Kodiakan Anjuli Grantham has published her first book, “Tin Can Country: Historic Canneries of Southeast Alaska,” which documents nearly 150 years of salmon processing in Alaska.
The book, published in May and on sale at the Kodiak History Museum, explores the some-135 canneries that were set up in Alaska from the late 1800s to present day. Grantham compiled the book, which features the work of prominent Alaska fisheries historians Patricia Roppel, Bob King and Jim Mackovjak, as well as dozens of full-color illustrations maps, and photographs. According to Grantham, the book examines canneries as sites of Alaska history.
“While it does contain histories of individual canneries, those canneries were selected because they can point to some events or trend in Alaska history,” Grantham said.
Grantham was born and raised in Kodiak. After earning a degree in history and Spanish at the University of Oregon, she spent several years traveling. Eventually, her love of history took her back to school. She earned a master’s degree in public history at the University of South Carolina and wrote her thesis about the creation of the Karluk Reservation.
Grantham has dedicated the majority of her professional life to salmon and Alaska history. Over the past decade, she has worked as the curator of exhibits at the then-Baranov Museum and spent two years as a salmon fellow with the Alaska Humanities Forum.
“While I was in Kodiak, I did a lot of documenting and researching the history of Kodiak’s salmon fisheries and canneries,” Grantham said, mentioning a project in which she was involved called West Side Stories. That project saw Grantham recording oral histories and collecting photographs of the fish camps and canneries on Kodiak’s west side.
But, Grantham said, it was while working as the director of The Alaska Historical Society’s Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative that the idea for the book came about. The Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative was launched in 2015, as an effort to promote projects that document the history of Alaska’s seafood industry.
“This book project is an outgrowth of all of that really,” Grantham said. “It was through the Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative that I met the two most important people involved in ‘Tin Can Country.’”
Those two people were Pat Roppel, of Wrangell, and Karen Hofstad, of Petersburg.
“Pat was a mentor of mine. She died in 2015. But prior to her death, she’d spent a decade compiling information about canning in Southeast Alaska,” Grantham explained.
Grantham said that Hofstad was a very close friend of Roppel’s, and she and Grantham decided to finish the book Roppel had been working toward before she passed away.
“She (Hofstad) spent 50 years collecting original historic salmon cans, salmon labels,” Grantham said. “Whatever she could get her hands on that really documented the history of fishing in Alaska, particularly in the Southeast.
“This is a truly unprecedented collection. Karen donated her entire collection to the Alaska Historical Museum and Library.”
While Grantham took on the duties of editor; Hofstad’s collection of artifacts were used for the book’s illustrations. Grantham said that they also hired a professional map-maker who created maps for the entire book, including a map they specifically commissioned to show all the canneries in Southeast Alaska from the 1870s to the present day.
The final book includes writing from 15 different contributors, including Grantham; King, who specializes in the history of Bristol Bay fishing, and Mackovjak, the author of “Alaska Salmon Traps.”
“I was able to collaborate with some really great contributors,” Grantham said. “I ended up connecting with many fishery historians across Alaska.”
While the book focuses on canneries in the Southeast, Grantham said that it broadly explores the past 150 years of the state’s history. From the establishment of one of Alaska’s earliest canneries (Klawock Cannery, which was located in Sitka), through the ways in which the Alaska seafood industry assisted troops during WWI and WWII, and up to the civil rights efforts of Asian Americans, the book offers more than a simple history of the seafood industry.
“Instead of it just being about the specific operations of specific places, it is really rooted in broader trends in the development of Alaska,” Grantham said. “You look at the towns of Southeast Alaska today and the reason that many of these places exist is that a cannery was built there.”
Grantham said that the book isn’t just for those interested in the Southeast, but would appeal to Kodiakans too.
“Just because of the connections to these broader topics like statehood and WWII and the history of these canning companies –– many of which had operations in Kodiak,” she said.
All the proceeds from the sale of the book are going to the Claussen Museum, where the book is also on sale. Grantham said that she and Hofstad are doing all the distribution themselves.
“It’s being sold really only at museums and private bookshops,” Grantham said. “It’s also at the Mosquito Books at the Anchorage Airport, which in my mind has to be the most heavily trafficked book store in Alaska.”