On September 26, 1938, the F/V "Pelican" arrived in Lisianski Inlet to begin construction of a cold storage. The timing of this event coincided with the movement of the salmon troll fleet westward from Sitka and on up the coast to Yakobi Island.
Settling closest to the fish: Pelican's early years 092309 NEWS 2 For the CCW On September 26, 1938, the F/V "Pelican" arrived in Lisianski Inlet to begin construction of a cold storage. The timing of this event coincided with the movement of the salmon troll fleet westward from Sitka and on up the coast to Yakobi Island.

courtesy photo

photo courtesy of Bob DeArmond Some of Pelican’s first students. From left, Axie Mork, Betty Koby, Ray Mork, Elmer Mork, Karen Wetche and Mary Koby. VIew more photos at

Pelican to celebrate Founder's Day on Oct. 3

The Pelican Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a 50 Years of Statehood and Pelican Founder's Day Celebration Oct. 3-4. The community will celebrate with a potluck dinner at the community hall beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3. There will also be door prizes, a program by the Pelican School students, and historical presentations. On Sunday, Oct. 4 there will be a special breakfast at Rosie's Bar & Grill beginning at 9 a.m.

Travel to Pelican is available through Alaska Seaplanes, Salmon Air, and Allen Marine. Allen Marine under contract with the AMHS will sail to Pelican from the Auke Bay Boat harbor on Sept. 29 and Oct. 6.

For more information contact Norm Carson at 735-2460, Karen Stepanenko at 735-2282, Pelican City Hall at 735-2202, or visit the Pelican community website,

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Story last updated at 9/23/2009 - 1:43 pm

Settling closest to the fish: Pelican's early years

On September 26, 1938, the F/V "Pelican" arrived in Lisianski Inlet to begin construction of a cold storage. The timing of this event coincided with the movement of the salmon troll fleet westward from Sitka and on up the coast to Yakobi Island.

But even before the arrival of the "Pelican" the Lisianski area had witnessed developments by miners and a government navigation site at Soapstone Cove.

In the early 1900s, Jack Cann began developing the Apex-El Nido mine across from what would become Pelican. The Apex-El Nido produced 18,000 ounces of gold but was essentially shutting down by the time the "Pelican" arrived. In the early 1930s Hjalmer Mork and his partner Jack Ronning started working their gold mine, known as the "Goldwin Prospect," near Junction Island. Mork and his wife, Eliza, along with their children Anna, William, Betty, Raymond, Agnes, and Elmer (Marie was born later), would spend the first winter in tents pitched near the beach. The Morks were joined at their tent encampment by Jack and his wife Agnes. The following year they would float a house to the site from Excursion Inlet. Agnes remarked how she wished the house was over on the sunny side of the inlet, so they moved it and that area is now known as "Sunnyside."

While the Morks and Ronnings were working the "Goldwin Prospect" another mining venture began up the Lisianski River. Jack Koby brought his wife Inez and their children Betty, Mary, and Jack to the head of Lisianski Inlet and built a small house along the Lisianski River tide flats. The Kobys' prospect was known as the "Lucky Strike" and was located three miles up the river. Jack and a crew of two men took a small tractor to the mine and hauled out the ore in 55 gallon drums to the home site where they processed the ore.

During the early 1930s a fish buyer from Sitka named Kalle "Charlie" Raatikainen purchased the vessel "Pelican" to use as a fish packer. Raatikainen was buying fish from salmon trollers strung along the coast from Khaz Bay to Deer Harbor. Once he emptied the hold of the last fishing boat, he would turn and head 80 miles southeast to Sitka Cold Storage. After unloading the catch Raatikainen would purchase and load groceries and gear for the trollers then head back west. Raatikainen was weary of the long days and was determined to solve this by building a cold storage closer to the fishing grounds.

Raatikainen was well acquainted with Hjalmer Mork and sought his input on where to locate a cold storage. Mork took Raatikainen to the future site of Pelican and advised him to build his plant at this location. The site had deep water close to shore, a somewhat protected harbor, and a stream with a lake that could be adapted for a small hydroelectric dam.

Raatikainen took Mork's advice and began making plans for his fish plant. Raatikainen was short on money but long on charisma. Wisely, his attorney Henry Roden incorporated the venture. Raatikainen put all the money he had it into materials and wages for workers but it would not be enough. He organized fishermen and some employees to begin construction at the end of the fishing season of 1938.

The "Pelican" arrived on September 26, 1938 with the skipper Arthur Mantyla, bookkeeper Bob DeArmond, a cook by the name of "Slim," and a cook's helper named Eli Rapich. Raatikainen had pre-positioned his two fish buying scows to use as a bunkhouse and mess hall at Lisianski Inlet. Among the earliest fishermen present were PeterBrown, Don and Thelma White, Jack "Boomer" Wilcox, Gust Savela, and Arthur "Coho" Walker and wife Martha. While these men and women gathered on the shore of Lisianski Inlet to start building the fish plant, Raatikainen was in Seattle ordering the materials and lumber.

Within a few days Joe Paddock and his brother Jim arrived with their respective boats towing a pile driver. Their brothers Ray, Tom, and Martin joined in at various phases of the project. Mork and Jack Ronning brought their air compressor and jackhammers to drill the rock and blast out a foundation for the cold storage. The men worked furiously to prepare a site for the cold storage wharf.

Later in the fall, the steamer "Tongass" arrived with the lumber and materials. At this time the project nearly came to a halt, as Raatikainen had no money to pay for the materials. His bookkeeper, Bob DeArmond, had the task of advising the captain of the money crisis. The materials had already been unloaded and it would have been very time consuming to gather them back on board. After a severe berating by the captain and some radiograms to the Seattle office, the authorization was received to leave the materials with Raatikainen's promise to pay.

Raatikainen enlisted Gust Savela, a fisherman with an engineering background, to oversee the building of the dam. Savela and his crew of Scandinavians worked on the dam and Jack Koby was hired to do the blasting. Meanwhile, Raatikainen and another crew concentrated on the cold storage. The men first built a bathhouse - a necessity for Scandinavians. Unfortunately, the bathhouse burned soon after construction, but another was quickly built. During these years Pelican was often referred to as "Finn Town."

With a bank account in need of funds, meeting payroll was a problem; this was solved by issuing shares of Pelican Cold Storage stock in lieu of cash.

A sawmill was brought to the community and lumber was produced for a boardwalk and homes. The Paddock brothers built two of the first private residences, which were later adjoined into a single home. A Sitka investor named Arthur Silverman built a beer hall and the settlement began to take on the feeling of a community. A portion of the rebuilt bathhouse was used for a store and later a schoolroom, with Arvo Wahto from Douglas as the first teacher. The Morks and Kobys moved to town from their respective mines; the men worked on constructing the plant and their children were Pelican's first students.

In November, the first U.S. Post Office was established, Bob DeArmond was appointed postmaster, and the name "Pelican" was used to identify the community.

By 1940 the Cold Storage was basically "roughed in" but there was no equipment. During the fishing season of 1940 A.R. Breugar of Wrangell brought his floating cannery and tied it up in front of the plant. Breugar operated that summer and produced the first value-added product at Pelican. The war years were a difficult time as materials were in short supply and laborers were needed for production of everything that would be needed to eventually fight a two-front war.

During the season of 1941 Sitka businessman Pros Ganty partnered with Larry Freeburn to operate a fish cannery inside the cold storage plant. The operation was successful and later a separate building was constructed to house the cannery. Raatikainen had run out of money and so Henry Roden persuaded Norton Clapp to invest into the corporation. Clapp consented on the condition that he be the majority stockholder. Thanks to his financing, much needed refrigeration and hydro equipment was purchased. Late in 1941 the refrigeration equipment was installed and the hydro was completed.

In 1942 Pelican Cold Storage opened for the business of buying, processing, and freezing of fish. In August 1942 the plant froze its first load of salmon in the "sharp" freezers. There was a significant amount of fish to process but not many workers; one million pounds of fish were processed the first year. The following year the community was incorporated as an organized city within the Territory. In a little more than four years Kalle Raatikainen's dream had come true, his cold storage was completed, the basics for a community were in place, and the city of Pelican was established. The town's motto "closest to the fish" had brought it into existence.