Packed house turns out for presentation about cannery life

Photos by Katie Ringsmuth

By Stefanie Donahue

An upwards of 80 people visited Blaine last weekend to learn and share stories about working at salmon canneries.

The gathering was prompted by Alaska historian Katie Ringsmuth who is working to get the “Diamond NN” in South Naknek, one Alaska’s oldest salmon canneries, on the National Register of Historic Places. As part of the project, she is developing materials to educate people about what it was like to work at a salmon cannery as part of an exhibition for the Alaska State Museum called “Mug Up” that features stories, photos and objects from workers.

The Alaska Packers Association, which operated a cannery in Semiahmoo, transformed the NN Cannery from a packing saltery into a salmon cannery in 1895. It remained in operation until 2015 and is now owned by Trident Seafoods. The now historic structure still remains.

With support from Blaine’s Alaska Packers Association Cannery Museum, Ringsmuth led a brief presentation about the project at the cannery lodge in Semiahmoo Park to about 80 people on April 14.

She, along with a curator, scanned photos and collected objects from guests, some of whom worked at salmon canneries in Blaine and Alaska years ago; several people also shared their stories.

“It was pretty amazing how many people came out and really seemed to care about this project,” Ringsmuth said. “A lot of people hadn’t seen each other for decades.” Some people came as far as Seattle for the event, she said, bringing all types of mementos from their time working at salmon canneries; some items included signs and flags in addition to photos.

Some of the items will be used in the Mug Up exhibition at the Alaska State Museum (the term ‘Mug Up’ refers to a phrase commonly used at canneries to describe coffee breaks). Ringsmuth said the National Endowment for the Humanities granted $60,000 to their nonprofit, The Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, to develop and eventually display the Mug Up exhibition.

“This is more than just a reunion,” she said. “What we’re doing with this project is recognizing that their work mattered.”

Ringsmuth’s father, Gary Johnson, was a bookkeeper for the Alaska Packers Association in Semiahmoo and later became the superintendent at the Diamond NN cannery until he retired in 1997. Ringsmuth also worked at the cannery to pay her way through college.

The project is a partnership of National Park Service, Alaska State Museum, The Alaska Association for Historic Preservation and Trident Seafoods.

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