A buoy that recorded my experience in Alaska cannery
This item is a buoy I used to document my summer job experience while working at Egegik salmon cannery in Alaska in 1971. After graduation, my 3 summers of working in canneries was soon forgotten, and it was only years later that I learned about the long history of Chinese workers in the salmon canning industry:
In 1870, George Hume first hired a group of Chinese cannery workers at Hume's Eagle Cliff cannery in Washington. By early 1880s, there were 39 canneries and more than 4000 Chinese in the lower Columbia River. Canning industry quickly spread out to the Pacific Coast states from California to Alaska. From 1870s to 1900s, the average number of Chinese workers in canning industry was around 4000-5000, with a max of 6000-7000 during the peak years.
At the turn of the 20th century, as the Chinese Exclusion Act took effect, Chinese workers were aging and diminishing in number while the canning industry was expanding. The Chinese cannery workers were eventually replaced by Japanese, Filipinos, Mexicans, women, and native Indians. Despite the fact that thousands of Chinese had worked in the salmon canneries before WWII, very few artifacts were left by the early Chinese workers.
The buoy is still sitting on top of a shelf in my study room. It reminds me of the days working on the production line, the workers of different races and national origins, and the magnificent scenery of Alaska. It also reminds me of the thousands of Chinese workers who made similar journeys decades before me, under much more trying circumstances.
– James Chiao