Tucked away in a bay on the east coast of Kuiu Island, a small cannery was built by Out-of-Territory businessmen. A fire burned the main cannery building with its equipment and the company went out of business.
Southeast History: Port Beauclerc's first cannery 073113 OUTDOORS 1 Capital City Weekly Tucked away in a bay on the east coast of Kuiu Island, a small cannery was built by Out-of-Territory businessmen. A fire burned the main cannery building with its equipment and the company went out of business.

Photo Courtesy Karen Hofstad's Collection

Kuiu Island Packing Company label for pink salmon.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Story last updated at 7/31/2013 - 1:53 pm

Southeast History: Port Beauclerc's first cannery

Tucked away in a bay on the east coast of Kuiu Island, a small cannery was built by Out-of-Territory businessmen. A fire burned the main cannery building with its equipment and the company went out of business.

This salmon plant was one of 22 new canneries that began operations in 1912 in Southeast Alaska. This was the largest increase in the industry since its beginnings in 1875. Not all were new operators. Many canning men who sold an operation planned to leave the industry. The draw was still there and soon another company was built at a different site.

This was the case of Lewis P. Hunt. A Mankato, Minn., man, who constructed and operated a cannery at Shakan on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island in 1902. Sometime in 1911, after nine years, much of the time during which he was president of the company, he sold the operations to T. J. Gorman, one of the well-known salmon brokers and canners on the Pacific Coast. Hunt, prior to his interest in the salmon industry, had been a newspaper man and politician. He returned Mankato to that industry working for McKenzie-Hunt Paper Company in the wholesale paper business.

It did not take long before Hunt decided to organize a new company to operate a cannery at Port Beauclerc. He must not have been confident about this new venture: he did not immediately sever his connections with his wholesale job. The Ketchikan Miner newspaper January 12, 1912, was more optimistic, speculating that Hunt came back to A1aska because "there is more [money] in the cannery business, hence, his return to it."

Kuiu Island Packing Company was incorporated December 14, 1911 by Hunt, who became president and manager. T. R. Coughlan, also an incorporator of one of Hunt's Shakan companies, was in the building stone business in Mankato. The secretarial position was held by Sylvester Harrington of Seattle, who would later become involved with Hunt's Straits Packing Company. Incorporator T. O. McCann of Astoria, Ore., would also become involved with that company's operations at Skowl Arm. The last incorporator was W. S. Worman. The company was capitalized at $75,000.

Since the offices were in Seattle at the corner of Marion Street and Western Avenue, it was necessary to have an Alaskan agent. According to newspaper reports, Martin Hofstad of Petersburg represented the company. Territorial corporation records, at the State Archives in Juneau, named Morton "Gammel" Hofstad as the agent. He was not an incorporator but apparently contributed the property to the company.

Port Beauclerc is an inlet shaped rather like the letter A that indents the eastern shore of Kuiu Island on the west side of Sumner Strait. The bay is free from obstructions except those that are so evident they could be avoided, thus fishing boats, tenders, and large coastal steamers could come and go easily. The cannery site was in a cove west of Edwards Island, an area that afforded a good harbor. Every cannery needed fresh water for many steps of the canning process, and this was available.

Almost immediately after announcing his new enterprise, Hunt issued contracts for new cannery tenders, one of which was the KUIU QUEEN. By January 1912, 100,000 feet of lumber arrived in Port Beauclerc aboard the coastal steamer DELHI, and crews began construction of buildings for the cannery, warehouses, crew housing, mess hall, and superintendent and manager houses.

The post office "Beauclaire" was established June 10, 1912 with Hunt as postmaster, thus enabling workers to receive and send mail. The crews installed machinery for a one-line operation, and when the season opened, fishermen began to deliver salmon.

Unless a company took over another cannery and obtained its labels, it was necessary to design and apply for brands. On Kuiu Island, Hunt had seen a peculiar rock that, when seen from a distance, appeared to be a woman's face. From this Hunt took the name "Kuiu Queen" for both a label brand name and the company tender. It also used the "Xtragood" name for pink salmon. Karen Hofstad of Petersburg has one of the latter original labels in her extensive collection.

At the end of the season, the new cannery had packed about 22,280 cases of 24 one-pound cans. The year ended on a sad note that apparently soured Hunt upon this cannery. Mrs. Hunt, Lewis' childhood sweetheart who traveled everywhere with him the 38 years they had been married, died of ptomaine poisoning at the cannery at the end of August.

Hunt apparently did not return the next year of 1913, and Claude Hanthorn brought the crew to Kuiu and supervised the year's pack of 40,395 cases. Hanthorn, son of J.O. Hanthorn, had grown up in the business in Astoria, Ore., after his father built one of the Columbia River's largest canneries in 1876.

The name of the superintendent for the 1914 season was not found. After the season, when all but four employees had left Port Beauclerc, the cannery caught fire and burned to the ground on the morning of October 21, 1914. The fire was discovered about 7:30 a.m. when the upper loft of the warehouse was found to be ablaze. Everything possible was done to stop the fire, but it gained headway as it burned through heavily-tarred nets stored in the loft. All attention was turned to saving the bunkhouse and other buildings. It took about two hours for the cannery and the largest warehouse, both on piling over the water, to burn comp1ete1y. About 51,000 cases of pink and chum salmon were lost, together with the company's seine boats and nets. Thus, only 19,878 cases of salmon, already shipped South, were available to off-set the season's expenses. The fire loss was estimated at $80,000, a considerable part of it covered by insurance. The bunkhouse and store on the adjacent shore were saved. Hunt dissolved Kuiu Island Packing Company after the cannery burned. During its three years of existence, its total pack was about 80,000 cases. Many canneries of the same size put up that many cases in a season. The short-lived post office of Beauclaire was discontinued at the end of June 1915. Hunt went on in 1915 to incorporate Straits Packing Company at Skowl Bay, also on the east coast of Prince of Wales lsland. The company acquired the Skowl Arm Packing Company plant after it went into the hands of a receiver.

Back at Port Beauclerc, for a few years, a saltery was operated at the old cannery site, undoubtedly in the warehouse that escaped the fire. D.W. Tunure either salted or mild cured fish at least through 1918.

With such a favorable site with a few buildings still standing and a water system in p1ace, it was inevitable another company would be interested in a new cannery at the site.

Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at patroppel@hotmail.com.