AHS Blog | Alaska's Historic Canneries
by Anjuli Grantham
Spring arrived in Kodiak along with the first real snow fall of the year. Here is a quick run-down on recent Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative activities.
We received 16 applications for our small grant program, and we awarded seven grants. The recipients are:
– Deanna Baier of Dillingham, for an oral history project with 4-H
– Rick Metzger and Woody Knebel, for researching the Alitak Cannery on Kodiak Island
– Sitka History Museum, for radio programming on local seafood industry history
– Kodiak Historical Society, for printing oral histories and producing the “West Side Stories” exhibit
– Bob King and Katie Ringsmuth, for a preservation assessment of the Diamond NN cannery in South Naknek
– Tenakee Historical Collections, for cataloging their Superior Canning Company objects and archives
Congratulations to the recipients, and many thanks to our grant committee (Jo Antonson, Christine Marasigan, Rachel Mason, and Ross Coen).
We received a grant from American Seafoods for the initiative and just sent out a fundraising appeal letter to AHS members and individuals/ organizations within the seafood industry. You likely received your letter in the mail this weekend.
I presented on the initiative at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and at the Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon last month. At the end of the month, I am heading to Craig to speak at their Whale Fest. I haven’t been to Prince of Wales Island before, and I am very much looking forward to checking out this part of Southeast and the old Wards Cove cannery that is right in town.
Next week, Toby Sullivan and I are joining others to present a session on cannery history at Comfish in Kodiak. The Kodiak Maritime Museum will have information about the cannery initiative at their Comfish booth, including the materials designed by Katie Ringsmuth for the Pacific Marine Expo booth. Tomorrow, Toby and I will be interviewed on KMXT’s Talk of the Rock as a preview for the Comfish forum.
Planning has started for the next AHS/ MA conference, which will be held in Juneau, September 21-24. The theme is “Exploring Alaska’s Past in the Pacific World.” Fisheries and cannery history fit into this quite nicely. Juneau will be a wonderful location for the conference, especially since we can visit the new Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives and Museum Building and Sealaska Heritage Institute.
Moreover, I’m hoping that we can engage with ADF&G, NOAA, UA Southeast, and the many other fisheries-related organizations to create sessions that explore the interdisciplinary possibilities of fisheries history. Attached please find the Call for Proposals. Proposals are due May 1.
Please keep me posted on your own cannery history news and projects and let me know if you have any questions about initiative activities.
Thanks for all of your work and all of your support!
P.S. Thanks to all who have been contributing to the blog, and especially to Pennelope Goforth for serving as editor!
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.