The history of Ketchikan is closely tied to fishing. As I mentioned last week, the Kadjuck Tlingits made summer fishing camps along the coast of this island at the Tongass Narrows. But it was in 1883 that a salmon saltery (fish packaging operation) was established. This saltery, started by Mike Martin, was the first such business in place.
In 1885, Loring cannery opened its doors; in 1887, the Tongass Packing Company built its cannery; other immigrants began to open businesses, and in 1900, on August the 25th, the City of Ketchikan was incorporated with a population of 459 residents.
Southeast Alaska is one of the great breeding grounds for all species of the Pacific Salmon. There are about 1,100 islands that make up the Alexander Archipelago, which themselves have steep inland ranges and streams (aided by the about 150 inches of rainfall each year). All these factors contribute to the returning salmon runs, some with upwards of one million fish!
During the mid-to-late summer, salmon can be seen running over the falls and fish ladder at Creek Street, right through Downtown Ketchikan.
Well, I’m here. I might as well post some information that I’ve found interesting.
The City of Ketchikan, AK sits on Revillagigedo Island, which is about 89 km (50 mi) long from north to south and 48 km (35 mi) wide from east to west, making it the12th largest island in the United Statesand the167th largest island in the world.
The island is separated from the Alaska mainland to the east by Behm Canal, from Prince of Wales Island to the west by the Clarence Strait, and from Annette Island to the south by Revillagigedo Channel and Nichols Passage.¹
There are two cities on the Island, Ketchikan and Saxman. The name Ketchikan was chosen as the creek which flows through town is Ketchikan Creek. It was named for Kitsch, a Tlingit native who claimed the section of creek for fishing. Kitsch-hen was anglicized to Ketchikan, as the Tlingit didn’t have a formal written language. Hen translates to creek, and Kitsch to “the thundering wings of an eagle”.² Aptly, bald eagles fly and nest along the coast up and down the Southwestern shore.
The other city, Saxman, is famous for its totem poles. It has the largest collection of standing poles in the world, which is impressive as the Saxman is only one square mile.³ Many of Saxman’s totems were apparently stolen in the late 1800s during the Harriman Expedition, which I’m currently researching.
A couple of hikers were prepping for their trek through Denali. At the outfitters, they were given bells and colored ribbons. Inquiring as to their purpose, they were told, “the bells are good at keeping black bears away. Do you know how to identify the bears from their droppings?”
Another homer leaned over and whispered, “Black bear manure has berries in it. Kodiaks’ will have bells and colored ribbons.”
Tuned into this podcast completely by accident: The Wild with Chris Morgan. Pretty fabulous. I listened to two episodes, the first on our connection with animals and the second on what trees are telling us.
I recommend giving it a listen, and I’ll start a deep dive as I explore some of the Ketchikan trails around town. Today I walked Rainbird Trail. I’m waiting for the snow to thaw before I hike up Deer Mountain.
“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world. ”
Mary Anne Radmacher
I’ve been to a few places, though I always seem to want to search for more. In more places. Find new things about the world, and about myself.
Two days into my self-imposed displacement, I’m still just adjusting to the time zone shift, navigating the town, and starting to lean into the solitude of a place with no one I know. It’s been welcoming, and friendly, and quite warm, despite being cold outside. But it’s new and not quite home.
And figuring out what home is – that’s an important part of stepping away. Without perspectives outside of your comfort zones, you’ll miss the richness that any home provides.