Union Bay Cannery, Ernest Sound

Union Bay Cannery, Ernest Sound

by | Jun 28, 2022

Union Bay is situated on the lower Cleveland Peninsula between Lemesurier Point to the west and Union Point to the east, at the southern entrance to Ernest Sound, and is the site of a historical salmon cannery that was at the mouth of Cannery Creek, about 3 miles (4.8 km) northeast of Meyers Chuck, and 34 miles (55 km) northwest of Ketchikan, Alaska. The bay was called Union Bay by fishermen and the name was first reported in 1904 by Harry C. Fassett on the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries research vessel Albatross. The Cleveland Peninsula is about 50 miles (80 km) long and 10 to 15 miles (16-24 km) wide and is geographically subdivided into distinct upper and lower localities. The lower peninsula separates Behm Canal from Ernest Sound. Cannery Creek drains a watershed on the Cleveland Peninsula and flows generally west for about 5 miles (8 km) from a deglaciated cirque at an elevation of 2,000 feet (610 m) to sea level. The upper peninsula separates Behm Canal from Bradfield Canal and is largely contiguous with the Boundary Ranges of Coast Mountains. The granitic intrusions that form the Boundary Ranges are remnants of a Late Cretaceous volcanic arc system called the Coast Range Arc. Southeast Alaska is comprised of several accreted terranes, meaning terranes that originated elsewhere and were transported by plate tectonics and joined to previously accreted terranes or to the western margin of proto-North America in approximately their present locations. The lower Cleveland Peninsula is mostly composed of rocks of the Gravina Sequence that formed during the Middle Jurrasic to Late Cretaceous and consists of greywacke, argillite, and conglomerate. Union Bay and Cannery Creek are underlain by intruded volcanic rocks including dunite, gabbro, and diorite.

A continental ice sheet covered Southeast Alaska during the late Pleistocene, and ice may have reached thicknesses of 3,280 feet (1,000 m) and extended over the continental shelf in the Gulf of Alaska. Cosmogenic nuclide dating indicates that the fjords and straits were deglaciated about 14,900 years ago. Small, remnant ice caps may have persisted in high-elevation areas until the early Holocene. The earliest evidence of human occupation in Southeast Alaska is from the early to mid-Holocene and these sites are often found at elevations of 52 to 72 feet (16-22 m) above sea level. Sea level in Southeast Alaska rose rapidly at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum from the melting glaciers, but since the region had also been depressed under the weight of the ice, the land gradually rebounded to its present position. From 900-1400 AD, a series of northward mi­grations occurred of ancestral Tlingit people who originated from the Pacific coast between the Nass and Skeena Rivers. Most of Southeast Alaska eventually became occupied by the Tlingit, with 17 trib­ally distinct groups known as kwaans. Ancestral Tlingit used pictographs to record legendary or historical events, such as encounters with European explorers, the freeing of slaves, or to mark clan territories. In Emerald Bay on the west coast of the Cleveland Peninsula about 12 miles (19 km) northeast of Union Bay, a large pictograph is located on a steep overhanging rock wall. This pictograph portrays a large face representing a shark with two large eyes and sets of crescent-shaped lines on both sides representing gills. This motif appears to be a clan crest and may mark territory. In 1741, the Russian navigator Aleksei Chirikov was the first European to visit Southeast Alaska. In 1774, the Spaniard Juan José Pérez Hernández sighted the south coast of Dall Island, while Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra entered Bucareli Bay off Prince of Wales Island the following year. In 1792, Jacinto Caamaño sighted Revillagigedo Island and the Gravina Islands, discovering Clarence Strait. Captain George Vancouver and his men made an extensive survey of the Alexander Archipelago in 1793 and 1794, circumnavigating both Revillagigedo and Admiralty Islands, charting the entirety of Kuiu Island, the east sides of Baranof and Chichagof Islands, and Etolin, Wrangell, Zarembo, Mitkof, and Kupreanof Islands. Within a decade the archipelago became a locus of the maritime fur trade controlled by the Russian-American Company. In 1867, the Alaska Purchase transferred the territory from Russia to the United States.

In 1916, a salmon cannery was established at the mouth of Cannery Creek in Union Bay by the Union Bay Fisheries Company. The facility was taken over by G.W. Hume in 1923 and sold it the following year to The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company and operated by their subsidiary the Nakat Packing Company in 1925. A floating clam cannery and a herring reduction plant were also present during this time at Meyers Chuck, a small community on the west side of Lemesurier Point. A post office, store, machine shop, barbershop, bakery, and bar developed there to support residents. By 1939, 107 residents lived year-round in Meyers Chuck. When fish runs began to decline in the 1940s, many people left the community to join the armed forces or to work at war-time production jobs in the Lower 48. The Union Bay Cannery burned down in 1947 and was never rebuilt, but Meyers Chuck persists as a community and was withdrawn from the Tongass National Forest in the 1960s. The Union Bay Cannery is closely connected to a famously pivotal moment in modern Chinese history and is reputedly taught in Chinese colleges and has been documented in a film. Li Gongpu was a prominent Chinese poet and scholar who traveled in the United States in 1922 to study fine arts and literature. In 1928, Li Gongpu wanted to document what life was like in Alaskan canneries for Chinese workers and the cannery he chose was at Union Bay. His descriptions are probably the only first-hand Chinese account of cannery work in Alaska before World War II, and certainly the most sophisticated. Li commented on the beauty of the cannery location and wrote about the ethnic diversity of the workers who came from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Italy, Switzerland, and undocumented workers from unknown places. He also commented objectively on the biases of the times, observing the interaction among workers and how social status was based on how their own countries were perceived in the world. He would later return to China where in 1946 his outspoken activism resulted in his assassination by the Kuomintang, the Chinese government secret service. Read more here and here. Explore more of Union Bay and Ernest Sound 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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