NN Cannery History Project receives $60,000 grant to develop museum exhibit

Sep 7, 2017

With the funds in place to develop a museum exhibit about the 122-year-old NN Cannery in South Naknek, the project's next step is developing funding for research.

The old superintendent's house at the NN Cannery in South Naknek is pictured in this July 2016 photo.
Credit Courtesy of Katie Ringsmuth

Last month the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation received a $60,000 grant for the NN Cannery History Project from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is just one step on this project’s long road to preserving the history of a Bristol Bay cannery that drew workers from as far away as Italy, Algeria, Australia, Japan and the Philippines.

The money from the NEH grant will go toward creating a temporary exhibit curated by the Alaska State Museum to collect, share and preserve stories and artifacts from the 122-year-old salmon cannery in South Naknek. To create the exhibit, however, the project still needs more grant funding for research.

“What we did is we got the grant to do the exhibit,” said project director Katie Ringsmuth. “Now I need to get the grant money to do the research. Right now the first step is to just get these last couple grants done, cross our fingers and hope for the best.”

The project is in its third year. It is a collaboration between the AAHP, the Alaska State Museum, Tundra Vision, Trident Seafoods and the Bristol Bay community. Those parties joined forces after Trident Seafoods announced that the cannery was closing in 2015. It had been in continuous operation since 1895. The goal of this project is three-fold. Creating an exhibit is one objective. They would also like to record the stories of community members involved in the cannery, and they are in the process of applying for National Historic Register designation.

The cannery’s story is one that is important to Ringsmuth personally. She worked at the cannery for several years, and her father, Gary Johnson, was a longtime superintendent. She also emphasized both the local and international importance of the project.

“Often times when you are talking about the fishing industry, whether it’s in school or exhibits, never are these stories mentioned. We’re not making these historical connections. So when you want to talk about Alaska and its global immigration story, then a great place to begin is looking at these canneries. Because 100 years ago, you go out onto a dock at mug up and you could easily hear 15 to 20 different languages,” said Ringsmuth.

Under this NEH grant the NN Cannery History Project has three years to produce the museum exhibit on the cannery. It’s one of 29 Creating Humanities Communities grants awarded by the NEH this year.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.