Living in Ouzinkie 1958 to 1964 (Including lots of rare photos - may take some time to load)

The village of Ouzinkie from across the bay, taken in the late 1950s.

Introduction:

When our family returned to Alaska after spending the 1957-1958 school year in Washington State, we were reassigned to a new home base in the village of Ouzinkie. Baker Cottage, the fourth Kodiak Baptist Mission children's home, had recently been vacated there, and the facility was a logical site for the continuation of the Evangel ministry. As a result, the Evangel was based out of Ouzinkie for seven years. (See The Evangel Visits Ouzinkie for photos and comments on Ouzinkie in the 1950s)

The Evangel at anchor in Ouzinkie in the early 1960s (Colorized photo)

Ouzinkie was (and is) a beautiful community, but when I moved there in the years before the Tidal Wave its form had changed little since the 1930s. Most of the features have changed since then, and this description is from the perspective of a young and newly arrived resident of the village, remembering it as it was then. The text is as I remember the town before the Tidal Wave, but the photos make reference to the way things look now. Some photos (of unchanging scenery, for example) are from recent trips to Ouzinkie.

This rare composite picture (from two overexposed slides) is one of the few color photos of the center of Ouzinkie, taken from the cannery dock. The store is the white building at the left.

A New Home Village

As a new resident of Ouzinkie (rather than previously as only a frequent visitor), I am very pleased with my new home. It would be hard to exaggerate the charming appearance of Ouzinkie in these pre-tidal wave days. Every house is different from its neighbors, and our new home of Baker Cottage, built in 1938, is still one of the newest buildings in town. Situated less than twenty miles from the city of Kodiak by water, Ouzinkie is physically so very different from Larsen Bay and the other "South End" villages. For one thing, Ouzinkie has spruce trees! In fact, much of the village seems to have been built in a forest. The homes of a couple hundred souls are spread randomly around a little bay on a peninsula on the northern end of Spruce Island, near the narrow channel separating it from Kodiak Island.

This rare photo shows a cannery home (right), with the cannery store barely visible in the background. Only the cottonwoods (center) still survive.

Pleasant and inviting boardwalks crisscross the center section of town, where swamp-loving alder and cottonwood trees proliferate beside ancient log houses with gray-weathered clapboard siding. A large, angular three-classroom schoolhouse is at the center of this part of town. Listing yellow his and hers outhouses in the schoolyard can be reached by plank pathways across land so soggy that it often resembles a lake. A large platform built of thick planks on pilings gives the students a place to play above the mud.

The Ouzinkie School, built in a swamp, features a platform to allow kids to play without getting soggy. The swing sets were purchased with funds raised by showing movies in the biggest classroom every Friday night. (This building is now the City Hall).

Ouzinkie's beautiful Russian Orthodox Church in the winter, 1960s.

On a small bluff overlooking the center of town, with its south side facing the bay, stands one of the most appealing of all the Russian Orthodox village churches, the Church of the Holy Nativity. Whereas Old Harbor's church seems overly simple, and Karluk's seems formal and cathedral-like to a small child like me, Ouzinkie's little church seems inviting and friendly, with its broad boardwalk bridge and its flank of dark spruce trees creating an instant postcard view for half the village.

The Church of the Holy Nativity in the summer, 1960s

Sasha's house, on the bluff overlooking the bay, taken 2002, but little changed in 50 years.

Ernest's house near the beach, across the bay from the cannery.

Beside the church and along the bluffs on the eastern side of the bay, a collection of houses sit like sentinels among the tall spruce trees, guarding the bay below. These homes, accessible only by narrow wooden bridges staked into the often unstable hillside, have the best view of the cannery on the opposite shore and the beachfront seaplane landing below the church hill. Below them along the shoreline several homes with gabled attics and large modern plate-glass windows look out on beachfront property strewn with small service buildings on rickety pilings, spread out between sandy mounds with tufts of tall beach grass.

The Ouzinkie Packing Corp. cannery (left and center) and store (largest white building to the right) in a composite photo taken in 1962. None of the cannery buildings survive today.

The Cannery

Across the bay, built into the harbor and against a round, wooded hillside, stand the buildings of the Ouzinkie Packing Corporation cannery, a random collection of corrugated tin and war-era clapboard buildings connected by narrow walkways and supported by ancient, shaggy pilings. The Filipino bunkhouse is perched on the side of the hill above the boiler room, and a homelike gray and white cookhouse perches on spindly pilings just this side of the power plant. The trash disposal for the cookhouse is a short chute that empties onto the bay below. One day the cook tells me about how she had been so flustered that she put an empty can in the cooler and dumped a fresh lemon meringue pie down the chute by mistake!

The net storage building in winter. From a 16mm movie frame, late 1950s

Where the dock ends and the village begins, west side. From left: net building, the old Pestrikoff house, pool hall, Chichenoffs, cannery home, cannery workshop. I am not sure what building is between the net building and the Pestrikof place. Photo taken 1950s. None of these buildings survive today.

The main access to and from the cannery is a long dock with an equally long, low net storage building running alongside it. Every spring the men can seen be out along this stretch inspecting and restringing their nets and soaking them in pungent blue preservative solution. One bored local fisherman once got his dog drunk just to see how far down the dock past the net building he would go before falling into the water.

The fish ramp (elevator) at Ouzinkie Packing Corp., on a foggy day, looking toward the store. The Bonnie is tied next to one of the other "GPC" boats at the oil dock.

The Evangel at the Ouzinkie Packing Corp. oil dock, in the summer of 1961. Ouzinkie was the home base for the Evangel for seven years. This photo also shows the houses on the bluff across the bay, most of which still stand.

The original Grimes-built cannery is fairly small as canneries go, and has added only a handful of small outbuildings since the early 1940s, yet it is a cheery maze of dark interior tunnels and narrow, twisting passageways. It quickly becomes my favorite cannery, more interesting and more accessible to me than broad and symmetrical layout of the enormous Larsen Bay cannery. The sights and sounds of cannery life are well familiar to me as a seasoned island traveler, and I soon scout out the great hiding places, impressive lookout spots and secret shortcuts.

I also learn, the hard way, where not to go with a rowboat. The underside of a cannery is a distinctly dangerous place, especially in these days before environmentally correct disposal methods. I once nearly get dumped on when I pass beneath the two "nooshnik" restrooms that are located in the middle of the main cannery building. It would be a lot more fun to get hit by that missing lemon pie!

A 16mm Movie Sequence showing the OPC cannery:

The OPC oil dock with the village behind, 1950s. From a 16mm movie frame.

The face of the OPC dock, 1950s. From a 16mm movie frame.

Ouzinkie Packing Corp. dock looking toward the Gugels' place, late 1950s movie frame. If you look closely, you can see smoke from the Gugels' cookstove!

In the bay itself, and clustered randomly wherever there was open dock space, the small fleet of seiners and tenders bobs merrily. Originally owned by the cannery, many of the seiners go by their original Grimes Packing Company designations, (GPC 18, GPC 21, etc.) sometimes even after being bought by local families. Even the boats with original names, such as the Betts, the Bonnie, the Cape Cheerful, the New Hustler, the Judy M. and the Fortune, for example, all trace back to the original GPC fleet. Local boys pick favorites based on paint job, hold capacity, speed and family loyalties, and dream of joining one of the crews.

A couple of seiners (the Fortune is in the foreground) with a cannery house and the old bridge across the river in the background (late 50s 16mm movie still).

The front door of the Ouzinkie Store and Post Office, as it looked from the 1940s to 1964. The storekeeper's apartment is to the right. An addition, which nearly doubled its size, was later built out into the bay, and another was built between the store and Eric Bulmer's house beyond. The store was mostly destroyed in the Tidal Wave of 1964; see that article for more photos.

The Store

Centrally located along the shore, and connected to the main cannery by a narrow causeway, is the store and post office. The building has cheery display windows and bright white paint with green trim. Part village meeting site and part company store, it sports a dry goods wall, a butcher shop, racks of canned goods and sundries, and a charming little black stove in the center of the room. This and the narrowly grooved enameled paneling of the walls and the high, formal counter where business is transacted gives the place the look of something by Norman Rockwell on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Old-timers come in, chatting in a local language that is part Russian, part Alutiiq. I am amused when they suddenly slip into English to mention a brand name or some other untranslatable word. All winter long, townspeople pay their bills by using "slips", carbon-copy receipt books that sometimes mean that you really could owe your soul to the company store, as the old song says. This credit system probably helps insure that the cannery has a loyal group of fishermen every season. As a new kid in town, it takes me a little time to get used to the "slip" system. My hesitant little speech at the counter on my first trip to the store to get something for Mom is transformed into a teasing chant by some of my new friends: "Timmy Smit'...put it on the slip!" My favorite purchases at the Ouzinkie store are Ludens Honey Licorice cough drops (eaten as candy) and Big Hunks, slapped against the nearest railing to break them into bite-sized pieces.

The old Haakanson house peeks out from between the spruce trees in this photo from the west end of Ouzinkie.

Past the cannery and store, beyond the central swampy area, is the higher western section of town, where boardwalks give way to spruce-shaded footpaths, kept park-like in drier seasons by the fact that the only wheeled traffic is from light garden tractors and wheelbarrows. Pleasantly shabby village-style houses with peaked roofs, fake-brick tarpaper siding and long side porches called "kelly-doors" peek out through the often dense spruce forest.

Baker Cottage and the famous "Fat Tree" (colorized photo). The site of that beautiful tree is now in the middle of an intersection! The 1965 - 1974 Ouzinkie photo gallery features a photo taken from the top of that tree in 1967.

Baker Cottage ("The Mission")

It is in the middle of the most ancient stand of spruce in the area that Baker Cottage ("the Mission") sits, bordered on three sides by some of the largest spruce trees in the village. The front corner of the building faces a main trail sloping down toward the dock and the center of town, giving the building the appearance of a white mansion in a forest at the top of a high hill. Visitors coming up from the dock see the white clapboard walls and emerald green roof of the three-story former children's home through the branches of the tall, magnificent "Fat Tree", so named by village children who know it as the best climbing tree in the area. The main trail to "Otherside" beach, the popular picnic spot behind the village on the Afognak side, runs literally past the back porch. In a village that builds fences only to keep out the wandering wild cattle, property lines are blurred and people walked naturally past each other's back doors to get from place to place. We get to see who was coming and going, and they can almost see what we are having for dinner! We usually wave; it is expected.

What we saw out the dining room window of Baker Cottage, looking toward Cat Island, with Kodiak beyond. What a view! (Spruce trees grow rapidly, and this view is almost totally obscured by branches today)

Out the very same window could be seen the start of the Otherside Trail, viewed here as the snow starts to fall. Just out of camera range is where the Squartsoff bed and breakfast inn stands now! The trail to Otherside now picks up about where the Mission's old well stands.

 

Some photos of Otherside Beach and Sourdough's Flats, taken in 2002 and 2004, part of the unchanging scenery around Ouzinkie. (In the early days, the main trail to Otherside went right past our back porch)

The woods behind the village has trails that lead to beautiful beaches and secluded lakes.

The view from Otherside Beach, behind the village on the western end of Spruce Island, looking across Marmot Bay towards Afognak Island.

Beautiful Sourdough's Flats on the western tip of Spruce Island, looking toward Kodiak Island across the Narrows.

The Baptists built three homes in Kodiak and built a fourth orphanage in Ouzinkie in 1938 after fire destroyed the main building on Woody Island. In the late 1950s, the Baptists made a decision to vacate the place and move the children to the main facility in Kodiak. The availability of the building and the unsuitability of our housing in Larsen Bay has led to the mission board's decision to move the Smith family to Baker Cottage. For me, a more radically different village living environment could not be imagined. Gone are the tarpaper shack, outhouse, water buckets and folding rubber bathtub. In its place I find myself in a modern three-story, seven-bedroom house with two full baths, hot and cold running water, and city electricity (albeit of uncertain voltage and a daily schedule of 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM). The building has a fully stocked kindergarten classroom, an enormous collection of books and toys, several large storerooms, a dining room and living room, two attics, and a charming, varnished chapel addition to the basement. Two long flights of stairs connect basement and laundry room to kitchen hallway to upstairs bedrooms. Befitting its 1930s heritage, every room sports different combinations of wall and trim paint and linoleum, and bare bulbs sprout from art deco sockets in the ceilings.

How utterly luxurious Ouzinkie seems to me after the rural, remote austerity of Larsen Bay! I quickly fall in love with the trees, the trails, the beaches, and the whole environment. Never mind that the power goes off at 10:00 PM, signaling bedtime or kerosene lamp time, or that the 7:00 AM start-up of the electric well pump (when the cannery power comes on) is guaranteed to awake everyone in the house. We have daily electricity for the first time in my Alaska village life. However, electric clocks are unknown, a small electric space heater will send the ancient diesel into convulsions, and the power is often barely enough to keep the freezers operational. This is because much of the village power lines are literally strung through the trees, and the line loss is enormous. Line voltage sometimes dips to the nineties, making record player tenors sound like baritones with colds, and helping light bulbs last for decades. Tube amps get fuzzier and fuzzier as the voltage drops, while newer transistor stuff soon fries out and dies. But here I join the electric age! Lights, sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, projectors, record players, and a score of other accouterments of civilization become routine items to me instead of rarely used luxuries. And the nightly return to the dark ages at 10:00 PM serves as an involuntary curfew, a mutually understood signal for quiet across the whole village. Older folks and night owls will gather around smoky kerosene lamps and battery radios, but the cannery lights-out always seems to be the symbolic ending of the day.

Baker Cottage, winter, 1960, from the trail that led toward where the Torsens, Gugels, Panamarioffs, Haakansons and Andersons lived (several of those families still do). The branches of another very large spruce tree are visible to the left.

Another welcome luxury in Ouzinkie is running water and indoor plumbing, although only "the Mission" and a handful of mostly cannery-built houses have it yet. Flush toilets are such a delight after a life of "nooshnicks" by day and "honey buckets" by night! Imagine not having to worry about which side of the slanting outhouse to prop your flashlight, and not wondering what critter was poised to crawl up your backsides while you hung delicately over a mountain of unmentionableness. Of course, Baker Cottage is served by a distant well and an ancient cast iron pipe, and for years I think that running water is supposed to be brown, but it certainly beats the multiple trips to the well with heavy, sloshy buckets that had been our daily lot in Larsen Bay. The big electric pump comes on whenever the pressure gets low (provided the power is on), and of course when the power is off, so is the water. But the whir-bang, whir-bang of the pump every morning is a natural alarm clock, and acts like a heartbeat as the great house comes alive each morning.

From a kid's eye view, the house is a wonder. Having been an orphanage, the great house was left fully stocked with toys, books, craft supplies and leftover materiél of all kinds. (Even after living there a decade, I could still open a closet, pull out a box or check a corner of an attic and discover a new treasure to offer me amusement). But I am still a good missionaries' kid, so very few of the items I use are considered mine. They are part of my parents' missionary work. I also learn early to take good care of everything, because trips to the stores in Kodiak are rare, catalog orders are expensive.

(Side Note) In the summer of 1996, when I returned to Baker Cottage for the first time in two decades, we found an unused scrapbook celebrating the 1939 World's Fair, unopened Crayola boxes from the early 1960s advertising a first-ever crayon sharpener right in the box, and mint condition puzzles featuring pictures of 1940s actors and cartoon characters, all hidden within three feet of the door to the laundry room. This is not to say that my parents were poor managers of the equipment. Its just that to take inventory of all the material in that house would have left no time for anything else. They used what they found, and throughout the years, we were often surprised at what the old house would mysteriously provide when we needed it.

A group of village kids in "The Mission" for an after-school club meeting, 1962. Some sort of craft project is in the foreground. Do you recognize anyone?

Being so large, it is unrealistic or impossible to efficiently use all corners of Baker Cottage, and the most-used portions are soon the best organized. We soon convert the two main floor bedrooms into a playroom for village kids and an office for Dad, and we expand the kindergarten room by removing a folding wall, since the extra bedroom is no longer needed. But Rev. Norman and Joyce Smith and family are not there to be caretakers of a big house, and it is not long before the building hums with near-constant activity. Mom begins serving as a nurse for the village, and the living room frequently serves as a waiting room. She begins a kindergarten class that will continue to the third generation of Ouzinkie youngsters. The two large dining room tables are filled almost every afternoon with various clubs, and kids sipping Kool Aid, eating cookies, listening to a Bible lesson from Dad. The tables are also the site of our Wednesday night Bible studies, with Dad reading verses and the others present also reading them from as many different translations as we can find (there are about five available to us). The outside stairs creak constantly, it seems, with people needing one thing or another or perhaps bringing us a fresh-caught salmon or hunk of deer meat. On Sundays there are two services in the chapel, plus Sunday School for all ages, and there are regular film nights and parties and games in the big basement room and chapel. There are kindergarten and club presentations in addition to popular holiday programs that often draw half the village. It is a busy place, and there's rarely a dull moment. I really like my new village home.

The Evangel heads in to Kodiak in the winter, with Ouzinkie fading astern. Taken sometime in the late 1950s.

(The author of this article was a resident of Ouzinkie while growing up, from 1958 to 1977, with frequent recent visits home. Rev. Joyce Smith, the author's mother, still operates Ouzinkie Chapel, and has called Ouzinkie her home for almost 50 years.)

Written by Timothy Smith, web author. See the About Me page for more information. Always feel free to send me comments, suggestions or corrected information about this article or any of the articles on this site. (Write to: Tanignak@aol.com) This article and website is © 2005 Timothy L. Smith, Tanignak Productions, 14282 Tuolumne Court, Fontana, California, 92336 (909) 428 3472. Images unless otherwise listed are from the collection of Rev. Norman L. Smith or the Timothy L. Smith collection. This material may be used for non-commercial purposes, with attribution. Please email me with any specific requests. You are welcome to link to this site.

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