Our first summer out at the cannery was the year I turned 9. As luck would have it there were lots of girls my age that lived out there and they were seasoned veterans when it came to cannery life. The one difference was that both their parents worked. The women were either mending nets or working the cannery line while the men fished on the company boats or on their own vessels as well. Many were part of the operation in the cannery, boat house and the machine shop.
Which meant that my friends had responsibilities cooking, cleaning and looking after younger siblings. Terry and I didn't have any of those jobs since our mother didn't work and she didn't like us to mess up her kitchen. Our younger brother was not our responsibility either but he did get in the way of our adventure by wanting to tag along. My new friends were great allies, we would spy on Billy, then tattle. That way he was confined to the yard and not allowed to leave, making our adventures secret and uninterrupted.
When you have the railway tracks just meters from your house you can hear them calling to you "come play on us".
Us girls would head up behind the Okabe's house near the bridge with our copper pennies. The goal was to have the train flatten them but not derail the train. A derailed train would not have been a good thing for our social calendar. My new friends taught me how to put my ear to the tracks to listen for the train. It was important for Terry and I to have a good hiding spot when the train went by so the engineer or the caboose man would not see us. If our adventure had derailed the train and the engineer would be able to say " yes, there was a chubby white kid" the odds were that was me. There were only 3 white kids at the cannery that summer and they were all named Philippson. So to save my friends' behinds we had to stay out of sight. However our plan had a flaw; after the train ran over the penny we were so well hidden we couldn't find the flattened ones .
So we figured out that we needed to slow down the flight of the penny and that could be done with tape. Acquiring tape was easy, my dad had a whole office full of supplies and the house was also his office. He was a rather frugal man and had been using tape and the stapler to repair his shoes recently so I would just have to wait until mum was hanging out clothes on the line to liberate the tape. The plan worked and we had our flattened pennies. However from that point on we found ourselves with a lot of new jobs. We no longer had a lot of time to lie our heads on the tracks and listen for the train it seems someone snitched!
My sister was now employed at the canteen, a small operation that the Stewart girls ran during the summer just at the entrance to the village. I was green with envy, Terry now earned a hourly wage at the age of 11, scooping ice cream, making french fries and selling candy bars. I figured my mum would be game to help increase the profit margin of the canteen. After all they were a cash only operation no credit or coupons. But apparently she had rules about eating fries, candy bars and ice cream all summer. We could come home for lunch and it was the same thing every day, salmon sandwiches on white bread and milk.
My new job was filling needles for the ladies mending nets.
A piece work job, for every needle filled I got a nickle. Trick was the tension had to be just perfect for the net ladies to do their job and I had trouble with tension. Needless to say I never made a lot of money . Years later I found out there was a machine that loaded the needles for the ladies.
Our other employer was Mr. Lum the cook at the cookhouse. He offered us .25 ( the cost of a candy bar at the canteen) for every flounder we caught off the Net Loft . But that was tricky as well because everyone threw their garbage into the river from that point and all we ever caught were Bull Heads. You had to have a good casting rod to get past the garbage pile on the beach. But every so often I got lucky and sold my catch to Mr. Lum.
The Bunkhouse for the single men was right across from the mess hall and the Japanese one was down the way. Mr. Lum would come out of the kitchen and bang the brass triangle that signaled lunch or dinner.
Mr. Lum was the best cook ever, not that I ever went in the cook house while he was cooking for the single men. After all, women never went in there and there was not even a rung on the ladder for children. But on Sundays, Mr. Lum made the managers' families dinner. We three kids were sent to the cookhouse at the dinner hour to pick up the Chinese food he had made for us. It was served in cannery crockery oval serving dishes full of chow mien, sweet & sour, egg foo young and all the rice you could eat. To this day that was the best Chinese food I have ever eaten.
My Uncle Jerry shared a story from when he was a boy living at the cannery and playing with his friend Sung. He visited the large white building and noted the garden of lettuce in very straight rows and how orderly it was. Bags of this lettuce had been gifted to his mother, my granny, on many occasions but never appeared at the dinner table. After several cups of green tea Uncle Jerry needed to use the bathroom. The facilities consisted of a metal trough that sloped down to a bucket. Sung explained to Uncle Jerry that once the bucket was full, the gardener then took the bucket out to the lettuce patch and then carefully ladled the urine between the lettuce rows. Uncle Jerry never wondered after that why his family didn't eat the Chinese lettuce greens.
Many years later my sister and I armed with trowels would dig among the ruins of the China House searching for Chinese crockery.
The big companies that own canneries like North Pacific often burned down what ever buildings were neglected and no longer of any use to them. In 1900 the industry was starting to modernize and the work the Chinese workers had done was now slowly being taken over by a machine named "The Iron Chink" It could clean trim and cut the salmon into pieces making the work the Chinese workers did redundant.
Photo credit google images
My mum no longer had to come out to the cannery for Sunday lunch so it was just us kids and there was no longer "457 rules".
My dad had grown up on these train tracks and the river and knew if we were taught how to live around the water and trains we would be safe.
I had a ball in the off season; the families and workers had mostly gone to their winter homes and the cannery was my oyster. I swung from the ropes in the net loft, ran along the beach snapping seaweed, tried to catch feral cats and ran from huge rats. When in 1971 dad announced we would be spending the whole summer there and we would live in the manager's house we were pretty excited.
Photo Credit Linda Hansen
Living full time at the cannery for July and August would be like a huge vacation, so we thought. The reality of it was that the cannery sprung to life during the salmon season and children were not to be found under foot.
photo credit Gladys Blyth
To this day, I tremble at the entrance to the main dock between the cannery and the reduction plant. There my father marched the 3 of us to a newly made sign. "NO CHILDREN PAST THIS POINT UNLESS ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT. SIGNED THE MANAGEMENT" We were to never ever pass this point under any circumstances. This was a place of business not our play park and we were never to enter any of the facilities without my dad, there was to be no questions.
The day came after school was finished in June and we packed up our two cars with the essentials and headed to NP. With Tony Orlando and Dawn blasting from my mum's 8 track we got our new home sorted.
Terry and I had the room facing the river with a perfect view of the Reduction Plant and my brother had his own room to the side.
This was in its self a highlight as we 3 all shared a room back home on 7th Ave. New twin beds were bought for Terry and I and light blue chenille bedspreads finished the room off. Inside the antique blanket box were a life supply of Hudson Bay blankets and grey camp blankets for when all our friends would come and have sleepovers. We had a three drawer dresser for our clothes with a mirror attached. Mum and dad had one as well just a bit fancier.
The books in the closet from days gone by were a dream come true, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, inside the covers was my oldest sisters name from her days of living at the cannery. Those books would go on to be treasured by my own daughter years later. But the real treasure was the drawer full of Archie Comics. We would never have to visit Eddie's News Stand again.
It didn't take long to set things up then it was time to explore, we knew none of the kids that made their home at the cannery for the summer. Most came from "up the line" so we were going to have to make new friends.