A Century of Service & the Centerpiece of the Bristol Bay Fishery
It Started as an Arctic Packing Saltery
For over a century, the Alaska Packers Association’s <NN> Cannery served as the centerpiece of the resource-rich Bristol Bay salmon fishery. Because the facility functioned almost continuously between 1895 and 2015, it has maintained architectural and cultural integrity, and remains one of the most historically significant remnants of the industry on the West Coast. APA’s dominated Alaska’s salmon market, accounting for 70% of the total salmon pack. As one expert put it, “Canneries transformed this entire area and represent the Industrial Revolution of the North.” The <NN> Cannery began as an Arctic Packing saltery, built on the south side of the Naknek River in 1980.
In 1895, APA absorbed the saltery and transformed the facility into a salmon cannery. APA assigned the cannery the initials, NN, possibly for NakNek, and drew a diamond around the cannery abbreviations—hence, APA’s well-known trademark “the diamond canneries,” which was approximated in print as <NN>.
Over 120 seasons, the <NN> Cannery brought together a mix of people: Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Croatians, Italians, Scandinavians, Unungan, Alutiiq, and Dena’ina, men as well as women, the young and the seasoned. APA employed mostly immigrants from Europe to gillnet salmon in double-ender sailboat in the early days. These men were from fishing nations like Italy, Croatia, Greece, Norway and Sweden. Others came from Germany, Russia, Algeria, even as far away as Australia. Besides fishing, skilled immigrants built both the cannery and the salmon boats.
To process the salmon, the cannery hired Asian crews—first from China, then Japan, and later the Philippines—whose cultures and traditions shaped the cannery’s labor landscape and directly linked the Alaskan cannery to the broader Pacific World. Indigenous Alaskans also worked at the cannery, most of whom were descendants of Katmai and culturally connected to the Brooks River Area's Archeological District and National Historic Landmark at Katmai National Park and Preserve. Katmai villagers migrated downriver to South Naknek after the Novarupta volcano destroyed the Savonoski village in 1912. The Spanish Flu pandemic and red salmon crash of 1919 drove Native residents to seek cannery work. Despite traditions lost to cannery life, Native people became major contributors to and caretakers of the operation.
Collectively, the cannery buildings, boardwalks, machines, and other contributing properties convey a broad range of historical contexts: corporate, technological, cultural, economic, social and environmental. Of all the canneries built in Alaska, very few currently left standing possess the <NN> cannery's integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association, and meet all the criteria for historic evaluation.
The <NN> Cannery was a place where thousands of people made a living. From its bunkhouses to the boardwalks, the cannery’s dwindling structures contain the voices of the past. Memories of machinery, the messhall, and mug-ups—they continue to have meaning to the hundreds of workers who once labored there. Discarded machines parts, broken boardwalks, skeletal remains of bunkhouses, and graffiti etchings are the enduring reminders of the past that gives voice to the cannery people.