Wall of Industry – gallery view photograph by Brian Wallace.
THE CANNERY WORKSCAPE
Location, Location, Location
The century-old Diamond NN Cannery is situated on the south bank of the Naknek River, one of five major pristine rivers that comprise Bristol Bay, the eastern-most arm of the Bering Sea.*
APA architects built the Diamond NN Cannery to harness water from a nearby creek to power machines. The canneries setting along a deep channel allowed safe maritime navigation and longer dockside delivery at low tide.
The river’s extreme tides pushed cold air beneath the cannery twice a day to naturally cool recently cooked canned salmon stored in the cooling shed extending over the river.
51 buildings, set on pilings, radiated from the waterfront. Whether it was the fish house, can shop, carpenter shop, or cooling shed, each building supported the larger purpose: an efficient production flow, from fish to can.
*The main salmon rivers of Bristol Bay include the Kvichak, Nushagak, Ugashik, Egegik, and Naknek rivers.
APA’s Crown Jewel
The Arctic Packing Company (APC) constructed a saltery where salmon was sliced, salted, and placed in barrels on the Naknek River in 1890. When APC merged with 30 other packing companies in 1893, the Alaska Packers Association absorbed the saltery and converted the rudimentary operation into an industrialized salmon cannery in 1894.
The cannery, the first on the Naknek River, was rebranded as the <NN> (pronounced as “Diamond NN”) and quickly became the crown jewel of APA’s well-known trademark: “the diamond canneries.”
This long-handled single-tined hook was used to stab salmon in the head and fling them from a scow to the dock.
Fish elevator buckets from Waterfall Cannery. Courtesy of Mike Lattin.
This ladder-like conveyor belt moved fresh-caught salmon from the dock up to the fish house.
A brailer bag is used to transfer fish from the boat’s hold to the tender. Alaska State Museum 81-9-3
Shipwrights used these stencils to paint names on APA’s fleet of scows and tenders, many of which were named for birds.
Gears and power wheels, late 19th century to early 20th century.
Still situated in the cannery rafters are the remnants of old flywheels, conveyor belts, and gear shafts, echoes of the once relentless pounding and hissing of the cannery’s mechanical steam power, which inaugurated the industrialization of the North.
Water pipes, ca. early 20th cent.
Found beneath the Mess Hall, these unused wooden water pipe parts from the early 20th century represent the early water system used to connect the cannery to its water source, a small tundra lake approximately one mile away. Water, heated by vast quantities of coal and later oil powered the cannery machines. Eventually, modern piping material replaced the wooden piping at the cannery.
The Cannery Model
The NN Cannery was one of the longest-running canneries. It employed hundreds of residents and thousands of transient workers who produced some of the largest canned salmon packs in Alaska. Its century-old buildings contain stories of capitalism, incorporation, industrialization, immigration, world wars, global pandemics, statehood, resource management, unionization, segregation, and equal rights.
"This cannery model is intended to generate conversations and memories that connect today’s generation of cannery people to the working lives of their descendants, emphasizing the central role their families played in the development of one of Alaska’s most significant industries."
—Andrew Abyo, Artist
Andrew Abyo is an Alaska artist from Pilot Point, a Sugpiaq village on the Ugashik River in Bristol Bay. He currently lives in Anchorage with his wife and three children.
Aerial Footage of NN Cannery
Courtesy of filmmaker, fisherman, and South Naknek resident, Bruce Anderson, this film includes aerial views of the historic Diamond NN Cannery, the South Naknek Village, the Naknek River, Beach, Setnetters, and Pulling Boats at Diamond O.