AHS Blog

Links and Resources for Cannery Projects

Date Posted: August 13, 2015       Categories:
N.W.F. Company Salmon Cannery, Uyak, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Anjuli Grantham.

N.W.F. Company Salmon Cannery, Uyak, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Anjuli Grantham.

Cannery History Resources

Are you trying to research the history of a cannery, but you’re not sure where to begin? Below is a list of resources that may be helpful in getting you started:

Alaska Fisheries: A Guide to History Resources by Robert King (Alaska Historical Society, 2015) is an excellent reference for anyone engaged in researching the history of the seafood industry and fisheries in Alaska. Click here for PDF version of the original 2015 bibliography. On-line version updated in January 2019.

Chronological History of Canneries in Alaska. Alaska Department of Fisheries Annual Report (Juneau: Territory of Alaska, 1949-51) by Lewis MacDonald is a chronology of Alaska salmon canneries from 1878-1950 that was published by the territorial agency, the Alaska Department of Fisheries. It notes changes to canneries through 1950, arranged by region.

Libraries and Museums
Many museums and libraries have excellent information documenting the seafood industry in Alaska, including large archival holdings from some of the most important historic processing companies. What follows is a short list of institutions that have good seafood industry-related collections:

Alaska Historical Collections within the Alaska State Library in Juneau has a portion of the Alaska Packers Association collection and an excellent photo collection, some of which can be seen through the Alaska’s Digital Archives website.

Atwood Alaska Resource Center at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center produced the Cannery Resource Guide to their archival materials pertaining to canneries located in Alaska.

University of Washington Libraries Special Collections in Seattle, Washington includes an excellent collection of fisheries-related archival materials, including the John Cobb Collection. The library has also digitized portions of Pacific Fisherman, which was a fishing industry journal published from 1903 to 1966. It is one of the most important publications for information about West Coast fisheries in the 20th century.

The Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington has collections from several canneries.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Libraries in Juneau and Kodiak have decades of fisheries publications, including Bureau of Fisheries reports from the 19th century.

The Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington has a large collection of images of Pacific American Fisheries facilities and employees within the Galen Biery Collection.

The Maritime Research Center at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park has photographic, archival, and object collections that detail Alaska’s fisheries and maritime history.

Oral History Resources
The Voices from the Fisheries is a database hosted by the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a central repository for consolidating, archiving, and disseminating oral history interviews related to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishing in the United States and its territories. The program is eager to increase the amount of oral histories related to Alaska fisheries. There are many resources available on their website to help plan fisheries oral history projects, and helpful and experienced staff are available to provide guidance to individuals and organizations who want to start oral history projects.

Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project of the University of Washington has oral histories of cannery workers and excellent information on cannery worker unions.

Project Jukebox is the digital branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Oral History Program. Many of the interviews throughout the various projects include information about commercial fishing and cannery work. Specifically, the <NN> Cannery History Project Jukebox.

Museum Exhibits
Museums across Alaska and the Pacific Northwest have collections and exhibitions related to the history of the seafood industry. Unfortunately, Alaska does not have a museum within a cannery or a museum building dedicated solely to Alaska’s maritime history.

Alaska Packers Association Museum, Blaine, Washington

Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, Richmond, British Columbia

Bumble Bee Cannery Museum/Hanthorn Cannery Foundation, Astoria, Oregon

Preservation Resources
The National Park Service’s Alaska Regional Office provides free technical advising services to historic property owners. That means that if you own a historic (50 years or older) cannery, fishing vessel, fish camp, etc. there is a good chance that NPS historians and architects can work with you to come up with preservation solutions for the property. National Park Service resources include excellent information on researching historic properties, why you should consider preserving your property, and conducting a Historic Structures Report.

The State of Alaska’s Office of History and Archaeology can provide limited guidance to historic property owners.

National Register nominations, Kake and Kukak

Examples of Preservation Projects

  • The Kake Cannery is a National Historic Landmark that is currently being stabilized. Learn more about the project, here.
  • The Orca Cannery in Cordova has been turned into a lodge. The owner has restored and rehabilitated many of the buildings (www.orcaadventurelodge.com).
  • The Thelma C is one of the last “earthquake boats” that were built following the devastation of the fishing fleet in the 1964 Alaska Earthquake. The Kodiak Maritime Museum has restored the boat and is planning to turn it into an interpretive display at Kodiak’s St. Paul Harbor (http://www.kodiakmaritimemuseum.org/programs/thelma-c.html).

Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative

Date Posted: August 13, 2015       Categories:

Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative: Preserving the Past of a Vital Industry

Canneries on Karluk Spit in 1898. Photo by Jefferson Moser. From "The Salmon and Salmon Fisheries of Alaska." U.S. Fish Commission Bulletin for 1898. Washington DC, GPO, 1899, plate 53.

Canneries on Karluk Spit in 1898. Photo by Jefferson Moser. From “The Salmon and Salmon Fisheries of Alaska.” U.S. Fish Commission Bulletin for 1898. Washington DC, GPO, 1899, plate 53.

“I was born and raised in Yakutat where Libby, McNeil and subsequent owners operated a salmon cannery for decades in a facility which is still used for salmon and seafood processing today.  I also have worked for the “Cannery” and fished commercially. Yakutat’s history with seafood and my own are typical of an industry and resource that serves to define Alaska today. It is a history, a present and a future that must be preserved, understood and made available to our children so they understand the balance between the use of Alaska’s rich ocean resources and the care that must be taken to assure their continual existence.”
— Alaska Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott


The Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative is a grassroots effort launched in the fall of 2015 that promotes projects around Alaska that document, preserve, and educate about Alaska’s seafood industry.

While the industry remains ecologically healthy and economically sound, the history of the industry is endangered. Hundreds of canneries, salteries, and herring plants once appeared in bays throughout coastal Alaska. Now, many slip into the sea before their stories are recorded. The seafood industry is critical to the livelihoods of many in Alaska and it is central to the state’s identity. It is time to document and preserve these places and record the stories of the fishermen and processors who define coastal Alaska.

For more detailed information about the Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative, click here to view our brochure or see the October 2015 News Release about launching of the Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative.

canneries initiative logoHow It Works

The initiative relies on the passion, the knowledge, and the efforts of individuals, businesses, and communities to instigate cannery history projects around the state. That means you!

Successful projects inspired by the Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative include:
<NN> Cannery History Project
<NN> Cannery History Project Jukebox
The Alaska Historical Society’s Alaska’s Historic Canneries Blog
Alaska Fisheries: A Guide to History Resources
Links and Resources for Cannery Projects

Below are examples of other potential projects, some large, some small. But whatever the size, all advance the initiative’s vision: to improve stewardship of seafood industry history in Alaska.


  • Collect archival, photographic, and object collections for museums
  • Conduct oral histories
  • Write essays, articles, stories and books related to the history of commercial fishing and processing
  • Take and share photos of historic cannery sites
  • Nominate canneries and vessels to the National Register of Historic Places
  • Conduct archaeological investigations
  • Conduct historic resource surveys, historic structure reports


  • Prepare preservation plans for historic cannery buildings
  • Explore options for adaptive reuse of canneries
  • Stabilize structures and vessels
  • Explore tax credit programs and easements for preservation purposes
  • Begin monitoring programs of historic fish processing sites


  • Museum exhibits
  • Films
  • Interpretive signs and plaques
  • Lecture series or storytelling events
  • Radio programming
  • Cannery history websites and Wikipedia entries
  • Community celebrations
  • Curriculum for schools


The Alaska Historical Society is still seeking project sponsors and donors. There are marketing benefits for business sponsors. For more information, see Sponsorship Information. Many thanks to the partners and sponsors who have demonstrated their committment to Alaska’s maritime history and identity through their support of this initiative:
Alaska Historical Commission
Alaska Sea Grant

seagrant logo

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute
seafood marketing logo



Alaska Packers Association Museum in Blaine, Washington

Date Posted: June 21, 2014       Categories: 49 History

Tim Troll screens the documentary film about the
Diamond NN 59’s restoration.
Last month the Alaska Packers Association Museum in Blaine, Washington, held an opening for its new exhibit on Bristol Bay salmon fishing. Tim Troll, Alaska fisheries historian, curator of the exhibit, and author of Sailing for Salmon: The Early Years of Commercial Fishing in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, 1884-1951, spoke about the many historic photos that comprise the exhibit and screened a film about the restoration of the Diamond NN 59, a sailboat with a long history in the fishery.
The evening featured lots of storytelling by former
(I dare not call them old) Bristol Bay fishermen.
From the museum’s website: “Housed in an original cannery building, the museum exhibits tell the story of days gone by and include a scale model fish trap, antique machinery, a gallery of historic photos, and an original 29-foot Bristol Bay sailboat that gill-netted salmon in the Bristol Bay fishery. Take the time to view ‘Sockeye and the Age of Sail’ video documentary with early day film footage of the APA Star Fleet of tall ships under sail, connecting Blaine, the Bristol Bay salmon fishing, and San Francisco in the fortunes of fishing.”

Alaskans who find themselves in the area this summer (Blaine is just a couple hours north of Seattle, right on the Canadian border) would be wise to pay a visit. The museum is located at 9261 Semiahmoo Parkway, Blaine, WA. Summer hours are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday only, 1:00-5:00 p.m. More info at: http://www.draytonharbormaritime.org/apa.html

Kodiak’s Summer of Exxon, 1989

Date Posted: March 6, 2014       Categories: 49 History
by Rachel Mason
I came back to Kodiak two months before the March 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill to do ethnographic fieldwork for my dissertation on the occupational culture of commercial fishing. I had been going to graduate school in Virginia. When my Kodiak friends, who knew me as a cab driver and before that a cannery worker, heard that I had obtained an NSF grant and another grant to study fishing and drinking in Kodiak, they thought I must have pulled off a wonderful scam.
My plan, in the spirit of participant observation, was to work briefly on several different boats and fishing operations. I had a little bit of experience fishing halibut and hoped I could convince some open-minded skippers to take on a working anthropologist observer. I first heard about the oil spill while inexpertly helping a seiner crew prepare their net for the upcoming herring season. When the oil spill curtailed most of the Kodiak fisheries, my research plans had to change. In fact, though, the summer of the oil spill may have provided me with an even better understanding of fishermen’s occupational identity than I would have gotten by actually fishing—because I saw what they missed when they were not allowed to fish.
Photo credit: www.eoearth.org

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in March 1989, but the oil didn’t reach Kodiak until several weeks later, first only spotting the beaches of the northern part of the archipelago, then advancing south, plastering the coasts of northern Kodiak Island. The city of Kodiak had an Emergency Services Team in place to respond to disaster, and in the month before the oil hit, there were public meetings with representatives of city, state, and federal agencies. Exxon representatives arrived after the oil hit to take control of the response effort. Thus began a summer that one resident described as a “foreign occupancy.”
As the oil spill began to dominate their lives, many people in Kodiak thought this was a qualitatively different crisis from “normal” fishing crises, or even from the larger natural and man-made disasters of the past. The spill made fishermen see that despite their efforts to preserve a lifestyle, their lives were controlled by the actions of big corporations. They thought Exxon’s handling of the cleanup, even more than the oil itself, had a damaging effect on the Kodiak community. One man said that the Exxon’s presence and behavior during the cleanup effort made the spill different from a natural disaster because “here the guy who did it throws salt in the wound.” There was little trust in the scientific studies conducted by Exxon or government agencies to test whether seafoods were contaminated, or whether beaches were clean enough.
Kodiak residents were angry that the cleanup was not directed by people with local knowledge. “All Exxon knows how to do is write checks,” one person said. With the appearance of an Exxon Command Center, with uniformed security guards, and hundreds of Veco (Exxon’s employment contractor), and government agency personnel swarming in the community, Kodiak seemed to be under foreign occupation. Some attributed the chaotic cleanup operation to Exxon’s calculation rather than to incompetence.
Protest march against Exxon, summer 1989
(Kodiak Maritime Museum)

Some in the Lower 48 were skeptical about the hardships suffered by fishermen during the oil spill, especially since Exxon “poured money on the spill” by chartering fishing boats at absurdly high rates and paid unskilled workers $16.79 an hour to clean up the oil. Outside Alaska, more public concern was focused on the damages to subsistence lifestyle in the Alaska Native villages affected by the spill than on damages to the lifestyle of commercial fishermen. Even in Alaska, there was little sympathy for people who made a lot of money by working for Exxon during the oil spill. Kodiak residents commented that some fishermen had the “best season ever” in 1989, becoming “spillionaires.”
Salmon seiners were not allowed to fish in the summer of 1989 because of the possibility of salmon contamination. They waited for weeks as several implausible scenarios were suggested for dealing with salmon unfit for harvest; one idea was to shred the oiled fish and dump them three miles out. Finally, the whole salmon season was closed except for a few set net sites and a terminal fishery around a hatchery. Exxon chartered some of the seine boats after that, but many seiners resented being in this position. These fishermen felt that the deprivation of their freedom to fish represented a general loss of autonomy. Even when Exxon gave compensation to salmon fishermen for not fishing, they felt they had been made into a subject people, waiting for Exxon to give them a handout. Fishermen whose boats were chartered also felt dependent on Exxon, transformed from independent competitors into time-clock employees.
During the summer of 1989, the spill was all that anyone in Kodiak talked about. It was considered the definitive event that brought people’s heads out of the sand regarding their lack of autonomy in relation to the corporate world. Community meetings, daily at first and then less frequently, continued to be well attended and to include public testimony. Fishermen and cannery workers were politicized by the spill. There was a protest march against Exxon. The Seiners Association formed that summer and agitated for a fairer system of chartering vessels. There was a short-lived Crewmen’s Association, whose meetings were always in bars and were usually disrupted by a few outspoken members with specific concerns. The Crude Women began as a group of female fishermen and fishing spouses, displaced by the spill from their usual summer work and evolving into a local environmental advocacy group.
Two years later, however, interest in the spill itself had diminished in Kodiak. With characteristic resilience, Kodiak fishermen had gone on to face other crises. In 1991, the major issue facing local fishermen in Kodiak was the impending individual quota system for halibut and sablefish.

The oil spill was a particularly dramatic arena for demonstrating commercial fishing’s transition from a lifestyle to a business that has been playing out in Kodiak since the beginning of frontier exploitation of resources. The community has thrived on cycles of crisis, resisting a progression toward regulation and efficiency. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, a bigger crisis than most, showed fishermen the enormous power of the corporation.

Alaskana 2013

Date Posted: March 3, 2014       Categories:

Alaska History, Vol. 28, #1, Spring 2013

Alaskana is an annotated listing of recent publications on the North featured in Alaska History, the journal of the Alaska Historical Society.

Compiled by Teressa Williams, Anchorage Museum.

Dean J. Adams, Four Thousand Hooks: A True Story of Fishing and Coming of Age on the High Seas of Alaska (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012), 270 pp., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 9780295991979.  An account of the author’s experience of his first season working on his uncle’s commercial fishing boat in the 1970s at the age of sixteen;  an adventure with the drama and conflict of fishing, working with the crew, maritime Alaska and the ambiguities of family life.

Bob Adkins, Panhandle Pilot: Twenty Years of Flying in Southeast Alaska (Haines, AK: Panhandle Publishing, 2012), 184 pp., softcover, $15.00, ISBN 9781578335749.  Contact www.bobadkinsphotography.com for copies.  A collection of amusing anecdotes about Bob Adkins twenty five years of flying in Alaska.

Julie Decker, Alaska and the Airplane: A Century of Flight ([Salenstein, Switzerland]: Braun Publishing AG, 2013), 128 pp., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 9783037681411.   Accompanying the exhibition Arctic Flight: A Century of Alaska Aviation at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center from February to August 2013, this book looks at the triumph, tragedy, and survival of the last century of aviation in Alaska, illustrated by the use of historic photographs, artifacts, and ephemera.

Naomi Gaede-Penner, ‘A’ is for Anaktuvuk: Teacher to the Nunamuit Eskimos (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing & Enterprises, 2013), 305 pp., softcover, $21.99, ISBN 9781621473626. Available at www.tatepublishing.com andwww.prescription-foradventure.com.  A portrayal of Anna Bortel Church who moved to the remote village of Anaktuvuk Pass as a teacher in 1959.  She had to overcome obstacles such as no school building, no roads to transport building supplies, no wood for fuel except willows, no airline service, few English-speaking adults and children, and severe winters.

M. J. Kirchhoff, Dyea, Alaska: The Rise and Fall of a Klondike Gold Rush Town (Juneau: Alaska Cedar Press, 2012), 95 pp., softcover, $25.00, ISBN 9780962490446.  Limited printing.  A pictorial history of the rise and fall of Dyea, which was the seaport and jumping off point for the Chikoot Trail during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Looking Back: A Fairbanks Community Collection of Historic Photos (Fairbanks: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 2012), 160 pp., hardcover, $39.99, ISBN 9781578335893.  Available at www.shopgulliversbooks.com.  A collection of family photographs and history of Fairbanks residents from the 1900s to the present.

James R. Mackovjak, Aleutian Freighter: A History of Shipping in the Aleutians Islands (Seattle: Documentary Media, 2012), 135 pp., hardcover, $32.95, ISBN 9781933245270.  A history of the Aleutian trade, from the sailing vessels that transported salted cod, to the mail boats that at one time provided the region’s only scheduled communication, to the small fleet of today that reliably provides essential cargo service to the Aleutian Islands.

Charles M. Mobley, World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska (Anchorage: National Park Service, Alaska Region, 2013), 215 pp., softcover, ISBN 9780985394806, limited printing, not currently available.  Using current and historical photographs and maps, archival material, and oral history, this publication looks specifically at the six relocation camps of the evacuated and interned Aleuts from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands during World War II.

Alaska History, Vol. 28, #2, Fall 2013

Compiled by Kathy Ward, Juneau Public Libraries and Maeghan Kearney, Alaska State Library.

William J. Brady, Skagway, City of the New Century: The True Story of Skagway, Alaska, Including the White Pass, Dyea, and the Chilkoot Trail (Skagway, Alaska: Lynn Canal Publishers, 2013) 469 pp., paperback, $19.31, ISBN: 9780945284093.  Full of historic photographs and newspaper clippings, this compilation of articles from the Skaguay Alaskan and the Skagway News provides an interesting timeline of the views and events of Skagway and surrounding areas.  Contains many articles on local history, including “Soapy” Smith and various Gold Rush tales.  This one is a bit too big for a stuffed bookshelf, but would look nice on a coffee table.

William Dollarhide, Alaska Name Lists, 1732-1991: With a Selection of National Name Lists, 1600s – Present: An Annotated Bibliography of Published and Online Name Lists (Bountiful, Utah : Family Roots Publishing Co., 2013) 47pp., $18.95. ISBN: 9781628590012, available online at www.familyrootspublishing.com.  Dollarhide references print, online, and microform resources useful to furthering genealogical research in this latest guidebook from Family Roots Publishing.  This volume has the information needed to find specific name lists, and also information on how to use them in their own right and as a stepping stone to further research.

Tom Kizzia, Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier (New York: Crown, 2013) 309 pp., hardback, $25.00, ISBN 9780307587824. Papa Pilgrim (Robert Hale) and his wife and fourteen children started appearing in the Alaska news when they bulldozed a road from their homestead through Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and one of their final appearances was when Hale died in prison in 2008. Kizzia’s extensive research brings readers the full story.

Daniel James Inulak Lum, Nuvuk, the Northernmost: Altered Land, Altered Lives in Barrow, Alaska (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2013) 85 pp., hardcover, $25.00, ISBN: 9781602231955. In 2006, Inupiaq polar bear guide Lum decided to document the changes to landscape and wildlife around his hometown of Barrow and also Nuvuk, or Point Barrow, where the Beaufort and Chukchi seas meet. What makes this more than a book of fascinating photos is Lum’s commentary on what the changing landscape and the disappearance of pack ice mean to the wildlife in the area and to the residents of Barrow.

Jean Morgan Meaux, In Pursuit of Alaska: An Anthology of Travelers’ Tales, 1879-1909 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013), 284 pp., paperback, $26.95, ISBN: 9780295992884. Meaux has collected extracts from some of her favorite writings by adventurers who traveled in Alaska between 1879 and 1909, including the nature musings of John Muir, the fruitless gold fever of J. D. Winchester, and the bootless perseverance of Henry Allen. Meaux’s engaging prefaces to each section set the cultural and political scene for contemporary readers, and she includes a timeline of Alaska history to 1910 along with a section of black-and-white photos and a bibliography.

Preston Jones, The Fires of Patriotism: Alaskans in the Days of the First World War 1910-1920 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2013) 208pp., paperback, $35.00, ISBN: 9781602232051.  World War I had a large impact on Alaska.  Told through personal stories and photographs, this book shows another side of Alaska during the war, and tells how the territory firmly entrenched itself in the nationwide war efforts.

Mike Stempe, M. J. Kirchhoff, and Tom Paul, Port Alexander, Alaska: A Centennial Celebration, 1913-2013 (Juneau: Alaska Cedar Press, 2013) 172 pp., $35.00, ISBN: 0962490458 9780962490453. Available through the Port Alexander Historical Society, 224 Katlian, Sitka, AK 99835. Laid out like the old, but still familiar Alaska Geographic’s, with lots of historic black-and-white photos, personal reminiscences, and short biographies of notable town characters, in addition to an overview of the area.

John Virtue, The Black Soldiers Who Built the Alaska Highway: A History of Four U.S. Army Regiments in the North, 1942-1943 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2012) 220 pp., paperback, $45.00, ISBN: 9780786471171. In the spring of 1942, the first regiments of black American soldiers were sent abroad—to the wilds of Canada and Alaska. They were assigned to work on the Alaska Highway and the Canol pipeline, two projects of strategic importance. Studded with high quality black-and-white photos and finished with many pages of chapter notes, an extensive bibliography, and an index, this book holds appeal for both scholars and casual readers of Alaskana, military history, and black history.