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Project aims to document Alaska canneries

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Posted: Friday, December 14, 2012 3:09 pm

KODIAK, Alaska - The Kodiak Maritime Museum will participate in a statewide project next year with the ambitious goal of documenting every fish cannery built and operated in Alaska.

The project, proposed by the Alaska Historical Society, is still in the conceptual stage, but organizers are already beginning to reach out to museums across the state for help.

"We decided that a cannery history project would be a good special history project to focus on this year," said Alaska Historical Society board member Katie Ringsmuth. "We're literally losing canneries, and these are representatives of an incredibly important part of Alaskan history."

The goal of the project is to create a comprehensive list of Alaska's canneries and their locations; one does not currently exist. Any such list would include hundreds of locations ranging from still-booming businesses to scattered remains.

The Kodiak Maritime Museum was asked to gather information for a ll of Kodiak Island's past and current canneries.

"This is part of our mission," museum executive director Toby Sullivan said. "The museum was actually founded by people interested in preserving the canneries on Kodiak Island and the history of them."

Kodiak has been home to dozens of canneries on and off the road system, many of which are listed in Pat Roppel's 1986 book, "Salmon From Kodiak."

"Kodiak has already been covered largely," Sullivan said. "She (Roppel) documents almost every one. We've got a leg up."

Since much of Kodiak's work for the project is complete, Sullivan said the Kodiak Maritime Museum's main task will be to obtain current photographs of cannery sites.

The Alaska Historical Society wants the information available, so it can eventually be used to nominate some cannery sites for listings on the National Register of Historic Places.

"Really, it's just to start thinking about these canneries and how important they are," Ringsmu th said. "There are very few of them on the national register."

The register is a federal list that includes properties or locations with significance to the history of their state, community or the nation. Buildings on the register are eligible for grants, loans, and tax credits to be used for restoration or rehabilitation in order to maintain the historical character of the building. The only two Alaskan canneries currently listed on the register are Kake Cannery in Southeast and Kukak Cannery in Katmai National Park and Preserve.

The Alaska Historical Society hopes the project will help with the preservation of canneries as well as encourage community activism.

"What would be neat would be to try to generate enthusiasm from communities where these canneries are located," Ringsmuth said. "With today's social media we can set up a site where people can provide narratives and photographs. Hopefully it will be a source to give and find information."

Announcements on community involvement opportunities will be announced as the program develops.

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