Taku Cannery, Taku Harbor

Taku Cannery, Taku Harbor

by | Aug 9, 2021

Taku Harbor is a historical community and the site of an abandoned cannery, in a small embayment on the eastern shore of Stephens Passage near Taku Inlet, about 86 miles (138 km) northeast of Sitka and 22 miles (35 km) southeast of Juneau, Alaska. Taku Harbor is named after the Taku people who, along with the Auke and Sumdum people that also inhabited this area, are a geographic subdivision of the Tlingit . The main village of the Taku people was located on the Taku River in what is now British Columbia. From this main winter village, they dispersed to their clan subsistence areas during the spring, summer, and fall. In 1840, the British Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post in Taku Harbor called Fort Durham, located at the outlet of Taku Lake at the extreme northeast corner of the bay. With the establishment of the fort, the Taku people abandoned their traditional winter village and moved to the area of the fort. The fort was abandoned by the British in 1843, and the Taku people stayed in Taku Harbor until 1880 when gold was discovered near Juneau and they moved to work in the mines for wages.

In 1824, overlapping territorial interests between the Russian American Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company resulted in the Treaty of Saint Petersburg that defined the boundaries between Russian America and British claims on the Pacific Coast, and later the Yukon Territory and the North American Arctic. Despite this agreement, the outposts and trading stations of each company grew closer in proximity. In 1834, the Hudson’s Bay Company tried to establish a trading post on the Stikine River near the Russian Redoubt Saint Dionysius, the site of modern Wrangell, which was allowed by the terms of the treaty, but the effort was blocked by the Russian-American Company. In 1836, Hudson’s Bay Company brought the steamer Beaver to the Pacific Northwest in order to assert control over the maritime fur trade along the coast. Officials from the two companies felt it was necessary to settle their long-standing issues. In 1838, the Imperial Government of Russia intervened by ordering the Russian American Company to end the disputes with the British before it could strain relations with the United Kingdom. Ferdinand Wrangel, Governor of Russian America, volunteered to negotiate on behalf of the Russian American Company, and George Simpson represented the interests of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1839, a new agreement was reached and the Russians granted the Hudson’s Bay Company an exclusive ten-year lease to build trading posts, hunt, and trade furs along a coastal strip 10 miles (16 km) wide between Fort Simpson and Lynn Canal. Redoubt Saint Dionysius was handed over to the British and renamed Fort Stikine. In return for the additional areas to trap furs, the Hudson’s Bay Company also had to supply New Archangel (Sitka) with food and provisions. This sudden demand for agricultural produce necessitated the Hudson’s Bay Company to create a new subsidiary called the Puget Sound Agricultural Company. Hudson’s Bay Company constructed Fort Durham in 1840 at Taku Harbor, one of three British trading posts established in Russian America. The post consisted of a stockade enclosure with octagonal towers at two corners. The post was named after the Earl of Durham who at the time was the Governor-general of British North America. The fort had a roster of 35 people, with 15 kanakas, or Natives of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). The new stockade at Taku Harbor served as a trading post until 1843 when the fort was abandoned in favor of yearly visits by the Beaver. After the Alaska Purchase in 1867, the territory became part of the United States, although the Alaska boundary dispute was not resolved until an international arbitration in 1903.

In 1901, the San Juan Fishing & Packing Company of Seattle established a cannery and cold-storage plant at Taku Harbor. The freezing of salmon was already being done on a small scale in Puget Sound, and in 1902, the preparation and storage of frozen salmon in Alaska began in Taku Harbor. This was the only cold storage plant that operated in Alaska until 1909 when the New England Fish Company built a large plant at Ketchikan. In 1903, the Taku Harbor plant was purchased by the Pacific Cold Storage Company and operated under that brand in 1903, 1904, and 1905. In 1906, Taku Alaskan Packing Company leased the cannery. In 1907, it was leased to John L. Carlson & Company and then sold to Carlson in 1911 and the name was changed to the Taku Canning & Cold Storage Company. In 1918, it was sold to Libby, McNeill & Libby and they operated the cannery until 1947. The cannery suffered two major fires, the first after Carlson left in 1918 and the second in 1932. In 1951, the cannery was dismantled by Westly Walker leaving only the pilings. Over the years, a few people have filed land claims in Taku Harbor and this started a small community of private residences. In 1926, while the cannery was still in operation, G. Edward Bach received a piece of land from the U.S. Forest Service that included the land on which Fort Durham was situated. The most celebrated resident was Henry “Tiger” Olson who lived at Taku Harbor for over 56 years. Taku Harbor is currently a state marine reserve and is frequently used as a night anchorage by commercial fishing boats and small tour ships. It is also a popular destination point with a dock and public use cabin for recreational boaters. Read more here and here. Explore more of Taku Harbor here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2019 (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. 

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