Portlock Cannery, Port Chatham

Portlock Cannery, Port Chatham

by | Oct 17, 2022

Portlock is a historical salmon cannery in Port Chatham, an embayment on the southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula, about 102 miles (164 km) north-northeast of Kodiak and 10 miles (16 km) south-southeast of Port Graham, Alaska. Portlock was named for Nathaniel Portlock who served as a master’s mate on the third voyage of Captain James Cook from 1776-1780. Furs obtained by that expedition were sold for good prices when the ships stopped at Macau which developed an interest in commercial opportunities. In 1785, Richard C. Etches and associates, including Portlock and George Dixon, formed a private partnership called King George’s Sound Company to develop the fur trade in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. In September 1785, Portlock and Dixon sailed from England with Portlock in command of King George and Dixon in command of Queen Charlotte. In the summer of 1786, the ships anchored in an embayment that in 1794, was named Port Chatham by Captain George Vancouver for HMS Chatham.

The Fidalgo Island Packing Company was started in Anacortes, Washington in 1894, and by 1900 the company had expanded to Alaska with a new cannery in Ketchikan. In 1911, the Seldovia Salmon Company built the first cannery in Lower Cook Inlet at Seldovia. In 1912, the Fidalgo Island Packing Company built a cannery at Port Graham, and three years later a cold storage facility for cod and halibut was constructed at Portlock in Port Chatham near an Alutiiq village called To’qakvik. In 1920, the Arctic Packing Company built a cannery on English Bay at the entrance to Kachemak Bay near the village of Nanwalek. The canneries at Seldovia, Port Graham, and English Bay processed salmon mostly caught in fish traps at Flat Island, Point Naskowhak, MacDonald Spit, and from small boats that stayed close to Kachemak Bay. In 1928, a new cannery was built at Portlock by A.N. Nilson. The cannery burned during the winter of 1937-1938 and was rebuilt in 1940 and operated as the Port Chatham Packing Company. The new cannery used larger and more seaworthy fishing vessels that could exploit the fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska at Windy Bay, Rocky Bay, Port Dick, and other outer Kenai Peninsula sites.

The Portlock cannery needed laborers and employed Chugach and Alutiiq Sugpiaq people from outer coast villages. This attracted more people and a community of scattered cabins grew around the head of Port Chatham where a portage trail of about 5 miles (8 km) connected to Windy Bay. Beginning in the 1940s, villagers in Port Chatham were terrorized by a creature they called Nantiinaq. When several sheep hunters disappeared in the hills around Portlock, and their dismembered bodies reputedly later washed ashore in the lagoon, the residents of the community fled en masse to Nanwalek and Port Graham. After World War II, declining production at the Portlock cannery caused people from Port Chatham and Koyuktolik Bay to move to Port Graham where a cannery still provided employment opportunities. The Portlock post office officially closed between 1950 and 1951. The village of Nanwalek still maintains ownership of Portlock. Read more here and here. Explore more of Portlock and Port Chatham here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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