AHS Blog | Alaska's Historic Canneries
The Alaska Historical Society’s has awarded seven grants to advance seafood history projects
around Alaska. The grants have been awarded to individuals and organizations to advance
documentation, preservation, and education about the history of Alaska’s seafood industry and to
support the vision of the Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative. Grants were awarded for projects
in Dillingham, Kodiak, Naknek, Tenakee Springs and Sitka.
“With these grants, we hope to direct more attention towards the history and culture of Alaska’s
seafood industry. Nothing marks the identity of coastal Alaska more than the fishing industry,
yet that history is often neglected. We hope to improve the preservation of the history of the
seafood industry in Alaska and demonstrate that this history matters today,” explains Anjuli
Grantham, Director of the Initiative.
One of the awards will support efforts this summer to assess the status of the South Naknek
“Diamond NN” cannery and look at options for its preservation. “The NN is one of the most
historic canneries in Alaska, built in 1890 and operated for over 100 years, from the 19th century
into the 21st,” said grant recipient Katie Ringsmuth. “We want to document this facility, the role
it played in the economy and culture of the Bristol Bay region, and look at ways to ensure this
Fellow fishtorian Bob King added, “We greatly appreciate the AHS support of projects like this.
We encourage other historians to look at ways they can use the cannery initiative to contribute to
the better understanding of the role of the fishing industry in their community and the state.”
Grants were awarded to the following projects, listed by region:
- Production of radio programming detailing the history of Sitka’s canneries, to the Sitka History Museum.
- Cataloging of Superior Canning Company artifacts and archival materials, to the Tenakee Historical Collection
- Publication of oral histories and the production of an exhibit about the history of fishing on the west side of Kodiak Island, to the Kodiak Historical Society
- Publication about the history of the Alitak cannery, to Rick Metzger and Woody Knebel
- Interviews, research, and writing about the Glacier Bay Seafoods shrimp plant in Ouzinkie, to Susan Morgan
- Preservation assessment of the South Naknek Diamond NN cannery in Bristol Bay, to Bob King and Katie Ringsmuth
- Oral histories of Dillingham elders, conducted by 4-H members in Dillingham, to Deanna
Congratulations to all of the recipients!
submitted by Tim Troll
Photo from the album of Alfred J and Martha Opland with description that confirms the observation of Bristol Bay sailboat fisherman Suerre Gjemso “Those old fellers, they sure liked their whiskey. They was a rugged bunch, but good natured fellers. Drunk, but tough out on the water.”
by Tim Troll
The first cannery in Bristol Bay was the Arctic Packing Company cannery established at the Yup’ik village of Kanulik on the Nushagak River. It was built in 1883 and produced the first pack of canned salmon from Bristol Bay in 1884 – 400 cases of tall cans – maybe 6000 fish. It was sometimes known as Rohlff’s Cannery after its founder businessman Carl Rohlffs of San Francisco. The name Rohlff survives (often misspelled) on some maps as the name of the slough running in front of the site. The slough was once the main channel of the Nushagak River. Few people living in Bristol Bay today would know the origin of the name Rohlff, or even that this place was the beginning of cannery history in Bristol Bay.
The old photo shows the cannery around 1900. Nothing remains of the cannery as can be seen from a more recent photo taken from the same location. On the small hill above the cannery in the old photo the buildings of the Carmel mission of the Moravian Church can be seen. The mission was established almost contemporaneously with the cannery, and both closed not long after the turn of the last century. Rohlff often helped the mission with shipment of supplies on his cannery ships.
Richard Sturgill and the folks at the Alaska Packers Association Museum in Blaine, WA have been busy restoring Sailboat #59 from the APA Dimond NN Cannery in Naknek. The boat was originally saved by Katie Ringsmuth’s father, superintendent of the cannery. It was kept and displayed by Trident Seafoods for many years. Not long ago Trident donated the boat to the APA museum.
Former APA/Trident Shipwright Steve Alaniz along with fellow shipwright Steve Ince have volunteered their time and skill to restoring this sailboat. The goal is to have a USCG inspected vessel certified to carry passengers for hire. If that goal is achieved the museum believes it will have the only seaworthy double-ender in original fishing configuration back on the water.
If you haven’t seen the APA Museum in Blaine it is definitely worth a stop. The museum maintains a summer schedule from Memorial Day to Labor Day. http://www.draytonharbormaritime.org/apa.html.