By Rick Metzger
In the spring of 1962 when I was 11, my father, Elden Metzger, announced to the family that he would be going fishing with his brother, Wayland, for the salmon season at a place called Alitak. Wayland had been a machinist with Alaska Packers Association and through that association and with his friend Don Slater they had acquired some set net sites in Alitak Bay on Kodiak Island.
My father was a small contractor who moved houses and did foundation work. Bills were many and incoming payments were slow. He was offered $1000.00 for a season’s work. I remember quiet discussions at home, visits to my uncles where they talked loud about the preparations for fishing and stories of great bears roaming the beaches. Mostly I remember my mother’s tears when we all said good bye to my father at the SEATAC airport and watched as he boarded the PNA Constellation for the 7 hour direct flight to Kodiak.
School was out and my mom, older sister Kathy, younger brother Russ and I headed to the berry fields for a summer of berry fights and sneak swimming in the irrigation ponds. It seemed like forever but a letter finally came to us from Alitak. Dad said he missed us all and hoped we were all doing our share to help Mom out with chores and things. My sister was. Her berry card scored over $100. My brother and I were not so good. He told of great whales beaching, giant crabs, beach combing, bears, beach seining, picking fish and meeting a man called T.T.
To this day I am not sure how it all transpired, but somehow my father and T.T. Fuller made an agreement for the sale of Fuller`s mom and pop cannery operation and set net sites in Kempff Bay next to the Pacific American Fisheries cannery in Lazy Bay. My father used $850.00 of his $1000 season’s pay as down payment and somehow (considering he had been fishing for APA) secured financing for the balance through, Winn Brindle the young superintendant of the Moser Bay Columbia Ward Fisheries (CWF) cannery, who had a joint packing agreement with PAF and the Alitak cannery.
My father made it home with $150 of his summer’s earnings and tales of excitement and adventure that would keep a 12 year old awake at night knowing that the next summer would not be spent in a berry patch. In the spring of 1963 we kids were let out of school early to leave for Alitak. There was no sadness in the family for this departure, but my mother wrote in her journal of her reservations of the trip and our new life.
We arrived at Kodiak on a cold, gray day. The most memorable part of my first flight to Kodiak on the PNA ” Connie” was watching the oil streak down the engine cowl and drip off into space, and my father and friend wondering if it held enough oil to make it to Kodiak. It did.
We were met at Kodiak by T.T. Fuller and taken to his 2-story water front apartment building where we were fed a spaghetti dinner by his wife, Fern, and then down to Kodiak Airways where there was a Grumman Goose waiting to fly us to Kempff Bay. It was a long night and day, but we arrived full of excitement and energy for adventure. Little did I know that this day would be the first day of a 54 season career of fishing and working for the Alitak cannery and that I would someday be a part of over half of the history of the Alitak Cannery.
The summer of 1963 was one of fun and adventure for us boys. Dad was fishing for the C.W.F. Moser Bay cannery under joint agreement with P.A.F., and a highlight of the summer was riding on the tender Ermine from Kempff Bay to Moser Bay, when we got to take turns steering. Our parents were going to meet us there after visiting with some other set netters on the way. Their visit lasted longer than it took us to get there. We were left alone aboard the Ermine to wait for our parents while the crew went about their business. In our boredom we decided to climb the mast which led to my first encounter with Winn F. Brindle. He spotted us from his office window and with a loud bellow stomped down the dock asked whose kids we were and told us to get off the boat and sit on the dock’s bull rail until our parents arrived. We did as he said and for the rest of the summer tried to stay out of his sight.
My first visit to the Alitak cannery was less eventful but little did I know that Brindle would soon be the master of that location, also. It was here we met Rod, the jovial storekeeper who always had some smashed candy he said he couldn’t sell, and a bellowing giant of a beach boss, Eric Johanson, whose look would cower a 12 year old lad but who in truth was a gentle soul and a very kind man.
It was here at Alitak that I was introduced to the long, long tradition of mug up at the Alitak cannery. At 10 am, 3 pm and again at 8 pm long tables were set with coffee, hot chocolate, cookies, pastries and cold cuts for the cannery crew and after their break the tables were left full for the fishermen. It was here that a shy 12 year old could sit in a corner munching a cookie with hot chocolate and overhear stories of who was who and how it was back when. I listened to the stories. I remembered some, verified some and forgot some. My heroes were the highliners of the day and my dreams were to be as they. As the years and seasons progressed the old timers faded away and I found myself being the one telling the stories at mug up and being asked how it was back then and who was who at Alitak.
About this time Woody Kneble showed up at Alitak and started poking around into the history of the place and asking questions about when, where and who, we quickly realized that there were not too many people left that could carry on the stories of Alitak. We started taking notes and gathering tidbits of information and gathered related artifacts for a small display at the cannery. One thing led to another and we decided it needed to be written down.
We received a grant from the Alaska Historical Society to help with the research and acquisition of information. We have now twice missed the deadlines for submission of our work and the patience of the Society and our expectant readers is wearing thin.
The physical history of the Alitak cannery is easy to document from archives, news clippings, memories and old photos that can be scanned and easily assembled and published. Our work has led us into an amazing abyss of people, events and crossed paths that helped set the stage for the Alitak cannery. It has been our endeavor to try and work in enough of the peripheral history to excite interest and imagination without taking away from the cannery story itself.
From the earliest know inhabitants of Alitak, to the Russian fur traders, the sealers and otter poachers, the whalers, the gold seekers, military operation, the accomplishments of the men whose namesakes mark the prominate geography, shipwrecks, competition between the canneries and fisherman, inventors, eccentrics and many more, all had a hand in the history of the Alitak cannery . Sorting through all of the information and deciding what to use has become an enormous task for an illiterate like me.
Kindly bear with us as we continue the work to finish this project.
If anyone has any pictures or stories of events or characters from the Alitak area, please contact Rick Metzger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Vicki Wisenbaugh
Note: Tenakee Historical Collection received a grant from the Alaska Historical Society’s Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative to catalog a collection of materials from Tenakee Springs’ Superior Packing Co. All of the photos in this post come from Tenakee Historical Collection.
Bob Pegues was a pillar of the Chichagof Island community of Tenakee Springs for over 40 years. He was part owner and year round caretaker of the ruins of the Superior Packing Company cannery property. In his retirement years, Bob undertook research for a book about the cannery, its history and the complex financial dealings of the owners. Bob’s efforts were cut short by cancer and his files were bequeathed in a scrambled heap to the Tenakee Historical Collection.
Thanks to a grant from the Alaska Historical Society, the Tenakee Historical Collection was able to sort out that pile of paper, photos and publications to make the information more accessible for future research.
Sorting and filing Bob’s research offered tantalizing glimpses of the past century, when fish traps and rapacious plunder of salmon streams were the norm, and the territorial authorities were occupied with violations of the Alaska Bone Dry Act and acts of “unlawful co-habitation” as well as assault and suspected murder. Bob’s collection of original documents, photos, articles, letters and interview transcripts are now safely stored in the archives of the Tenakee Historical Collection museum, and ready for further exploration by anyone with a keen interest in the cannery era.
By: Mark LaRiviere
Note: The following was written in the Fall of 1976. No salmon canneries remain on Ship Creek today.
Below the hustle-bustle of downtown Anchorage, at the mouth of Ship Creek, is the only remaining salmon cannery in upper Cook Inlet. At one time there were two canneries in Anchorage and three in the upper Inlet area, but the days of small, owner operated canneries in Alaska are over and only the Whitney-Fidalgo Seafoods, Inc. Anchorage cannery remains in upper Cook Inlet.
This cannery is a direct link to a large part of Alaska’s past – the salmon canning days. Starting in Southeast Alaska in 1878 and growing to a peak in 1936 with a pack of 8.4 million cases, the salmon canning industry has had a powerful impact on the economic and sociological development of Alaska as a territory and as a state. Today the industry still plays an important role in the Alaskan economy, providing summertime employment for people from remote area and market for fisherman to earn the money they need to sustain them throughout the remainder of the year. Many of these peoples live in the bush year-round or are Natives in remote villages and settlements who fish for subsistence.
It was a mix of people such as these that I met and worked with during three summers of employment at the Anchorage cannery; 1974, 1975, and 1976. Mostly set-net fisherman, they fished the upper Cook Inlet shorelines, intertidal areas and Susitna River delta. Fishing in 25 to 30 foot tidal fluctuations and murky brown water they tended their nets with outboard powered skiffs, delivering their catch to the cannery or to the shallow draft scows and tenders that operate in the inshore areas of upper Cook Inlet.
The catch from these fisherman is canned at the Anchorage cannery. First built in 1931, and operated by H.J. Emard as Emard Packing Company, Inc., it survived a period of which I know little of its history. Johnny Bumanglag, the fish house foreman, and Joe, the present-day retort operator, are still working from the 1930’s when Emard first starting canning salmon there. In those days the F/V Henry J. served as a tender to upper Cook Inlet fishermen, taking out the scows in the spring, picking up in the summer and returning them to the cannery in the fall.
Ship Creek, the waterfrontage of the cannery, is not too aptly named since few ships (or boats) can operate in a channel that fluctuates from 1 to 31 feet in 12 hours or less. Only flat bottom vessels or vessels with hulls strong enough to withstand several beachings during the course of a visit can “tie up” to the cannery dock. Large flat-bottomed vessels are often brought into the mouth of the creek and unloaded next to a concrete ship that is permanently dug into the Terminal Yards fill at the mouth of Ship Creek.
The cannery is a collection of rather jostled and dilapidated old buildings and trailers that show their age and the fact they suffered through the Alaska earthquake of 1964. Inside the canning line warehouse, the can shop normally on the second floor of canneries, rests at the same level as the canning line, a result of the floor collapsing beneath it during the earthquake and cannery economics dictating it to be left there as long as it worked. No wonder one can walk along a wall in the warehouse and come upon a window in the wall whose top edge is below the waistline.
A small group of people live on the premises, similar to remote area canneries that are complete settlements in themselves, but the majority of workers commute from within the city. The machinist crew, Filipinos and office workers are brought in from the lower 48, and rest of the crew is hired from the local work force. Some of them have been working canneries for many years, such as Minnie who lives in Wasilla and commutes to work, often staying and sleeping in her car when working into the wee hours of the night.
Squeezed between Elmendorf AFB, Terminal Yards and downtown Anchorage you can almost hear the cannery breathe a sigh of relief to be connected on a waterway to the open ocean waters. The city is moving in all around. Much of the property the cannery is located upon is on old fill from early day excavation projects in surrounding areas. Jutting into this fill and coming right up to the cannery road, is little estuarine bay of vital importance to the cannery. Along the edges of this small embayment are skids upon which the fish scows are placed in the wintertime to protect them from the freeze up of upper Cook Inlet waters. The scows are placed out in the spring at strategic locations on the east side of Cook Inlet from Boulder Point to Fire Island and on the west side from Tyrone to West Foreland. The fisherman, notified of openings by radio and written notice, net and recover the salmon and deliver their catch to the scows. There they are covered with wetted burlap to keep them cool and protected from the wind, sun and seagulls. The fisherman return to their camps and a tender from the Anchorage cannery comes on a regular schedule to pick up the fish. All five species of Pacific salmon ae caught in upper Cook Inlet with reds and pinks making up the majority of the catch.
Counts are kept of the number of each species from each bin and a fish ticket is written up for the fisherman registered to that bin. Back in the cannery office the fisherman will be credited with an amount equal to the number of each species landed, times the average weight of that species that week as determined by a negotiating board or an Alaska Department of Fish and Game sampling crew.
The scows are the only logical low cost way to service the fish camps along each side of upper Cook Inlet. Requiring little maintenance, each scow can accommodate the fish from several individual fish camps along that stretch of the shoreline and minimize the time the tender needs to pick up the fish. These fisherman have banded together into the Upper Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Association and it is this group that Whitney-Fidalgo officials must bargain with each year for the prices and contracts to fish. Other processors compete for the fish in the area, with Kenai being the most popular alternative landing site.
During the peak of the run it is not uncommon for the F/V Totem (the modern day replacement of the Henry J) to return to the cannery loaded to the brim with pink, red and silver salmon. Often times having 20,000 or more fish in its holds, the Totem will bring in two such loads a week. This is when the people in the canneries earn their salt. With no holding facilities for this mass of fresh product, except for a few chilled seawater bins that act as temporary storage silos, these fish must be canned.
The machinery has got to operate correctly and the people must work until the job is done. If the cannery superintendent could find robots to man the machines at time like these he would be satisfied. Instead they often bend to the fact that real human people work at the cannery and they often knock off work just after midnight to allow the cannery crew some sleep (often averaging less than 6 hours) before starting up the cannery again the next morning to can more fish. The times of working past midnight do not usually last more than 8-10 days at a stretch and thank heaven! You can only like salmon, working and making money just so much. Then there is your body to consider.
The cannery becomes a world unto itself. Those of us that lived there would seldom wander even up into downtown Anchorage – less than one mile away. The entire plant and its operations became dependent upon the outside connection of the ALASKA railroad, delivering the tin ends and can bodies and taking away the still cooking pallets of canned salmon. The warehouse of the cannery is so small and lacking in floor space that if the pack was not removed daily by rail cars and new ones spotted at the doors, the pallets would be stacked on the floor and this accumulation could shut down the cannery operations within 24 hours.
The effluent from the cannery operations is discharged into Ship Creek. Thousands of pounds of offal – everything on the fish that is not canned or salted – is ground up and mixed with water to form a slurry. This slurry is piped to below the mean low water mark on Ship Creek to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s effluent permit and released. There the ever-hungry, opportunistic seagulls find it.
In the summer, on low tides one can always tell at a glance whether or not the cannery is operating by the presence or absence of large numbers of seagulls alighting on Ship Creek just below the cannery, floating downstream bobbing and ducking for the salmon offal and screaming, screeching and fighting amongst themselves. The gulls, mostly California gulls, roost upon the mud flats below downtown Anchorage and feed upon the cannery effluent. Streams of gulls capitalize upon this food, forming a steady circle from the mouth of the creek up to the discharge pipe.
It is quite a spectacular sight – I have seen feeding congregations of 5,000 or more seagulls below the cannery. Some of the gulls are huge and will attack unsuspecting humans! I have two documented cases of seagulls attacking people in the Terminal Yards area. My guess is more people have had the experience, but are afraid to reveal it for the sake of ridicule. Who has ever heard of such a thing – dive bombing seagulls, noiselessly heading for your head? Often times they drop a little package as you dissuade them to leave. Alaska is full of animals that will attack, but seagulls – without provocation?
As sudden as they start, the salmon runs in upper Cook Inlet start to diminish. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game begins to limit fishing time, catch per unit of effort decreases and the fisherman cease fishing. It is more profitable, or less expensive for them to resume other activities. They close up the fish camp, move back to the city or the bush and wait until next season. Life at the cannery continues with the necessary clean up, machinery maintenance, final shipments of canned salmon and recovery and storage of the scows for the winter.
The last week of August is traditionally the time when the scows are towed back to the cannery dock by the tender, moved at high tide by the beach gang in a small runabout to the foot of the skids, and winched up by the old authentic looking steam engine. There they are secured and left for the winter. The tender leaves and goes south for the winter before the freeze up as does the cannery crew. The buildings are boarded up to await the next spring and beginning of another salmon canning season.
UAF’s Summer Sessions announces a wonderful upcoming educational travel program in Washington DC right at the height of cherry blossom time. Not only will folks get guided tours of the museums and the national archives, they also will be there for opening night of Snow Child at Arena Stage. This program is offered through UAF Summer Sessions who has been doing educational travel programs for the past twelve years. All of their programs are geared for professionals and retired professionals with the capacity to walk up to three miles a day.
All the participants have to pay for is transportation to DC, liquor, laundry, and any souvenirs. All meals, rooms, entrance fees, tours, theater tickets, transportation in DC and even tipping is included.
Washington, DC – Museums, Cherry Blossoms, and More
April 11-18, 2018
Spend a week in Washington DC visiting museums at the height of Cherry Blossom time. Guided visits include the National Archives, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian, and the Newseum. Watch the Cherry Blossom Parade, cruise down the Potomac to Mt. Vernon, see the city on a hop on-hop off bus, and attend the opening night of Snow Child at Arena Stage. All of this and more are part of this program. Participants will be staying at Catholic University, which has a metro stop on campus, and a metro pass for the week is included in this program.
Program Fee: $2,000.00, which includes room (double occupancy with bath shared with another room), three meals a day, all entrance fees, educational programs, and transportation to various venues. Transfers from the airport, airfare to DC, laundry, liquor, and luxuries (souvenirs) are NOT included.
For more information, contact: Michelle Bartlett, Director, Summer Sessions & Lifelong Learning
University of Alaska Fairbanks
phone: (907) 474-6624
By Larry Hayden
Alaska Pacific University will become a United Methodist Historic Site with the unveiling of a plaque on Friday October 6th at Grant Hall on campus at 1:15 p.m. followed by a reception, for which an RSVP is appreciated at 333-5050.
Jesse Lee Home alumnus Rev. P. Gordon Gould, an Aleut from Unga, initiated the effort to establish a university in Alaska in 1948 with the intent of training local people for leadership in local employment. Alaskan communities and businesses provided great sums of money along with the Methodist Church to kick-start the educational institution that continues today on a track to become a Tribal University connected with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
Alaska Pacific University is rooted in the Methodist Tradition. In the 1950s during the preliminary building of the campus, Bishop A. Raymond Grant, based in Portland, had administrative control of Alaskan Methodist happenings and the main building is named for him. The Dormitory across the road was named for Rev. Gould.
Since classes started in 1960 hundreds of students have experienced a wide-ranging curriculum for personal development and business acumen.
The United Methodist Church recognizes the contributions that Alaska Methodist University/Alaska Pacific University has made during the past 57 years and has designated the campus as United Methodist Historic Site No. 534. An Historic Site is a location or structure associated with an event, development, or personality deemed of strong historic significance in the history of an Annual Conference, such as Alaska.
Alaska has two other United Methodist Historic Sites: #350 for the Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska, and #368 for the First United Methodist Church in Ketchikan.
This designation will alert United Methodist travelers and others around the globe that APU would be an appropriate place to visit, and support.