Projects underway for historic Bristol Bay cannery

Sharon Wlaysewski Thompson films cannery caretaker, Carvel Zimin Jr. at the old NN Cannery at South Naknek, 2016. Photo by Katherine Ringsmuth

Three major projects are underway in Naknek and South Naknek this summer to commemorate the life and times of the 129-year-old NN Cannery in South Naknek, including a film on cannery caretakers, a photo exhibition of the 1919 flu outbreak and building of a cannery model.

The NN Cannery History Project, led by Katherine Ringsmuth, and Alaska Video Postcards have teamed up to produce a film called Cannery Caretakers, about Alaska Native people who historically supplied salmon to the cannery, constituted the spring/fall crew that prepared the cannery for the fishing season and later winterized the facility, and served as winter watchmen of facilities and stored boats.

These workers were descendants of Katmai who migrated downriver and established South Naknek after the Novarupta volcano destroyed Savonoski village and cteated the Valley of 10,000 Smokes in 1912. Settlement at New Savonoski was brief because of the Spanish flu pandemic and red salmon crash of 1919, which drove Native residents to find work at the NN Cannery in South Naknek.

Two children from New Savonoski orphaned by the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1919. The children were brought to the NN Cannery for medical care. They are photographed in front of the APA Office and Superintendents White House. Alaska State Library

“The film will share the local perspective of a global industry and fill a big gap in the historic record,” said Ringsmuth, a University of Alaska Anchorage history professor and the sole proprietor of Tundra Vision, a public history consulting firm in Anchorage that focuses on history exhibits and curation. The film project was made possible with a generous grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum, she said.  Alaska Video Postcards, a privately held video production firm in Anchorage, is owned by Todd Hardesty.

Project coordinators have commissioned Aleut carver Andrew Abyo, who was raised at Pilot Point, to build a 1/25-inch scale model of the NN Cannery, which will serve as the centerpiece of the Mug Up exhibition at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.

Summer projects also include a photo exhibition, Bristol Bay Remembers: The Great Flu of 1919, on display from June 1 through July 31 at the Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum in Naknek, curated by Tim Troll, director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust and history advisor for the project. The photo exhibition is a remembrance to those who died in the pandemic, those who came to help and the children who survived and their descendants living in the Bristol Bay region today.  Support for the exhibit came from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust.More information about the summer projects is online at facebook.com/NNCannery and NNCanneryProject.com.