July 4th Celebration

Alitak cannery July 4th celebration. Kristin Wong

The July 4th holiday is just around the corner and I couldn’t help but to reflect back to what it was like at the cannery in Alitak. The beginning of the salmon cannery season starts to ramp up by the end of June in Alaska. As more and more fish come in from the bay, the working hours become longer and longer. The cannery workers look forward to this particular day because it is a nice break from the standard routine, at least during lunch time. The kitchen staff and baker at the cannery in Alitak would go all out and put together a grand lunch buffet in the mess hall complete with carved meats, fresh cut fruit, and various baked desserts. Everything was delicious and beautifully displayed. The only thing is that since it was during the lunch break, we only had an hour to quickly eat and then had to return back to work! However, there was usually enough left overs that it was served again later at mug-up which helped make the celebratory day seem to last all day despite working.

Since the cannery in Alitak was very isolated, there were no parades or other festivities for the July 4th celebration. Depending on the location of the cannery, workers may or may not be able to participate in any of the local festivities in addition to how much fish there was to process that day. At the Friday Harbor cannery on San Juan Island in Washington in the 1890s, there were reports that some of the Chinese cannery workers would participate in the local July 4th celebration and even organize race events for the children in town. This was at the time when the Chinese Exclusion Act was recently enacted, but the residents on the island were generally accepting compared to other larger cities down the West Coast, as the workers were temporarily there for the summer and were confined mostly to the cannery.

What are some of your favorite memories of the July 4th holiday?

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