Petersburg’s Cannery Park gives glimpse into history of town, early canneries

Space on small plot of land features swath of stories on town’s start
Cannery Park, in the Southeast town of Petersburg, may have a small footprint, but it's filled with history lessons for anyone who stops by for a visit.
Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 2:57 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Along Petersburg’s main street sits a small park. Bigger than the average garden shed, but dwarfed in size by most of the buildings around it, the space simply looks like a fresh, welcoming resting spot at first, featuring a couple of benches and a bit of respite from the rain or shine of the Southeast Alaska skies.

Take a closer look, though, and you’ll find that the park features pieces of the town’s history in the form of stories, timelines, and a plethora of photos — all of which are connected to the canneries and cannery workers who have helped make Petersburg what it is today.

“This was a piece of property, right next to the cannery that was the beginning of Petersburg,” explained Karen Hofstad, a Petersburg historian whose work has focused on the town’s canneries. “It’s called Cannery Park, and a lot of the pictures in there are the workers that the fishermen need.”

Hofstad said she moved from Seattle and married a Petersburg fisherman in the 1960s. Right away, Hofstad said she landed on a boat, with work on the water becoming a full-time job.

“But I didn’t have a clue what to do,” she laughed. “So I was looking around to find a book about the history, the information, what’s a salmon kind of thing, and there was nothing in writing.”

Gathering and preserving information on the town and its fishing processes have been a passion ever since. She soon realized that the workers involved are “really important,” but “sometimes get lost in the shuffle.”

“Most of the time, you hear about the fishermen, and the catching,” Hofstad said. “You can kind of forget the guys that are working around the clock, hopefully, when the fish are coming in.”

Hofstad said the park was the brainchild of fellow local Patrick Wilson, but the effort soon became a group one, what with all the work that would be required to streamline the detailed history of the town and its canneries.

“If we don’t have (cannery workers) filling up the cans, then you can’t fish,” she said. “So, it’s a really wonderful idea, and several of us got going on that. It took us a while, but we got all of our signs and everything put up, and it’s well-used.”

The project that would become Cannery Park was started around 2014, according to a Petersburg Pilot article published several years after that. According to Hofstad, the park was officially completed in July of 2020.

Now, two benches in the space are dedicated to some of the fishermen and other workers who have passed. Detailed graphics, protected by plexiglass and covering the three walls of the open-air development, take readers through the history of the town and depict some of the many people and companies that have come through over the years.

Also perched right next to Cannery Park is a fish can-theme rubbish bin. The series of themed garbage pails was another one of Hofstad’s efforts, which she said a couple of other communities have now pursued, too.

“I’ve got thousands of the labels and related papers from old newspapers and things,” Hofstad said. “I was sharing, giving them my labels so they can use them on the garbage cans. So they’re really a salmon can look.”

She also created a brochure that includes a walking tour, so people can wander around Petersburg and see all the rubbish bins and learn the history of each label at the same time.

“We have a lot of pictures of local people, generations, so (visitors) go through to see Grandma,” Hofstad said. “Just to keep the history going, because, you know, it’s too easy to forget, but it’s really important.”

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