Evangel Island Journey 4 - The Evangel at Akhiok Village and Alitak Cannery

By Timothy Smith (restored/revised 2020)

The Evangel at Akhiok and Alitak (Lazy Bay Cannery)

Akhiok in vivid Kodachrome colors in the August sun in this late 1950’s slide. The Evangel is at anchor on the right.

A Visit to Akhiok Village

The village of Akhiok is one of our regular stops as the Evangel travels around the south end of Kodiak Island. I usually don't expect to meet many kids there early in the summer. But we stop at Akhiok even though most of the population is off at Lazy Bay working in the cannery. There are people we know and regularly visit in even the smallest bear camps. For example, two of my parents’ best island friends are the couple that are caretakers for the cannery at Zachar Bay. It doesn't seem to matter much that most of the villagers are elsewhere, because the ones who remain are largely elderly, and lonely. Mom and Dad do a visitation ministry there, and save the formal services for the large population of cannery workers and children at Lazy Bay. But when we visit Akhiok in August after the fishing season, the village will be teeming with life, and we will do a full ‘shore ministry’ – meaning a Vacation Bible School and evening services – at that time.  (Continued below…)

A late summer scene at Akhiok: Lots of kids involved in a day camp we put on there, relaxing after an outdoor game. This photo is from a 16mm movie frame. Joyce Smith is the tallest one on the left, smiling at the camera.

NOTE: When I showed this photo as part of my presentation to the Kodiak Maritime Museum in 2010, one of the women present came up afterwards, told me that she’d seen the photo on Tanignak.com, and that I had the only photo she’s ever seen of her grandmother as a young woman! We were living in the early days without running water, indoor plumbing, or electricity (except by our own generator), but very few people had cameras. Dad’s photos recorded what no one else did, a bit of the daily lives of people in the villages of Kodiak Island in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

We pose for a family portrait beside the school, and near near the Russian Orthodox Church in Akhiok. Back Row: Noel (in his Kodiak High School track jacket), Joyce, Timmy (the future author of this site) being held by Norman. Front Row: Robin and Jerilynn, summer of 1957. This pose is from a 5 x 7 color print, and different from the one I used earlier. Note that “Timmy” is looking at our black Cocker Spaniel, Sootball (barely seen in the lower left). Our parent were always proud of the fact that we could make all our journeys and have all those adventures on the Evangel together as a family.

On to Lazy Bay Cannery (Alitak): Very Busy at Lazy Bay!

Lazy Bay Cannery in Alitak Bay in the early 1950’s.

Lazy Bay is probably my favorite cannery to visit. First, it has lively and enthusiastic young people who actively appreciate our arrival. Second, I have a friend that I’ve played with several years in a row, whose dad works at the cannery. And third, the scenery of the place is spectacular. A military lookout hut high on the mountain and the remains of Army barracks along the hills above the cannery give me a lot of exploration opportunities. I’m not old enough to work here, so what’s not to love? (Continued below…)

A view of Lazy Bay cannery from part way up the mountain. The red paint on the buildings indicates the photo was taken in the early 1950’s. The white foamy-looking stuff in the water between buildings is “gurry,” a mixture of waste water, fish heads and entrails, and anything else left over from the salmon canning process. To the left are the roofs of old World War II barracks from when Alitak Bay was an important advance warning lookout post for the military installations to the north near Kodiak.

Above are two of my favorite “Evangel In Action” photos: Our advance welcoming committee of kids, waiting on the dock as we tie up. The white-painted buildings indicate a late 1950’s date. The top photo is a great scene of the Evangel in the midst of a busy cannery operation, and the bottom photo from the same day but a different angle shows the small apartments the families from places like Akhiok are housed in during the salmon season. Above the rows of apartments, the old Army barracks are still visible along the hillside.

When we tie up at the dock, I find there’ll be no need for announcing our presence, because a small crowd of kids are already waiting for us at the dock. In addition, the cannery superintendent quickly welcomes us and gives us lots of help. He has very little if anything for the children to do while their parents are at work in the cannery or on the seiners. Our visit will provide some badly needed activities for those kids. I quickly find my friend, and we get some plywood and timbers from a scrap pile and build ourselves a fort. Then we amuse ourselves by smashing things at the trash dump, which is just a big square of pilings on the beach with netting to hold the garbage until the tide can wash it away. It’s going to be years before a more sane approach to cannery waste is implemented around the islands. Both the gurry and the beach trash will eventually go away, to pet food and to landfills respectively, but I won’t be back here to see that. So the floating gurry is awful, but the cans and bottles are good to smash with rocks down on the beach. It’s two boys’ idea of fun until we can think of something else to do.

(Continued below…)

Taking a break: the crew from a power barge (surplus military power scow) makes ice cream on the Lazy Bay dock while my sister Jerilynn (left, in green) looks on.  The bag contains rock salt, and the square tub contains ice. The men are cranking the largest homemade ice cream makers I’ve ever seen. 1953 photo

When I go back to the boat for lunch, I find that it’s time to get to work for awhile. Soon we are all busy unpacking things on the Evangel to get ready for “Vacation Bible School” (or VBS in missionary-ese). Lazy Bay cannery offers Mom and Dad a really nice facility: a paint locker with enough room for all the kids, and big five-gallon cans we can lay scaffold boards on to make nifty benches. It really is luxurious, because it has electricity and it will be easy to cover the small windows to darken the room for our filmstrips. Since some of the kids have already met us at the dock and spread the news, the room quickly fills up. We start off with a few songs, mostly of the fun and active variety to break the ice. One popular one goes: “I'm inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time...,” which has hand motions for practically every word, and is sung more quickly each time until everyone is waving their arms frantically and out of breath, and we collapse in laughter. Those fun songs are followed by more lesson-oriented songs, like the one about the foolish man that built his house upon the sand.

Then Mom starts with a Bible story lesson using a truly high-tech device known as a “flannelgraph” (the 1950’s equivalent of PowerPoint). The flannel background, pinned to a board, vaguely resembles land and sky. Each story has its own set of fuzzy-backed characters and set pieces, which usually stick wherever you put them. This story is about the paralyzed man that Jesus healed when his friends dropped him through the roof. Mom is appropriately entertaining. Then she moves on to the parable of the lost sheep, never missing a step in the application, even when most of the “flock” suddenly falls off the flannel board, to the amusement of everyone.

There are more easy songs to sing, with Dad doing the hand motions and Mom using the pump organ, and most everybody joins in and seems to enjoy it. Dad moves on to the filmstrip. The first one is a cartoon-style tale of a group of ants that rebel against a good landlord, who has to finally fight to defeat them. The fanciful tale is based on the “Parable of the Vineyard.” Then there are a few Bible verses to say all together (there’s a poster with the words on it to help us). This is grand entertainment (especially the filmstrip) because all of the people come from villages with infrequent electricity and no running water, telephones or television. I notice sometimes in the villages that there are almost as many adults as there are children in attendance. They are fascinated by the unfamiliar Bible stories. Most come to realize that Norman and Joyce Smith are not out to contradict their church's doctrines, but to make the Gospel more understandable.

Before we close down for lunch, we have to show another filmstrip by popular demand. This time it's about a squirrel who is greedy and won't forgive (the “Parable of the Unrighteous Steward,” in case you didn't notice!) There are a few more songs, and a prayer, and Mom produces some eagerly-devoured snacks (Kool-Aid and packaged vanilla sandwich cookies). The Evangel team doesn’t have a huge budget, but this is by no means a picky crowd! We invite everyone back for the evening service, which will be held in the mess hall thanks to the generosity of the cannery. There won't be many adults until the evening, when more workers are off-shift. But even tired out cannery workers need some sort of entertainment, and the place will be packed out tonight.  (Continued below…)

The crowded Lazy Bay cannery mess hall, in the middle of an evening service, summer of 1953.

This is a very evocative photo for me, reminiscent of so many evening services in so many places that the Evangel went. Dad rarely took pictures in the middle of a service; he was otherwise occupied. It’s likely my older brother Noel borrowed the camera. Here we see my sister Robin near the table, behind the silverware jar. Two rows behind, adults are sharing hymnbooks. In the background is a movie reel on the projector, ready to roll, and the windows are already blacked out. The focus is more on adults (except for the movie) and some of the kids look a little puzzled, while others are trying out the songs.

It takes only a few minutes once we get access to the mess hall to set up our things, because lots of kids volunteer to help. A few of the tables are shoved aside, and benches are put into neat little rows. Dad has some black cloth to cover the windows (the sun won't go down for another few hours, because this is summertime!) This service is also a tiny bit more formal, because Dad and Mom are using hymnbooks. But it is only the “Youth Sings,” full of peppy (for the 50’s) church music like “Do Lord,” “I'll Be Somewhere Listening,” “Walking With Jesus,” and “This World is Not My Home.” I know every song and every page number! Dad shares some scripture verses and talks about how Jesus called the fishermen to follow him, and what that means to us. It's not really a sermon, but more like a conversation. It wouldn't be too simple for any of the adults, yet every child can follow it.

Then Dad pulls up the portable movie screen and starts the projector. We have exactly one Christian movie to show, a melodramatic black and white one-reeler based on the story of the “Good Samaritan,” but it is sufficiently well acted (I like the part when the guy “fell among thieves” on the road to Jericho) to hold everyone's interest. When the movie is over, we sing a couple more songs, concentrating on quieter and more meaningful hymns that many in the crowd might have heard before. Then there’s a prayer, a benediction, and the service is over. We have some booklets and things on one of the tables, and a few people take them to read.

Since many kids are still hanging around, Dad announces that after tomorrow morning's Vacation Bible School session, he will bring out some more movies. They are all black and white, and about ten minutes each (Castle Films?), about the Grand Canyon, a circus with a human cannon, and a safari in Africa complete with a lion charge, all accompanied by breathless newsreel-style narration and suitably overblown music. They will be a huge hit with kids who have seen very few movies, and have no televisions (or even electricity) at home. Alaska in the 1950’s was a different world, to be sure. But even though I have seen the same movies dozens of times, I enjoy them as much as any of the others do, because I have seen few other films myself!

We stay at Lazy Bay for several days, because there are a lot of kids there who appreciate a break from boredom. One evening after the service, Dad and I take a hike.  Naturally it is still sunny out, and will be until after my bedtime. Directly above the cannery is a mountain, and far up the mountain is a World War II lookout post. It is probably not that high up, but it seems so to me as a young child. There are still Quonset huts, barracks, and the remains of a mess hall on the sides of the hill, and I have wanted to climb up to the observation post for several years now. So up we go, following the partially exposed telephone and electric cables that still stretch up to the lookout.

We climb into the building and notice the caved-in walls, dangling insulation, remains of window glass and blackout shutters, and a shaggy but still recognizable plotting table. But the view out the shattered window frames is spectacular, with miles of open coastline clearly visible. It's a great view, even without any enemies to spot. Dad reaches into his pocket and brings out a Three Musketeers bar, which he divides with his boat knife and shares with me. It is a very good day. I can see the cannery and the fishing boats looking tiny against the bright water far below. Our candy bar gone, we start down the mountain. Our descent is almost at a gallop, just slow enough to avoid falling. I decide I like everything about Lazy Bay except the gurry on our tie up lines!

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What’s It Like to Work in a Cannery?

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Note: the author has NO current information about cannery jobs in Alaska!

A Kodiak Airways Grumman Goose prepares to leave the beach at Akhiok, 1969 or 70. Newer homes (such as the two left and center), a new school building, and new city water and sewer are signs of a steadily more modern community. Dirk Sundbaum photo