Funter Bay History – Cannery Postcards and Leftovers

Cannery overview

Thlinket Packing Co Cannery at Funter Bay (from Pacific Fisherman Annual Review 1908 via University of Washington Library Freshwater and Marine Image Bank, used as Public Domain per their policy.)

I came across a few old postcards that I’d purchased at an antique show in the Midwest, showing my hometown of Funter Bay, Alaska during the salmon cannery days. I’ve put together a little more information and back-story to these. I’ll try to add more photos and information on the history of Funter Bay as I have time.

postcard4

The cannery tug Anna Barron, shown tending Fish Trap #6 in or near Funter Bay in 1907. As with most of these postcards, this is a colorized B&W photo by Case and Draper, a Southeast Alaskan photo studio that operated until 1908.

Here is an original B&W of this image with some additional information, courtesy of the Alaska Digital Archives. Here’s another photo of the Anna Barron approaching the cannery dock with two scow-loads of fish.

Here is a close-up of what the crew is up to in the first postcard shown above. The derrick onboard the Anna Barron is lifting a section of fish trap net (Brailing) to dump the salmon into a scow (barge).

postcard2

And here are two versions (from two different postcards) showing the same operation from a different angle. I believe this is the same crew, although they’ve colorized Mr. Floppy Hat guy’s clothing differently:

postcard5postcard3

And here are the salmon after being unloaded at the cannery, waiting to be sent through the processing equipment to be cleaned and packaged.

postcard1

Just for fun, here’s the only postcard which was filled out and mailed, the rest were unused.

postcard1-back1 postcard1-back2

The Alaska Digital Archives have many more from this Case & Draper set, as well as photos of cannery operations from later years. All of them can be found here.

Here is another photo from the University of Washington Archives, showing salmon being brailed onboard the Anna Barron.:

brailing

Fish traps were hugely efficient at catching salmon, as they effectively blocked spawning streams and diverted all returning salmon into the nets, making the salmon do the work of catching themselves. They were often temporary structures maintained during the spawning season, usually being built from untreated driven pilings, floating logs cut locally, and nets. The nets and more expensive hardware were stored over the winter, and the trap structures would often require repair or rebuilding in the spring after winter storms and rot had taken their toll. Today you can still sometimes find “trap logs” on the beaches, identifiable by the rusty bolts and hardware that attached them to other parts of the structure.

weasel 1
A trap log in our yard (with an ermine on it). These are so massive that it’s easier just to leave them where they are and attach stuff to them. This one was the top end anchor of our outhaul.

The design of fish traps resulted in enormous early profits for the canneries, but quickly proved self-defeating, as the salmon runs for those streams were wiped out. In the 19th and early half of the 20th century there were few legal restrictions on fishing, although competition was fierce, the the point of nearing international incidents. In 1904, President Roosevelt dispatched the revenue cutter Perry to Funter Bay, where two Japanese fishing vessels were seized and the crews deported (source). (I hadn’t heard of this before, so I Googled around a bit and happened across this picture of the Perry’s eventual fate in 1910).

Native Alaskans and independent fishermen often opposed and sometimes sabotaged fish traps. There were even incidents of “Fish Piracy“, in which traps were raided before the company could empty them. This led to watchmen manning each trap, living on board the floating or driven-piling structure in small shacks during the fishing season, although the watchmen could sometimes be bribed.

pirates

Here’s a model of a fish trap, including the small watchman’s shack:

Part of the house I grew up in was a trap watchman’s shack that was moved up the beach. My Dad later added it to the house as an entry/mudroom.

House early
An photo of our house soon after my Dad moved in. The structure to the left is the former trap watchman’s shack, which Dad moved up and to the right to attach to the main house.

House back porch
The same house after Dad began adding to it. The fish trap shack is in the foreground surrounded by a new deck and awning.

The house at Funter Bay on a snowy day. Normally winter was just wet, and snow didn't tend to last very long.
The final house layout, the entry is on the right behind the small Alder tree.

Fish traps were eventually regulated and later banned entirely. More information on Fish Traps (PDF) can be found in this research paper from the University of Alaska, there’s also an HTML version.

And now, more information on the cannery itself.

The Thlinket Packing Company, owned by James T. Barron of Portland, Oregon, was begun in 1902. It operated until the 1960s when fish traps were effectively outlawed. I suspect that other fish packing operations at Funter predated this company (there was also a saltery less than a mile away on Highwater Island). During the later years, the cannery location became known as “Funter”, and is shown as a town on some maps. It had regular mail service by both boat and seaplane. Well-maintained trails connected the cannery to the gold mines at other locations around the bay, and the Bear Creek Trail ran over the top of Mansfield Peninsula through a pass to the other side of Admiralty Island (facing Juneau). Various pipelines connected the cannery to nearby streams, as operations required a large amount of fresh water. Scows were overwintered on an extensive slipway and drydock system in Coot Cove.

Mount Robert Barron, the highest peak near Funter Bay, was named in 1919 to honor J. T. Barron’s son Robert.

Robert Barron

James Barron apparently also built an office building in Portland in 1921.

And to further wander from the original topic of postcards, here are some photos my Dad took of the Cannery’s appearance when he arrived in the 70s:

Funter Cannery

An overview of the cannery as seen from the water.

Here is a great survey map showing the layout of some of the buildings in 1964. This includes many additions, such as the Quonset huts brought in by the army during WWII to house “evacuated” Aleuts (more information on that unfortunate incident is available here).

Cannery map

The carpentry shop. That’s not a church, the cross at the top is a telephone pole. This is where Dad built his first wooden fishing boat:

Cannery 1Cannery 2

I believe this was the power house:

Cannery 5

Either the Chinese or Filipino bunkhouse:

Cannery 3

Various cannery ruins on the beach:

Cannery ruins

 

When I was a kid, we still had a few of these buildings left, and a lot of leftover equipment and rusty “stuff” on the beach. Unfortunately, a lot of the old buildings were burned or bulldozed during various subdivision and redevelopment attempts (including some built from huge California Redwood planks, worth a fortune today)

Steam Engine 1Steam Engine 2

Here are Megan and I on two of the stationary gas engines that drove the canning lines. These made great trains/cannons/spaceships!

steamengine1.jpg

These would have had a belt driving overhead rods, which drove the other equipment throughout the cannery building. Here’s a photo from the archives showing the overhead shafts and belt drives

This post is starting to get ridiculously long and wandering, so I’ll continue thing later. Next up: what happened to the Anna Barron? Stay tuned!

Edit: Gordon Harrison pointed out that the stationary engines were early Fairbanks-Morse gas engines, not steam as I had previously thought.

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4 Responses to Funter Bay History – Cannery Postcards and Leftovers

  1. […] first post on Funter Bay History shows Trap #6 at the Kittens (islands), also of the pound […]

  2. Fernando Silva says:

    Sorry!, is there a way to include a picture of what I am refering to?

    • Hi, do you have a picture of an engine you’re trying to find out about? I’m not sure if you can upload a photo in comments, but if you’d like to email me I can see if its something I know about. gabe (at) saveitforparts.com

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