The Net Lofts were the biggest buildings on site aside from the main cannery and as you entered the building, the cathedral ceiling seemed to stretch up into the skies.
Photo Credit TripAdvisor
The exposed beams laddered across the ceiling, hung with ropes and large metal pulleys. As the sun streamed through the window panes, the racked nets sparkled in beautiful shades of aquamarine. At one end of each racked net was a medley of coloured corks and at the other, the lead line. Whenever I touched a brand new nylon net they'd fall back in to place effortlessly.
Net lofts go way back in my family, before my grandpa was the manager of North Pacific Cannery, he was the net boss. When I was a cannery kid Laurie was the "net man". He was strict and wanted his staff of net menders there on time with no exceptions, never really taking into consideration that the ladies were all mothers as well.
North Pacific Cannery Racking nets Photo credit Oliver Philippson Collection
In the off season the tri-fold sample books with little sample pieces of the gill nets in them would arrive. These were next seasons prospects that my dad could purchase. These were like Vogue for gill nets, my dad could have cared less about what his clothes or shoes looked like but the beauty of a gill net was a sight to behold!! Looking through them as a child, seeing all the vibrant colours they came in like pink greens and blues that we would never see in our net lofts, made me want to use the samples for something, dressing our barbies maybe. Before nylon nets the fisherman would drop their linen nets in to vats of Copper Sulphate to protect them from the rotting effects of fish slime and jellyfish.
Photo Credit Tripadvisor
There was always a hushed whisper in the net lofts as the net menders did their work. Men and women both mended nets. The Japanese fishermen had their own net loft at one end of the boardwalk and there was a net loft at the other end of the cannery property.
Photo credit Oliver Philippson collection
The net lofts were like tall islands, surrounded by water on all sides. Just like all the other buildings at the cannery, us kids were not allowed in during the season. However us kids could fish off the side of the walkway, this is where many people threw their garbage so I usually only caught Bullheads but sometimes I got lucky and caught a Flounder! This was the jackpot because Mr. Lum the cook paid .25 cash not coupons for Flounders.
Japanese net loft 1979 Photo Credit Linda Hansen
The ladies were the real masters of the craft. They seemed peaceful at it when I watched them work outside in all types of weather on the floats and the main dock, almost like they were knitting or crocheting a new article of clothing. The holes they were mending were often made by seals.
The seals got into the nets and ripped the salmon right out leaving a gaping hole. Dad never had too many nice things to say about the seals.
Mr Katawake in the Japanese netloft North Pacific Cannery
When talking to the granddaughter of one of the ladies who mended the nets, she told me how her grandmother at the age of 16 training consisted of being placed in front of a ripped net and being told to "fix it". After a short lesson and teaching herself she did and went on to become a skilled net mender. Other ladies, like my friend's mum Lavinia were trained by the older and more experienced women. Net mending was a real art that took years to perfect and became a point of pride.
Photo Credit to Shar Wilson (Net mender Nora Wright at Porcher)
The one job that my sister Terry and I had was to fill the needles the ladies would use, as shown in the picture below. We would sit with the empty needles and load the twine on. The tension had to be just right and I was pretty bad at it.
In winter the gill nets were bundled up in burlap, which made for perfect games of leap frog.
Winter was the only time we were allowed to play in the net loft. As we played we looked for cats and this was where we found Pixie our feral kitty. The cats were welcome as they helped keep the mice and rodents down to a manageable level. My voice always seemed to sound different when the nets were there in the winter as I shouted, "TARZAN!" whilst swinging on the ropes.