AHS Blog

The Funter Bay Cannery

Date Posted: July 19, 2013       Categories: Alaska's Historic Canneries       Tags: Admiralty Island, Barron, Funter Bay, salmon traps, Thlinket Packing Co., WWII
By: Gabe Emerson
(Note: Visit Emerson’s website for much more information about the history of Funter Bay.)
Construction of a salmon cannery began at Funter Bay in 1902, but its story starts a few years earlier. In 1899, a Portland businessman by the name of James Thomas “J.T.” Barron organized the Thlinket Packing and Trading Co. His initial cannery locations were Santa Anna and Point Gerard near Wrangell [1]. Salmon packing was a popular investment opportunity at the start of the 20th century, and Barron quickly sold his Wrangell plants to the Pacific Packing and Navigation Company, a “Salmon Trust” formed in 1901. Barron used the profits from this sale to finance a new cannery at Funter Bay on Admiralty Island.
On December 16 of 1901, Captain Campbell of the vessel Prospector brought J. T. Barron to Funter Bay to scout cannery locations [2]. Barron liked what he saw, and on January 1st of 1902 he filed a mining claim for the “Irvington Lode”, a plot of about 12 acres on the Northwest shore [3]. Other than a few token holes, no mining was ever done on this claim, but land laws of the time made this the easiest way to acquire property in Alaska. Barron also used loopholes in the Homestead Act to acquire property along the shores of Chatham Strait, Lynn Canal, and Icy Strait. These “homesteads” were used to base fish traps and cabins for trap watchmen.
Work began in the spring of 1902, with the steamship Yukon bringing supplies to the site on March 7 [4]. Barron purchased the 53’ steam tug Kodat, and contracted with the Juneau Iron Works to do repairs [5]. On May 7 Barron took the Kodat to Funter where it was beached for further modifications into a cannery tender [6]. This vessel was later renamed the Buster, a nickname of both J.T. and his son (and later company Vice President) Robert Barron.
Thlinket Packing Co cannery in 1907.
Photo by W. H. Case, courtesy of University of Washington Freshwater and Marine Image Bank
“Buster” was also a brand of Pink Salmon packed by Barron. In 1907 a portrait of young Robert appeared on the label, as well as on the cover of that year’s Pacific Fisherman Journal. The company re-incorporated that year as the Thlinket Packing Company with James Barron as president, M.G. Munley as secretary, and C. F. Whitney as sales manager [7]. Munley was a Portland lawyer, district judge, and onetime mayoral candidate who was heavily invested in the company. Whitney had previously been sales manager of the New York Life Insurance Co.
Another 1907 event was the visit of Skagway photographer W. H. Case that August [8].His photos were used as postcards and publicity material, and even appeared on the company letterhead. Several of these photos are shown below.
Steam tug Anna Barron tending a pile trap at the
Kitten islands outside Funter Bay, from a 1907 Case & Draper postcard.
Employment in the early years included many local Tlingit people, perhaps the background for the company’s name. In the first year (which may have included construction crews), it was reported that there were 65 white workers, 30 native Alaskans, and 38 Chinese workers [9].  A 1905 description notes that the cannery employed 73 men, “All Indians except the superintendent and perhaps a half dozen Chinamen”. The men got 20 cents per hour, and children, including “one little boy eight years old who worked 9 hours every day”, received 10 cents per hour. In addition to canned product for the American market, wooden barrels or “tierces” were packed with salted salmon for export (Dog salmon to Japan and Kings to Germany) [10]. Ironically, by 1906 the seasonal labor seemed to be more Chinese than Tlingit, a local paper noted that the steamship Cottage City had brought 73 Chinese laborers to Funter Bay that spring [11]. The Tlingits were pushed out of their former fish camp adjacent to the cannery, and the site was used for an expanded saltery operation.
Salmon being brailed from the trap,
from a 1907 Case & Draper postcard.
The cannery grew quickly during the first decade of the 20thcentury, and was sometimes described as the “Largest in Alaska” [12]. The plant had a salmon pack every year from 1902 to 1931, and often came first in volume of cases sent South.  As with other Southeast industries, cargo in and out was handled by flag-stop service with any of the steamship companies serving the area. Several times each year, commercial steamers from various companies would divert from their normal routes to pick up packed salmon or deliver supplies and workers. The cannery experimented with handling their own shipments, using the 203’ clipper ship General Fairchild as a barge in 1915 [13]. This must have proved uneconomical, as the Fairchildwas sold in 1917 and the company returned to using commercial transport. Smaller boats used as cannery tugs or tenders included the Robert Barron, the Barron F, and the Anna Barron (named after James’ daughter).  Barron’s children and his wife Elizabeth frequently joined him at Funter Bay for the summers, as did Judge Munley’s family.
Funter Bay cannery in 1973, courtesy of Phil Emerson.
Competition for salmon was fierce, with fishermen and packers using tactics both legal and otherwise to defend what they felt were their rights. In 1904 at the request of multiple cannery owners, President Roosevelt dispatched the revenue cutter Perryto Funter Bay, where two Japanese fishing vessels were seized and the crews deported [14].  Independent fishermen hated traps, rightly considering them to catch too many fish and reduce future runs. Some turned to fish piracy, using stealth, bribery, or outright armed robbery to thwart watchmen and rob traps. Piracy became so bad that the Thlinket Packing Co. began hiring military veterans as guards. In 1919 several packers again teamed up to request government support, and the US Navy sent patrol vessels to the area [15]. While packers banded together to fight certain rivals, their relations were not always friendly. Competitors sometimes “jumped” trap sites, a tactic analogous to claim jumping a mine. During the 1911 fishing season, J.T. Barron had just purchased land and begun installing a fish trap at Lizard Head, South of Funter Bay. When he left the territory on business, a rival company quickly built their own trap in front of his property. This led to a heated lawsuit which Barron eventually lost, the court ruling that land ownership did not include tidewater rights [16].
Fairbanks-Morse gasoline engine at the former cannery site.
The next few decades saw changing fortunes for the Thlinket Packing Co. In 1917 at age 22, V.P. Robert Barron drowned at an Army training camp while trying to rescue fellow cadets [17]. Salmon runs in 1915 were reported at record breaking numbers, with 140,000 cases packed at Funter Bay [18]. However, the results of overfishing soon became apparent, with the cannery struggling to fill 25,000 cases in 1919 [19]. In 1920 the cannery changed its name again, replacing “Company” with “Corporation” in an apparent fundraising bid [20]. In 1926 the cannery, traps, and boats were sold to Sunny Point Canning, which became the Alaska Pacific Salmon Corporation in 1929.  J.T. Barron

seems to have retained an interest in the property until his death in 1941.

Water was an ongoing issue at the cannery. Large volumes were required for steam generation, washing, and cooking the product. Even before finalizing his land survey, Barron had begun putting in water pipes at the site in 1901. The Thlinket Packing Co eventually built a network of redwood-stave pipes through the forest to several nearby streams, storing water in tanks and reservoirs on the property. Lack of water may seem a strange problem to residents of rainy Southeast Alaska, but this was the reason given for the cessation of packing operations in 1931 [21].
Cannery tender wreck at Funter Bay.
After closing, the cannery buildings were used for storage and trap maintenance, until fish traps were outlawed at Alaska statehood. The P. E. Harris co, a former competitor, purchased the mothballed property in 1941; this company later became Peter Pan Seafoods [22].
During WWII, the run-down buildings were re-occupied by Pribilof natives who were forced from their homes by the US government. Evacuation was ostensibly for protection from Japanese invaders in the Aleutians, but the army also wanted to demolish village infrastructure which could aid the enemy. The evacuees were dropped off at the cannery with little to no planning, and left largely to fend for themselves with inadequate heat and water. A cemetery at the site attests to the poor care these American civilians received; the casualty rate was higher than that of overseas servicemen [21].
Despite various on-site watchmen and caretakers, a lack of maintenance eventually led to the collapse of most of the large structures. Local residents salvaged some of the wood for homes and cabins. By the 1990s the property was in an advanced state of disrepair, and most of the remaining structures were razed.
Salmon scow in the woods.
Today the Funter Bay cannery is mostly gone, with private homes and cabins replacing the former salmon packing operation. A few wrecks around the bay may have been former cannery tenders; the Buster caught fire and sank in Funter Bay in 1926. The Anna Barron sank at Point Couverden around 1931. A Harris Co. boat, the Morzhovoi, also caught fire in the bay in 1955 [23]. At least one former cannery tender survives; the Barron F, now named the Frank F, is currently a fishing boat in San Diego [24]. In the woods at Scow Bay, the cannery’s wooden fish scows can be found rotting into the rainforest on the remains of their winter storage slipways.
Though the structures and vessels are mostly gone, the legacy of the Funter Bay cannery continues in other ways. It brought regular mail service to the community, first with boats and now with seaplanes. The cannery became known as “Funter” and is shown as a town on many maps. Mount Robert Barron above the bay is named in honor of the young company V.P. The company dock and store long served as a social and economic focal point of the area. Today the dock is maintained by the state and is a popular stopover for recreational boaters.
[1] Roppel, Pat. “Southeast History: Early Cannery at Gerard Point.” CapitalCityWeekly.com. Capitol City Weekly, 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 16 July 2013.
[2] Daily Alaska Dispatch [Juneau] 16 Dec. 1901: 3.
[3]. Hill, Lloyd G. “Plat of the Claim of J. T. Barron Known as the Irvington Lode.” Map. Mineral Survey #560. District of Alaska: US Surveyor General’s Office, 1902.
[4] Daily Alaska Dispatch [Juneau] 7 Mar. 1902: 3.
[5] Daily Alaska Dispatch [Juneau] 20 Mar. 1902: 3.
[6] Daily Alaska Dispatch [Juneau] 7 May 1902: 3.
[7] Pacific Fisherman Journal  Vol 5, No 5. 1 May 1907. Archived at University of Washington Digital Collections (http://content.lib.washington.edu/pacfishweb)
[8] Daily Record-Miner [Juneau] 6 Aug. 1907: 3.
[9] Roderick, Barry H. A Preliminary History of Admiralty Island, 1794-1942. Douglas, AK: B. Roderick, 1982. Print.
[10] Gorrell, Joseph R. A Trip to Alaska. Newton, Ia.: 1905.
[11] Daily Alaska Dispatch [Juneau] 29 Mar 1906: 3.
[12] Ewing, O. D. “Trip to Alaska Described.” Mahoning Dispatch 17 Oct. 1913: 7.
[13] “Old-Time Clipper Ship Changes Hands Again.” Weekly Commercial News [San Francisco] 2 Jan. 1915.
[14] Neiwert, David A. Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
[15] “Fight Alaska Fish Pirates.” The Appeal [St. Paul Minneapolis] 1 Aug. 1919.
[16] James T. Barron vs. Claire J. Alexander. 1&2. United States Circuit Court of Appeals. 18 Sept. 1912.
[17] “Alaskan Boy Dies in Aviation Camp.” Daily Alaska Dispatch [Juneau] 28 Aug. 1917.
[18] “All Records Are Broken By Run Of Salmon” Daily Alaska Dispatch, 11 Jul. 1915.
[19] “Canners Face Bad Situation This Season” Daily Alaska Dispatch, 3 Aug. 1919.
[20] “Offer Thlinket Packing Stock.” The Wall Street Journal.  19 May 1920
[21] Mobley, Charles M. World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska. Anchorage: National Park Service, Alaska Region, 2012.
 [22] Good, Warren. “South East Alaska Shipwrecks ” Alaska Shipwrecks. Web. 16 July 2013. <http://alaskashipwreck.com/>.
 [23] “FRANK F.” Coast Guard Vessel Documentation. NOAA Office of Science and Technology, n.d. Web. 16 July 2013. <http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st1/CoastGuard/VesselByName.html>.

August Buschmann Speaks

Note: What follows is an excerpt of the testimony of August Buschmann, pioneering cannery operator and fish trap operator, taken from the Special Subcommittee on Alaskan Problems, House Committee on Merchant Marines and Fisheries, on the Elimination of Salmon Traps in the Waters of Alaska, November, 1949. Not only does Buschmann describe the genesis of many canneries in Southeast Alaska, his testimony clearly shows the speed at which canneries proliferated around the bays and inlets of Alaska. Readers interested in discovering more about specific cannery locations and personalities engaged in the fisheries are encouraged to spend time with historic Bureau of Fisheries and House Committee reports, which contain priceless, untapped information related to Alaska’s fisheries history. For those interested in fish traps, Jim Mackovjak’s newest book, Alaska Salmon Traps, is the place to begin.  A huge thanks to Jim Mackovjak for sharing this transcription. 

“I came over here with my parents from Norway in 1891. After arriving here we became interested in fishing and the salting of fish near Port Townsend, at Scow Bay, for a short period of time. Then we moved to Port Townsend and fished and salted and smoked fish there for a short time.
Then we moved to Bellinghamand did the same thing there. While we were there we put in the first pile trap that was put in on Lummi Island, that was operated by hand, with a hand windlass on a log float, and we also operated a small floating trap on Lopez Island. That was in 1892.
In 1893 I went to Alaskafor the first time with my father and I fished halibut on a halibut schooner in Alaska out of Ketchikan. And later on in the season we fished halibut and salmon, dogfish, and sharks. That fall my father located a cannery site in Mink Bay off of Boca De Quadra Inlet in southeastern Alaska.
In the spring of 1894 I accompanied my father to Alaska again, where he built his first cannery, in 1894 in Mink Bay, operated it through the season and packed about 10,000 cases. We operated there for several years and then my father located a saltery site in Taku Inlet, close to Juneau, Alaska, and operated a saltery there for several years.
We located a trade and manufacturing site at Petersburg in 1896, and commenced construction of a cannery that was first operated in 1898.
From there I was transferred to Sitkah [Sitkoh] Bay, to construct a new cannery there at a location now called Chatham, Alaska, it was called at that time, Sitkoh Bay, in 1900.
[Buschmann omits the fact that during the 1899 and 1900 salmon seasons he operated a salmon saltery at Bartlett Cove, in Glacier Bay, where he also constructed a cannery building that was never outfitted with canning machinery.]
At that particular plant, which was completed and operated that year, we packed about 60,000 cases. The reason for constructing this plant was that the Petersburg cannery, located about 100 miles away, which was operated the first year in 1898, received most of its fish from this area, since there were practically no salmon in the area around Petersburg that particular year.
The year 1900 was the return cycle for that heavy run in the Chatham area. There happened to be no fish whatsoever in that area, and it is believed that the tremendous run and escapement that was there 2 years before of which very few could be taken created the shortage of that year. Out of a pack of 60,000 cases which we had prepared to can, we could only get 20,000 cases of pinks in that area with 3 big tenders and 14 hand seine boats covering Chatham Strait, Icy Strait, Chichagof Island, and Baranof Island areas where we had expected to pack principally pinks that season.
That goes to show that even in olden times we had smaller runs of pink salmon in southeastern Alaskathan we have ever had since that time. This was in 1900.
In the fall of 1900 and spring of 1901 father sold out of the three canneries and two salteries that his companies owned, to a company called the Pacific Packing & Navigation Co. that has accumulated a number of canneries along the coast of Alaska and also on Puget Sound.
In 1901 I built and operated the first pile trap close to Port [Point] Couverden at the entrance to Icy Strait, and operated that pile trap with several others for 3 years.
In 1904 I operated a steamer for the Killisnoo fertilizer plant at Killisnoo, Alaska, and we caught principally herring, but when herring were scarce we would always load up with salmon at the neighboring bay so as to bring home a load of fish.
In 1905 I took a contract to deliver two shiploads of dog salmon for the Japanese Government. These ships sailed into southeastern Alaska, and with 1 little seine boat and a small crew of 5 or 6 men, including my brother, we loaded these ships with approximately 200,000 dog salmon at Chaik Bay. In 1906 I operated a cannery for the Northwestern Fisheries Co. at Sana Ana, and in 1907, 1908 and 1909 I operated a cannery at Hunters Bay, on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island, were we also operated a salmon hatchery, here we also built and operated the first power seine boat that ever came to Alaska, which was operated by my brother Eigil at that time.
In 1910 I was transferred, and instructed to build a cannery—on Cooks Inlet—for the Northwestern Fisheries, and I believe I had the luckiest season of my career that year, since we left here on Friday, March the 13th.
In 1911 I built a cannery of my own at Ford Arm on the west coast of Chichagof Island, southeastern Alaskaand packed about 20,000 cases, operating exclusively with seines.
In 1912 and 1913 we operated at Ford Arm on the west coast of Chichagof Island, putting up small packs. In 1915 I also built a cannery in Cooks Inlet on Knik Arm, across from Anchorage, which I operated for 3 years. Then in 1918 I built and operated a cannery at Port Althorp, at the entrance to Icy Strait, southeastern Alaskanot far from Juneau, where we had prospected the fishing conditions for some time. I supervised the operation of this cannery myself until the fall of 1919, when I sold this cannery to the Alaska Pacific Salmon Co.
I also in the meantime had become interested in the Hood Baycannery, at Hood Bay and I had financed Nick Bez on his first canning operations in Peril Straits, at Todd—the Todd Cannery. I think that was 1924.
I was also interested in a cannery at Sitka, which we sold just a few years ago.
Since the early 1930s I have not been so very active in the business, although I have had interests in several canneries, and up to the present time have made trips to Alaska every year, and I have since 1893 spent anywhere from 2 or 3 weeks to 9 months in the Territory every year.
I graduated from the commercial branch of the Pacific LutheranCollege, in Parkland, Wash., in 1899; received my pilot’s license to operate cannery steamers and other small steamers in 1902; I took out my United States citizens papers in Tacoma, Wash., in 1903.
I was appointed by President Hoover and served as a dollar-a-year man under Judge Royal Gunnison, Food Administrator for Alaska, during World War I, as fisheries consultant and advisor in connection with catching and canning salmon in Alaska.
I was selected a member of the Fact Finding Board of Three, operating under the supervision of the United States Department of Labor, to determine a fair price to be paid for fish and labor in the Alaska salmon industry in 1938…
I served as first organizing chairman of the consultant committee, appointed as a war measure by the Secretary of Interior in 1942. The purpose of this committee was to devise ways and means of producing the greatest quantity of canned fish by concentrating all fishing and canning operations along the entire coast line of Alaska into the most efficient operating units, to save labor, transportation, and floating equipment, since the Army and Navy had commandeered and actually taken over most of the salmon industry’s efficient tenders, scows, and other floating equipment, including several canneries, which were so desperately needed when war so unexpectedly broke out.
I have spent all or part of every operating season, ranging from 3 or 4 weeks to 9 months in Alaska since 1893, and expect to continue doing so since I am very much interested in the Alaska fisheries.

I am at the present time interested in a cold-storage plant at Sitka, Alaska; a cold-storage plant we built last year at Sand Point, Shumagin Islands, Alaska; have an interest in five fish traps in southeastern Alaska, and have a very small interest in the Alaska Pacific Salmon Co., operating canneries in Bristol Bayand south of the peninsula.”