This oral history project highlights stories of people associated with the 127-year-old <NN> Cannery in South Naknek, Alaska. The <NN> Cannery is situated on the south-side of the Naknek River, one of the five major rivers that constitute the Bristol Bay salmon fishery—Alaska’s largest and most sustainable commercial fishery. APA assigned the cannery the initials, NN, possibly for NakNek, and drew a diamond around the cannery abbreviations—hence, APA’s well-known trademark: “the diamond canneries.” The <NN> Cannery functioned almost continually between 1895 and 2015, and for over a century served as the centerpiece of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.
The <NN> Cannery employed hundreds of residents and thousands of transient workers who produced more canned salmon than any cannery in Alaska. Over time, these cannery people developed unique identities and stories, which today remain little known or understood. This project aims to shed light on the lives of the cannery people and why they matter today.The oral histories include the perspective of people who worked at the cannery in various capacities, including fish processors, laundry and kitchen workers, machinists, office administrative staff, and superintendents, as well as commercial fisherman and local village residents. These oral histories demonstrate the diversity of cannery workers and honors their contributions as a labor force.
The oral histories are part of the larger <NN> Cannery History Project that includes development of an exhibit about the cannery and cannery workers, nomination of the cannery to the National Register of Historic Places, and a digital storytelling project. The hope is to create broader public understanding of and appreciation for the importance of canneries of this type to Alaska's economic, social, and cultural history. The jukebox component of the project has been funded by the National Park Service Maritime Heritage Grant Program.
Mary Brown grew up in Blaine, Washington and got her first job as a cannery worker in 1976 on the slime line at Alaska Packer Association's cannery in Larsen Bay, Alaska. She continued to be a summer seasonal employee at canneries in southwestern Alaska, including for tanner crab and shrimp at Dutch Harbor, packing eggs at Uganik, and as a receptionist, expeditor, mail clerk, and laundry worker at <NN> Cannery in South Naknek. In 1981, Mary married a local fisherman, Bill Brown, and... Read More
Wayne Matta was born in Brainerd, Minnesota in 1930 and moved to Seattle in 1944, when he was fourteen years old, when his parents came to the area in search of jobs. He graduated from Renton High School and served in the U.S. Army for four years. After working in the naval ship yard in Bremerton, in 1956 he got a job at American Can Company. Wayne worked as a maintenance machinist at American Can's Seattle plant, and later as a serviceman traveling to canneries around Alaska to work on and... Read More
Nick Mavar was born in Dugi Otok, Croatia and immigrated to the United States in 1959. He arrived in California as a foreign student and took courses in mechanical engineering for three years at Long Beach State College, while fishing part time. One summer he went to Washington to earn money commercial fishing, which led to him fishing in Southeast Alaska for a few years, and by the late 1960s he was fishing in Bristol Bay. At first, Nick leased a cannery boat and fished for specific... Read More
Oscar Penaranda was born on the island of Leyte in the Philipines in 1944, and emigrated with his family to Vancouver, Canada in 1956 when he was twelve years old, and moved to San Francisco in 1961 wehre his father worked as a diplomat for the Philipines government. In 1966, at age 21, Oscar got a job working at the <NN> Cannery in South Naknek, Alaska, and returned every summer for over fifteen years. His jobs varied from being a driver, to being a cooler man, to working in the Fish... Read More