nisga'a Fisheries

Mike Jakubowski, DFO Stock Assessment

Kevin Christie, BSc., Fisheries Technician, Meziadin Fishway


Selected Sources:

British Columbia Provincial Department of Fisheries. Report of the Commissioner of Fisheries of British Columbia. Victoria: Printed by authority of the Legislative assembly of British Columbia. 1903, 1909, 1910, 1912, 1913, 1914.

British Columbia Provincial Department of Fisheries. Report of the Commissioner of Fisheries of British Columbia. Spawning-Beds of the Naas.  by C.P. Hickman 1913

Cleveland, Mark, BSc. R.P.Bio. The 2009 Gitanyow Demonstration Fishery. Kitwanga: Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs and Prince Rupert, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2010.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Region, North Coast.

Haugan, D. et al. Canadian Data Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences no. 765. Historical Review of the Meziadin River Fishway and Upper Nass Biological Program from 1964 to 1986. Prince Rupert: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 1989.

McMurdo, John. Heritage Survey of the Proposed C.N. Rail Line from Aiyansh to Meziadin Lake. Victoria: Archaeological Sites Advisory Board of British Columbia, 1975.

Palmer, Rod N. “Meziadin River Fish Ladders.” British Columbia Historical News. 36, no. 4 (2003).

Province of British Columbia. Resource Management Report for HaTg-1 and HaTg-2, 2010.

Southgate, C.R. Canadian Data Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences no. 823. Review of the Meziadin River Fishway and Upper Nass Biological Programs, 1990. Prince Rupert: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 1991.

White, Arthur V. Fishways in the Inland Waters of British Columbia. Ottawa: Commission of Conservation Canada, 1918.

Salmon Jumping Weir at Meziadin Fish Ladder - 2006 (R. Kullman photo)
Aerial view of Meziadin Fish Ladders - 1995 (K. Newman photo)
View of the weir and start of fish ladder on the Meziadin River - 2007 (K. Newman photo)
View upstream on the Meziadin River Falls from walkway on the fish ladders - August 2010
Fish Ladder buttressed concrete side walls - August 2010
Fish enumeration facility at the top (upstream end) of the Fish Ladder - August 2010
Counting and measuring fish at enumeration facility - August 2010
View of buttressed concrete walls and walkway on Fish Ladder - August 2010
Public viewing area and First Nation use area just below the Fish Ladder - August 2010
First Nations dip netting salmon below Fish Ladder - 2009 (Gitanyow Fisheries Authority photo)
The original Meziadin Fish Ladder under construction c. 1913 BC Archives photo na-04038
View upstream on Meziadin River Falls (a.k.a. Victoria Falls)  c.1913 BC Archives photo na-03744
Meziadin Fish Ladder in 1914  - Report from the Commissioner of Fisheries 1914