The Alaska Packers Association (APA) Museum opened on Semiahmoo Spit in 1985 to preserve a significant chunk of local maritime history, said volunteer coordinator Sunny Brown. The cannery operated from 1876 to the mid-1970s and was a significant part of the local economy.
The museum is now run by Drayton Harbor Maritime, which also operates the historic Plover ferry, originally used to ferry workers back and forth to the cannery from Blaine. The Semiahmoo resort now sits on the bones of the old cannery.
Outside the APA Museum stands a rusting machine originally called the “Iron Chink,” but now officially called the “Smith Fish Processor.” The museum is working on getting enough donations to purchase a cover for the machine to shield it from the elements.
”Chinese immigrants were a huge part of the work force in the cannery when it first opened,” Brown said. “A skilled worker could clean six salmon a minute, but the Iron Chink was able to process 100 fish in the same amount of time, replacing many of the Chinese workers.”
Overfishing was at one point a big problem for APA Canneries, Brown said. Too many fish were being caught, and since the cannery couldn’t process them fast enough, workers ended up pushing many back into the harbor.
The boats used for fishing were built in the cannery itself. A preserved Bristol Bay sailboat, 28 feet long with an 8-foot beam, sits in the APA museum. It took two fishermen to operate a boat. Fishing could take up to one week, with the two men sleeping cramped in the tiny bow, covered only by a canvas blanket.
The APA Museum is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday through September. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. The APA Museum is located at 9261 Semiahmoo Parkway in Blaine. For more information, visit draytonharbormaritime.org or call 360/371-3558 or 360/392-7795.