Museum looks at Blaine’s rich maritime history

Published on Wed, Aug 12, 2009 by Marisa Willis

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Today you can relax, golf and enjoy a pedicure at Semiahmoo Resort, but decades ago visitors to the spit would have found themselves knee-deep in fish guts at the Alaska Packers Association cannery.

From 1893 to 1980, the company was an international center for salmon processing, and many men and women dedicated their lives to its painstaking work.

The area’s fishing industry dates back even farther to 1876, after the first permanent settlers arrived at Semiahmoo in the 1870s.

Today that intricate story is told by Sunny Brown, and other volunteer docents, at the Alaska Packers Association (APA) museum on Semiahmoo Parkway.

“I’m a history buff – always have been – and I love sharing my knowledge of this fascinating story with people,” Brown said.

Visitors to the museum, once called the Semiahmoo Park Maritime Museum, won’t find masterpieces by the likes of Henri Matisse or Vincent Van Gogh. But they will discover the untold history of Semiahmoo’s fishing and cannery industries.

The APA museum exhibits our long-standing ties to the marine world and Alaskan fishing grounds, Brown said. Commercial fishing ran rampant from Point Roberts to Blaine, during the APA’s heyday, as salmon migrated up and down the Fraser River in British Columbia, Canada.

Numerous APA cannery artifacts fill the museum building, which along with two other buildings was moved from the cannery to Semiahmoo Park in 1981. A restored Bristol Bay sailboat and black and white photographs of a running Plover Ferry also help tell the story of this forgotten era.

The museum was first opened in 1984 but was closed twelve years ago when Whatcom County Parks and Recreation deemed the building dilapidated based on a leaking roof and poor heating system.

Richard Sturgill, and Drayton Harbor Maritime, stepped in and brought the museum back to life in 2001.
As Brown looked upon the museum’s seashell and coral collection – a favorite among children – she explained the important lesson this once thriving industry can teach us today. Over fishing nearly ran the salmon population into the ground, Brown said, and dumping dead, unwanted fish into the bay may have changed the chemistry of the water forever.

It is important for future generations to be conscious of things such as over fishing, highway runoff and farming that can affect water quality, Brown said. “Nothing’s forever,” she said. We have a responsibility to the environment.

 “I believe in giving back. That’s one of the things volunteering does – helps the community,” Brown said.
A boardwalk, paved parking lot, interpretive nature signs and beach access areas were added in 2008, which Brown said have been incredibly beneficial to the museum’s success and increased attendance this year. Brown also said she hopes to stay open on weekends this winter, depending on volunteer availability.

The Alaska Packers Association museum is currently looking for volunteers. Admission is free or by donation. Hours are Friday through Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. For more information call 332-5742.