HAINES, Alaska -- A former fisherman is hoping a new museum here
will give visitors an appreciation of Alaska's fishing industry.
Jim Szymanski, an Alaska fisherman for 28 years, opened Tsirku
Canning Co., Alaska's first museum dedicated to salmon canning, an
industry that fueled southeast Alaska's economy starting more than
a century ago.
The museum includes a restored and operational canning line with
antique equipment gathered and salvaged from canneries around the
Szymanski said the six-month search for the equipment took him
to such places as Larsen Bay on Kodiak Island and Mountain Village,
a Yukon River Eskimo village 150 miles northwest of Bethel.
The reconstructed machinery is housed in a 30-by-140-foot
building that includes maps, graphs and historic photographs that
capture the heyday of salmon packing in Haines.
"It's a lost art," said Szymanski, describing the salmon canning
industry. "It's surprising how little that history is represented
throughout the state of Alaska," he said.
The photographs, acquired after extensive research in local and
state museum archives, depict some of the canneries that operated
in the Haines area at the turn of the century. It's believed to be
the first photographic exhibit of the area's fishing industry.
The centerpiece of the museum's more than 60 tons of equipment
is the last three-piece, half-pound can reform line in existence.
It demonstrates how flat metal pieces were shaped into a usable
In 1982, a single incidence of botulism in Belgium changed the
course of salmon canning history. Because of the health scare, the
company that leased the reform equipment in Alaska issued a massive
After the recall, the three-piece cans used for more than half a
century were replaced by a one-piece can with a lid. Thousands of
tons of equipment used to manufacture the three-piece cans were
reduced to scrap metal.
Szymanski said his reform equipment was salvaged from the only
company in Alaska that owned the equipment outright.
Beginning at the reform line, flattened steel straps are rounded
into cylinders to which a bottom is added. The reform line
eventually connected to an automated process line where salmon
would be beheaded, their tails, fins and guts removed before the
fish was chopped and placed into cans.
Other equipment in the line would weigh the cans, remove the
ones that were underweight, seal the cans and cook them.
Approximately 6,000 cans would be prepared every 90 minutes.
The tour, which lasts about one hour, costs $13.50 per adult;
children under age 12 get in free when accompanied by a paying
adult. Group rates are available. The tour operates daily at 2 p.m.
and 8 p.m. Commission is 10%.
For information or to book a tour, call the museum at (907)
766-2434, fax (907) 766-2585. The museum's Web site is at www.cannerytour.com.