Front and Mill Streets, Ketchikan, Alaska, USA
Seven figures by sculptor Dave Rubin stand on top of this rock by Ketchikan’s dock. Each of them life-size. Each of them from Ketchikan’s past, its story. And each of them an important part of what makes Ketchikan the place it is today.
Shookum came from a place called Metlakatla in British Columbia, Canada. But after a falling out with local church leaders in 1887, he and several hundred others from his Tlingit community moved to the area around Ketchikan. By 1902, he’d been made a chief. And to the settlers living in Ketchikan, he became known as Chief Johnson. But Chief Johnson is most famous for his totem pole. He had it made for his mother shortly after she passed away in 1901. It stands at 60ft tall, and it features a carving of the Raven, who helped man capture the fire, and the Fog Woman, who guides the salmon on their annual run into the waters around Ketchikan. On top of the pole is Kadjuk, the mythical eagle and most important of all creatures. The putting-up of this pole was a big local event. Over 500 people came to see it, and Chief Johnson threw a potlatch feast to mark the occasion. These days, the original pole can be found in the city’s Totem Heritage Center, but there’s a replica in downtown Ketchikan, on the very spot the first pole stood.
Logging has long been big business in Ketchikan, and in the whole Alaska. Mostly because it supports the state’s other big businesses: mining and fishing. Every mine needs lumbar and timber. But it’s fishing that’s most important to Ketchikan. Historically, fishing traps were made of timber. And when you need timber, you need a logger. In 1907, the US government set up an agency to manage Alaska’s timberlands. Without the hard work of loggers, none of Ketchikan’s expansion into the state of Alaska’s sixth most populous city could have happened.
People have been fishing in the area around Ketchikan for longer than anyone can remember, for thousands of years. These days, the city is known as the salmon capital of the world, with 30% of the local population involved with fishing for salmon, processing it, or sustaining fisheries and natural habitats. It’s a fishing fin-omenon.
Mining has played an important part in Ketchikan’s history, as it has other parts of Alaska. The industry kick-started with the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. Prospectors heading northwards to Yukon started panning for gold in other places, too. Like Ketchikan. The reality was that Ketchikan wasn’t amazingly rich in gold and minerals, but there was enough of the stuff to keep an industry going until the 20th century, and Ketchikan benefitted from being the main shipping point for the small mining towns and villages around it. But mining in southeastern Alaska is not without risk. Heavy rainfall in the area can cause landslides, and even formines to become unstable.
The Bush Pilot
Bush Pilots fly the planes that keep the wheels of commerce turning in Ketchikan. More than that, they keep southeastern Alaska’s remote and isolated communities connected. They are kind-of air-borne taxi drivers. And air-borne postmen. They’re scouts, they’re ambulances. They’re a lifeline.
This Tlingit woman is banging a drum. Traditionally, Tlingit drums are made from elk hide. Music and dancing play an important part in Tlingit culture. Songs and dances were owned by particular clans and often performed as gifts. But take note, performing a song that does not belong to you or to your clan is a serious offence.
The Pioneer Woman
The pioneers and prospectors arriving in Alaska hoping to make their fortunes during the nineteenth century were mostly men. But some women saw that in settlements inhabited mostly by men there really were fortunes to be made. I realised I could make a lot of money from the attention of men, said one woman who came to Ketchikan from Vancouver in 1919. Her name was Dolly Arthur. Dolly made money fast and bought several properties along the city’s Creek Street. At the time in Alaska, prostitution was tolerated so long as it didn’t happen on dry land. Accordingly, the houses Dolly owned were built above the creek from where the street got its name, and stood on stilts. The high life.