Dundas Bay Cannery, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Dundas Bay Cannery, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

by | Jun 7, 2022

Dundas Bay is on the north shore of Icy Strait in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and is the site of a historical salmon cannery on the western shore and a former Tlingit village on the eastern shore, about 24 miles (39 km) west of Gustavus and 11 miles (18 km) north of Elfin Cove, Alaska. Dundas Bay was named by William Healey Dall of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1879, probably for Dundas Point. Dundas Point was named in 1794 by Captain George Vancouver for Henry Dundas, who was the Home Secretary in 1791 and War Secretary in 1794. Dundas River drains a watershed of about 64,000 acres (25,900 ha) at the southeast end of the Fairweather Range and flows generally southeast for about 16 miles (26 km) from the southern end of Geikie Glacier through a wide low valley into Dundas Bay. The Fairweather Range is mostly comprised of rocks derived from magmatic intrusions in the Chugach terrane. The Chugach terrane began accreting along the western edge of the Wrangellia terrane around 230 million years ago. The bedrock consists mostly of greywacke, argillite, slate, and conglomerate sediments associated with turbidites deposited in a deep ocean trench. The bedrock underlying Dundas Bay consists mostly of granodiorite derived from intruded magma during the Late Cretaceous. Overlying this pluton, especially along the Dundas River watershed, are Quaternary sediments deposited during the glacial recession. The present-day landscape has been largely shaped by the Last Glacial Maximum of the Pleistocene and repeated minor glaciations during the Holocene when ice advanced 1600-1000 years ago, 500-300 years ago, and 300-200 years ago. This glacial history transformed Dundas Bay from a fjordal seascape into a terrestrial environment dominated by glacier outwash sediments and ice-marginal lakes.

A historical village known as Xakwnoowu was located on the eastern shore of Dundas Bay near the mouth of the Dundas River and inhabited by the T’akdeintaan clan of the Hoonah Tlingit. A trail connected this village with another settlement at Point Carolus on Glacier Bay. The Dundas River supports seasonal runs of chum, sockeye, coho, and pink salmon. The village was established around 1150 AD and used until the middle of the 18th century by ancestral groups of the Tlingit that migrated north along the Pacific coast from the Nass and Skeena Rivers and founded present-day northern Tlingit clans from Icy Strait to Yakutat Bay. The village was centered around a fort built on a refuge rock connected to the mainland by a sand spit. The rock is a steep-sided diorite dome about 72 feet (22 m) high and 490 feet (150 m) long, on the west bank of the Dundas River near its mouth. The elevation offers sweeping views of Dundas Bay and a lookout from which any approach by water can be observed. Internecine warfare was a dominant part of tribal lifestyle. Raiding was conducted against the Chugach Sugpiat, Eyak, Haida, Tsimshian, and other external aboriginal nations, but was perhaps most prevalent between rival Tlingit clans, sometimes involving multi-village alliances. War parties traveled by canoe to attack enemy villages and besiege their forts, typically killing the men and taking women and children as prisoners or slaves. The weapons of war were bows and arrows, spears, double-bladed stone or metal knives, and clubs. Fighters carried shields and wore bentwood visors, carved wooden helmets, thick leather tunics, and armor made of wooden slats or rods. In 1794, Vancouver anchored in Dundas Bay, and Archibald Menzies, ship’s surgeon and botanist, reported a Tlingit village in eastern Dundas Bay. This was most likely the village of L’istee situated upstream on the Dundas River. Dundas Bay was a favorite sealing ground for the T’akdeintaan, who bitterly resented the incursion of southern Tlingit seal poachers who were repeatedly driven off, but threatened to return with 90 canoes and exterminate the T’akdeintaan. In 1880, Captain Lester A. Beardslee, who was an officer in the U.S. Navy and served as the commander of the Department of Alaska and of USS Jamestown, preempted a war of the coast tribes by threatening severe punishment.

In 1900, the Western Fisheries Company of Portland, Oregon built a salmon cannery on the west shore of Dundas Bay. The company reportedly paid a fee to the head of the T’akdeintaan Tlingit clan for use of the land as well as for the fish in Dundas Bay. Clan members continued to fish in the Dundas River and sold their fish to the cannery. The facility initially consisted of a small hand operation capable of producing 300 cases per day. In 1900, the cannery employed 96 workers, including 26 native fishermen and 26 native cannery workers. Most of the Native Alaskan fishermen used company-owned gear and were paid by the fish. The localities fished for sockeye salmon in 1900 and 1901 were Bartlett Cove, Dundas Bay, Taylor Bay, Glacier Bay, Surge Bay, Dry Bay, Excursion Inlet, Cape Spencer, Hoktaheen Cove, and Takanis Bay. In 1900, Jefferson F. Moser on the U.S. Fish Commission steamer USS Albatross reported that this cannery took from the various localities 67,000 sockeye salmon. Pink salmon were obtained from Mud Bay and Port Althorp. Fish were pewed from boats to hand carts and wheeled up an inclined plane to the fish house at the seaward end of the cannery. Canning machinery was later installed that increased capacity to 500 cases per day. Cases of salmon, with 48 one-pound cans per case, were transported to Seattle by the regular line of freight steamers serving Southeast Alaska. The cannery changed ownership in 1901 when the Pacific Packing and Navigation Company purchased the facility and added a mechanized processing line. Pacific Packing and Navigation Company consolidated into one corporation the properties and fishing privileges of 23 other Alaska companies as part of the industry consolidation of that time. In 1905, the Northwestern Fisheries Company bought the Dundas Bay facility. By 1912, a small Native Alaskan town had developed adjacent to the cannery buildings. Historical photographs of the town show small houses and ancillary buildings, mostly built on pilings, clustered along the shore of the sheltered inlet north of the cannery. In 1932, the Northwestern Fisheries Company sold the plant to Pacific American Fisheries, but the new owner never reopened it. With the closing of the cannery, most of the Native Alaskan workers relocated to the village of Hoonah on Chichagof Island. Read more here and here. Explore more of Dundas Bay Cannery here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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