Evangel Island Journey 6C (the third of three articles based on Larsen Bay)

The Evangel’s Last Journey to Larsen Bay (1964), and a Return in 1998

By Timothy Smith (revised and expanded in 2020)

Part One: The EVANGEL’s Last Journey to Larsen Bay, 1964

Features photos from 1959-1964, with my brother Kelly in the crew of the Evangel.

The village in the early 1960’s. Top left: a small portion of Larsen Bay cannery’s many large buildings. To the far left is the spit of sand where amphibian planes loaded and unloaded. Top right: Dad and my big sister Jerilynn put new siding on the front of the chapel while my younger brother Kelly plays in the foreground (1961). Above: the beach below the village in the mid-1950’s. It was essentially unchanged in 1964. From right: the old school, a bit of the chapel, the Carlson home, and below that the stairs to the spring. Beyond that, down the beach, is a boathouse that was still standing when Kelly and I visited the village in 1998.

It is our family’s last journey to Larsen Bay aboard the Evangel, although I am too young to know it yet. It is late spring of 1964, and the mission boat has been abruptly sold by a distant and distracted Baptist mission board, and will soon never again venture beyond the waters of Chiniak and Marmot Bays. But on this particular morning such thoughts are far from me. I am happy and well-breakfasted on this sunny June morning, and excited, because it falls upon me to bring the boat down Uyak bay and into Larsen Bay for the first time. Dad points out a few already familiar landmarks to aid my navigation and crawls behind me to his bunk for a quick nap. Although I rolled out of my bag well before we made the turn into Uyak bay, Dad has been up since we left Ouzinkie last evening, and appreciates the short break. The sun glints brightly on the gray-green waters of the bay, and the lavender coastline in the distance gradually takes on more color and definition as we near our final course change, which will bring us into the long, narrow waterway called Larsen Bay.

The first few houses of my first home town are clearly visible before I wake Dad. Although it’s an unobstructed channel and an uncomplicated cruise to the massive docks of the Alaska Packers Association cannery, it is still a little beyond my talents as a learning eleven-year-old. I take my place beside Dad, just beyond the reach of the throttle and the shift lever, until it is my time to hustle on deck and help tie up. Dad inspects the lines, cuts the engine, and the boat sinks into an eerie silence, like some mythical beast suddenly turned to stone. The engine room will belch oppressive heat and petroleum fumes for the entire time we are unloading our gear, as pungent reminders of the aging Lathrop gasoline engine’s patient service.

I climb a twisted, rusting steel ladder up to the dock, juggling the first of many bags, boxes and paraphernalia needed for a week-long stay in the village. Dad follows close behind cradling Sootball, our black Cocker Spaniel, who after a decade of such escapades takes all the flurry of activity with canine aplomb. Kid brother Kelly, who is nearly six, starts walking down the long dock, his sack of clothes over his shoulder like an apprentice Santa. We all carry one load of supplies down the dock and past seemingly endless rows of corrugated tin buildings and stacks of the rusty racks used to heat the cans of salmon in the huge silver steam retorts. Dad has a wheelbarrow stashed in the back room of our “warehouse” cabin in the village, so the next load will go easier. But the vast expanse of the Alaska Packers Association cannery is as familiar to me as my own backyard, and I look around with satisfaction at my old stomping grounds, grateful for a chance to stretch my legs.

Within a few steps I reach what has always been the most terrifying part of my journey, a passageway between cannery buildings which houses the long row of diesel generators. The iron grating reveals a series of huge radiators, belching heat. The noise is deafening, and the exhaust pipes far overhead are not nearly high enough to prevent diesel fumes from nearly choking me. To a boy’s imagination, walking past this machinery is the same as trying to survive a gauntlet of dragons. For a boy raised on the water and well-familiar with every kind of motorized contraption known to the islands, this terror I feel is completely irrational. I shake it off as the dying remnants of an infant’s nightmare. I am, after all, a big boy of eleven, who has just brought a boat into port. I realize with satisfaction that I am growing up, and that this place will never have the power to scare me again.  (Continues below…)

The Boys and Their Planes:

Above: Little Timmy Smith, back to camera, watches fascinated as the Kodiak Airways “Easter Egg” Widgeon (for its colorful paint scheme) is unloaded on the sand spit next to the cannery in Larsen Bay, circa 1956. Norman and Joyce are barely visible to the left of the tail. For more on my fascination with the old Grumman amphibians, see the “How to Get to Kodiak” articles at this website.

The plane sequence - top right: Kelly poses on the Evangel’s rowboat in Larsen Bay, 1964, as a Kodiak Airways amphibian plane (inset) prepares to depart. Bottom right: Dad and Kelly watch with intense interest as the plane takes off from the bay. Kelly went on to work for Kodiak Airways in Kodiak after high school. (These great 1964 photos were taken by my sister Robin)

Eventually the massive dock suddenly gives way to a shaggy trail of beach gravel bordered by tall, pale green beach grasses. The APA cannery superintendent’s house stands off by itself in a sea of beach grass like a Cape Cod cottage, sporting new gray paint and white-trimmed windows. Nearby is a small corrugated tin shack which served as the local post office for many years. As I cross a small footbridge over a stream, a graveyard of neglected black and orange APA seiners rest patiently on the ways, waiting for another chance to ply the fishing grounds. The salmon must be running this year, for only a few sidelined seiners remain.

Beyond the footbridge, the trail is essentially a worn spot along the beach, subject to the clutter and erosion of tides and storms. Being heavy laden with our summer materiel, I take a shortcut through the yard of the old gray former schoolhouse, now occupied by our good friend, Edith Swan, and her mother, my adopted Grandmother Alice Aga, now scarred and bedridden since a terrible fire destroyed her home. Edith rushes out to greet us; Grandma Aga has a mirror propped up at bedside to observe the bay, and has seen us arrive. We have not even had a chance to reach our warehouse before we have been invited to come to dinner sometime. I will spend some poignant moments at Grandma Aga’s bedside, discussing school and little boy projects as though there were nothing else for her to talk about. And I will be nearly dumbstruck by the wreckage left by her horrible burns, shamed that I can’t act more “normal” around her, yet pleased at all the deep love and friendship that is still there. Within a year, Dad will be flown in to conduct her funeral. But today, I just smile and wave, and call a cheery hello into the doorway before continuing on up the trail with the luggage.

Just past Edith Swan’s home, the old schoolhouse, is the diminutive chapel, its little bell tower gleaming white against the violent green summer foliage of dandelions, pushki and assorted other weeds. We have it easier now than when we made Larsen Bay our winter home in the fifties, for at the crest of the bluff is a new long-handled water pump, eliminating the need for the long trip down the steps to the outlet of the beach spring and its often salty water. I rejoice greatly at this modern marvel, for it will make my task of carrying drinking water for the family far less tedious. It will often be my job to fill the clean, new galvanized garbage can that sits near the stove in our warehouse with our water supply. A few capfuls of Clorox and we’ll have lots of good water for Kool-Aid and cookies at tomorrow’s Vacation Bible School.

I turn past the chapel to the warehouse Dad built in 1957, a large building by village standards, which is divided into two large rooms. We will live in the front room for the duration of our stay, and I will find amusement on rainy days looking through the amazing assortment of paraphernalia stacked floor to ten-foot ceiling in Blazo boxes in the back room. No time for that yet, for the musty and cold front room must be made livable by bedtime or we will have an uncomfortable night. After several more trips to the boat for supplies, we are ready to get settled in. The plywood floor and walls of the warehouse are neatly painted, if a little dusty and dank after their winter of disuse. The white ceiling and walls dangle a few cobwebs; Larsen Bay seems to be the "daddy-long-legs" capital of the world. Three rows of small, square windows at ceiling height on the front and both side walls help light the room, and a bare light bulb hangs from a solitary socket for the occasional times that a portable generator is used. A large hook of wire hangs nearby for the more frequent use of a hissing gas lantern. The floors and a four foot wide section of the wall have been painted in "San Juan" green, named for the cannery in Uganik Bay that uses that emerald shade for the hulls of their seiners. It is also used as the trim color on the Evangel.  (Continues below…)

Left: A Vacation Bible School in the summer of 1961 in front of the little chapel in Larsen Bay. It must have been silly hat day. My sisters are at the far left in the back, and I’m in the middle with my chin in the air for some reason.

Below left: a Vacation Bible School group meets in the front room of our “warehouse,” in the summer of 1960. Notice the prehistoric PowerPoint called a “flannelgraph” with figures that stuck to flannel cloth and could be peeled and stuck multiple times. Mom is in the blue top, with my sister Robin beside her. I’m the one sticking his head up at the far end of the table. Notice the plywood walls with white and green paint. The sliding door led to a storage room.

Below: the “warehouse” as it was nearing completion, 1957

Dad and Mom busy themselves with unloading and sorting and cleaning up. Big sister Robin starts sweeping the plywood floor, and then starts hanging old blankets on the inside clotheslines to serve as makeshift bedroom partitions. Not much for young Kelly to do, so he fishes around in his sea bag and finds a little plastic tugboat, and sets about building a dock for it using some old books he’s found in a Blazo box shelf. Mom has unpacked the few stored cooking pans and is noisily laying them out on the stone-cold oil stove in the corner. There is no fuel for the cookstove, so I am sent back to the cannery dock one more time to get a five-gallon can of stove oil from the stern of the Evangel.

On the way back to the dock, I wonder where my best friends, Stanley and Roy, might be hiding. Not even Sootball has seen fit to accompany me. I gingerly coax the five-gallon can of fuel up the long ladder, taking care not to lose grip of it or me on the slippery rungs. This walk back to the village is a long and excruciating one, due to the fact that I do not have work gloves, and the metal handle of the fuel can cuts a red crease into my young hands. The longer it takes, the more I realize why Stanley and Roy have not shown themselves. Not surprisingly, my friends magically appear soon after my heavy load reaches its destination.

In a few minutes, the chores are done, all is ready and livable, the stove is lit and I am cut loose to go play. Judging by the afternoon sun, it will be many hours before hunger and tiredness drive me homeward. The well-loved docks, the grove of cottonwood trees by the new school and the beach all beckon me, and Stanley and Roy have had ample time to discover new adventures for us. Larsen Bay still feels like home for me, and my friends have been playmates since we were all toddlers. I retrieve some money from my carefully husbanded allowance (I am well prepared for the fact that Larsen Bay has a cannery store) and scurry down the steep steps to the trail outside, where my friends are waiting. The company store does not disappoint me, and soon we are dangling our feet over an out-of-the-way corner of the dock, watching the boats come and go, sipping Shasta creme soda, and munching on Uno bars and Black Crow licorice bits. The frenetic life of the cannery and the seiner is not yet our world, and we observe the adult goings-on with the detachment of children. Life is good.

Boys don’t catch up by talking about stuff, but by doing stuff, and Roy has recently made a swing in the cottonwoods behind his house, so we amuse ourselves by seeing how far out over the swampy creek we can swing. The boys have more practice, since it’s their swing, and it’s a crude affair, no seat, no loop, and only a large knot tied on the shaggy rope to hold onto. Nevertheless, we invent a crazy little collision game with the swing and soon lie exhausted and happy among the dandelions. By some unknown sixth-sense (which fails as often as not) we all perceive the call to dinnertime and shamble off in various directions after sharing mumbled vague future conspiracies. Stanley mentions something about building a raft before disappearing down the trail in the underbrush. By this time I am dead tired, but perk up to a delicious fragrance wafting through the open plywood door of the warehouse. Mom is busy frying a freshly-caught salmon, the gift of one of our village friends. My fuel run on behalf of the little cookstove has had additional effect, for I also detect the pungent smell of another Larsen Bay delicacy. With all the other things she had to do today, Mom has still managed to find and raid our old rhubarb patch, and a bubbling hot cobbler is just emerging from the oven as I bound up the steps and through the door. How does she do it? (Continues below…)

Left: A group of Vacation Bible School kids play a game outside the chapel in 1961. The new white siding on the front of the chapel is partially completed. Piles of lumber, empty oil barrels, and logs on the beach all made for impromptu play materials for village kids like me. Right: My brother Kelly and me on the beach at Larsen Bay, summer of 1964. I always thought the pattern of trees on the mountain across the bay looked like secret writing! (My sister Robin took this photo)  

Pushing myself away from the table, I get assigned the task of ringing the bell in the little chapel (nice and slow now, nice and slow—it’s a worship service, and not a fire!) From out of a dozen or so tarpaper and tin dwellings come young and old, back to the brown chairs and long benches of the little chapel once again. Our dog Sootball places himself squarely in the middle of the floor in the bell tower entrance as if to stand guard, but promptly curls up and sleeps. He is in full snore before the end of the song service. We’re using the white, red and blue spiral-bound Youth Sings! Songbooks brought from the Evangel tonight, and I’ve memorized the page numbers of my favorites: #18, “Do Lord,” #95, “Safe am I,’ and #111, “This World is Not My Home.” We sing all of those and more tonight, with Dad’s clear tenor ringing out over the wheezy clatter of Mom’s fold-up pump organ. The dark green Broadman Hymnals, stamped “Baptist Evangel, 1955,” are stacked on a bench in the corner. Dad walks behind the beautiful lacquered wooden lectern built for him over a decade earlier when this village was our winter home, and begins to speak. His voice is strong but gentle, and it is hard to tell where Scripture reading ends and Dad’s comments begin. There is something very comforting, real and familiar to it, and by the looks on their faces, our village friends have the same impression, even if to some the biblical terminology is puzzling.

Dad announces a closing hymn, #128, “Now I Belong to Jesus,” and we stand for the liturgical benediction. We recite, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight...” We are not even through the first phrase when Sootball, as if on some angelic cue, leaps to his feet, charging out of the bell tower at full clip, barking furiously up and down the trail to clear the path for the soon-to-be exiting worshippers. In his well-meaning but fuzzy-headed canine brain, those words signal a pressing need to play guard dog. It is a fitting, if unconventional end to Dad’s unconventional and unpretentious worship service. Those in attendance get a good roar out of it, and everybody leaves happy.

In the strange way of springtime in the northern latitudes, our evening vespers have left a lot of evening still to enjoy. Even with the mountains that flank Larsen Bay, the sun still has a couple of hours to kill before setting in orange twilight to rise again in the very early morning. Overjoyed at the prospect of still more playtime, I find myself in an impromptu game of tag with a village girl that I have known since we were babies. The game continues furiously in prepubescent innocence, until we both collapse on the steps of the bell tower. We stare absently off into space as is the village custom when conversations get serious. “Do you know a lot about God?” she asks. I nod, and launch into an earnest, if simple explanation of faith. I quote one of the verses featured at the end of all those Moody Bible Institute filmstrips, and give a childlike explanation of it. But I am an eleven-year-old boy, after all, and pretty soon it dawns on me that I am talking to a girl! She apparently has an equivalent revelation, for we bid a hasty and unceremonious good bye, and I run down to the beach to look for another adventure.

Our little dinghy is tied down at the beach, and I untie it and row out onto the bay. The water is glassy calm, and the golden light of the waning sun intersperses with the ebony shadows of the mountains in the little ripples that my oars create. I row out a few yards from shore and take an appreciative look at the quaint houses and long shadows. As the dinghy slows to a halt, another consequence of the calm air catches up to me: a murderous herd of tiny gnats called “no-see-ums.” I merely increase my speed to outpace them, for bugs at Larsen Bay are like seeds in a watermelon—just part of the experience.  So, here comes some sage wisdom from my early days in Larsen Bay, and something to truly live by: “Always row faster than your ‘no-see-ums’ can fly!” (Continued below…)

Two Grandmas in Town!

Shortly after my brother Kelly was born in 1959, my Grandma Iva Smith, Dad’s mom, flew up to Alaska from her home in Washington State to help out our family.  So when we spent a week in Larsen Bay that summer, I got to hang out with my real Grandma Smith and my adopted Grandma Alice Aga from the village. I never got a chance later to ask Grandma Smith what she thought of that visit and our village life.

Left: I’m standing between two grandmas at the entrance to the chapel after a service. Below: Dad is leading singing at a campfire near the entrance to  Larsen Bay, and I’m sitting between my grandmas. My sister Robin has a white skirt, and Jerilynn is in a red jacket. Mom is on the far right. Wonder what song we were singing?  Beach logs like these feature in the next part of the text below.

Stanley McCormick hails me excitedly from the shore, and I secure the dinghy and join him. As we run down the beach, he makes good on his previous promise of a raft. We near the pilings of an ancient and leaning boathouse, and beneath it is the sorriest excuse for a raft ever invented by optimistic children. Most of the logs are under water even before we clamber aboard. Its limited buoyancy is the result of using driftwood from the tideline. Larsen Bay having very few trees, most of the logs are already designated as fuel for the many wood stoves, leaving only a few well-soaked pieces. The whole contraption is tied together haphazardly with cast-off bits of net twine and old tie-up lines. None of this matters to two invincible boys!

We borrow a long pole and one oar out of a nearby skiff, and set off on another adventure. I get the pole, and I earnestly stab the bottom of the bay until we are well out beyond the little sagging boathouse. My pole no longer reaches bottom, and so I am reduced to near-uselessness as Stanley and the oar take over. It doesn’t take long before both he and I realize that the seaworthiness of a raft with no keel and only one oar is limited at best. We now struggle furiously to turn the contraption toward shore, and with each attempted turn, our craft sags and lists as if it were some perverse carnival ride. About thirty feet offshore I begin to realize that the sometimes knee-high seawater is about as comfortable as a bucket of ice cubes. With all our seafarers’ skills we spiral our noble vessel close enough to shore for the pole to reach bottom, and we make short work of our retreat from the challenges of the bay. Stanley doesn’t even bother to tie up our raft, and the tide removes it by morning.

We slog off without a second glance at our greatly discredited yacht, and make tracks toward our homes in the twilight, to place soaked Keds beneath our cozy oil stoves. The next morning I am up early, and I help get the warehouse ready for a room full of village kids for Vacation Bible School.  There will be a flurry of songs, games, stories, cutting, coloring and pasting, cookies and Kool Aid, and Bible memorizing. It isn’t long before the pattern of morning VBS and evening services interspersed with furious playtimes all blur into one happy muddle. It is the best summer I have ever had, and it is the last time I will see Larsen Bay for over thirty years. How blessed it is that children are given the gift of Now, with no worry about Next. Who ever has the luxury of knowing in advance that any given experience is unique and never to be repeated? What benefit would there be in knowing? The experiences of a well-lived life are some of our greatest earthly treasures. That well-lived week in Larsen Bay, 1964 was an experience that became one of my treasures.

Part Two: A Short, Memorable Return to Larsen Bay, 1998

In the summer of 1998, my brother Kelly and I hopped into a Cessna aircraft operated by PenAir at ADQ airport at the Coast Guard base near Kodiak. We flew down to Larsen Bay for a few hours to conduct a private memorial to our Dad, Rev. Norman Smith, who had passed away in 1996. The last time I’d seen the village, it was from the stern of the mission boat Evangel in the summer of 1964. It had been thirty-three years since I’d seen the village of Larsen Bay, my first home.  

After the post-Tidal Wave season of 1964, the Evangel had been sold by the Baptists, our Dad’s employer, and our means of travel as a family had evaporated.  Dad, as a Baptist missionary, had traveled to all the villages by plane for several more years, but that final summer in 1964 had been my last trip to any of the villages. I had run into a few of my old village friends in high school, because when I attended Kodiak High, there still were no high school classes held in any of the villages.  But a place I had known as home since infancy had been swept out of my life. For years, I couldn’t imagine a practical way to get there, or how I would manage to stay there, now that we no longer had a home in the village. Larsen Bay was just gone from my life, and I missed it like one would miss an old friend.   

All of these thoughts were clattering around in my mind as our PenAir flight descended out of the clouds above a mountain pass and turned to follow Uyak Bay.  As vivid as my childhood memories were, I was not sure how much I would recognize, or even how accurate those memories had been. (Continues below…)

Left: The PenAir pilot uses GPS to snake his way through mountain passes and down bays to reach the village. My brother sits in the co-pilot seat. Right: The ragged summit of Kodiak Peak, the highest mountain on Kodiak Island, juts out of the clouds.

The first thing I recognized was the unmistakable pattern of alders in the crevices of the mountain across from the village of Larsen Bay.  As I glanced to the right, beyond the mountain, I recognized Harvester Island at the mouth of the bay.  As the plane turned on approach to the airstrip, I was floored by the built-up, resort-like appearance of the Larsen Bay Lodge buildings, brown against the green foliage.  That was clearly new and unfamiliar.  Then beyond the village I caught sight of the old Alaska Packers Association cannery, with an outline as familiar to me as the Manhattan skyline would be to a New Yorker.  The old cannery seemed amazingly unchanged in all these years, at least at that distance. Perhaps the places we lived, where our parents served, would also be recognizable.  

The plane rolled to a stop and Kelly and I hopped out.  The rounded mountain behind the village, which kept our little shack in the shade for most of the winter, loomed larger than I remembered it.  The roads seemed to indicate that the airstrip was behind what we knew as the old center of town. We decided to find our way by the only route we knew: by means of the old shoreline trail.  We found the low spot between the village and the cannery and started to retrace our steps. An old boat house that I recognized still perched precariously at the far end of the beach.  Beneath its pilings Stanley and I had a soggy misadventure on a misbegotten raft many years before.  Now it leaned out toward the water like a runner preparing for the starting gun. But beyond it gleamed a recently-built Orthodox chapel among the many familiar old homes.

We soon discovered that there was no shoreline trail anymore.  Roads now snaked through the village, and none of them had been built along the shoreline.  The beach had eroded quite a bit in three decades, but I soon found more things I recognized.  Beyond a sea wall of creosote planks stood Edith Swan’s old place, which had been our older siblings’ schoolhouse in the early 1950’s.  That was where I last saw Alice Aga, my adopted grandmother, in that summer of 1964.  She passed away soon after from burns she had suffered when her stove exploded. Almost every childhood memory included that house, because it served as one of the boundaries of my play area as a youngster.

Close by was a low building surrounded by weeds and underbrush. A cute little bell tower with white siding lifted a fading white wooden cross skyward. This was what remained of the old Evangel Chapel, where I learned all those old hymns as a child. It had been the Smith family’s home church from 1952 until 1957, and our summer headquarters for extended visits until 1964. As we walked around the bell tower, we noticed a dilapidated door hanging open, the sure sign of an abandoned building. We walked gingerly inside, through the sagging, rotting entryway, and took note of the clever apartment that had been tacked on since we saw it last.  Colorful murals of fishing boats covered many of the walls. But the newer changes were of little interest to me, for the door to the right led to the old meeting hall. (Continues below…)

Top: Kelly snaps a photo of me changing rolls of film with the old cannery behind me. The big dot on the last building to the right was there when I was a little kid. Above: Kelly stands between the old schoolhouse (Edith Swan’s house) and the water pump mentioned in the article, which made our lives so much easier than climbing down the bluff to the spring. In the photo it is hard to tell that he’s on the edge of that bluff above the tideline.

Two views of the old Evangel Chapel as it looked in 1998, both taken by Kelly. Someone planted two spruce trees by the front door in the bell tower, and now they nearly block the entrance. Someday Larsen Bay may have forests like the Kodiak area does.

Notice the differences in cameras. Above was my supposedly superior SLR, while Kelly’s point and shoot (right) got much more of the color and clouds. The chapel was abandoned and probably irreparable when we saw it in 1998.

We turned our attention to the sanctuary, which was filled with clutter and debris.  My first reaction was shock: the room was tiny! It might hold forty people packed wall to wall, but it was hardly the huge church that I remembered as a small child.  A folding bed frame occupied the center of the room, and various empty boxes were piled everywhere. This had also been someone’s bedroom for a time. But beneath the debris the evidence of our Evangel Chapel still remained. The beautiful lectern with honey-stained wood and walnut-stained cross, built for Dad by the Jagers, still stood off to one side, a partial Communion set laid on top. I gradually recognized the dark objects stacked against the back wall as the folding chairs we once used in our services. The door to the bell tower, from which Sootball the dog had run barking after every service, was long since nailed shut, but with the little wooden door Dad had built in it for the movie projector still visible.

The most amazing thing, however, was found at the front of the room. A bench that I had occupied in so many church services was pushed up against the front wall. And piled high on it were the old familiar dark green Broadman Hymnals that we had used for years. Examining a musty copy, I saw that the inside cover had been stamped “Baptist Evangel, 1955.”  I turned inside the cover to one of the hymns; I could almost hear Dad’s strong voice singing, “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus…,” or “Praise Him, praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer…”  The pile of hymnbooks was the only thing we disturbed in that place. We took a copy for every member of the family, using one of the many empty boxes, and left the building, still shaking our heads in amazement at finding such a family artifact after all these years. Outside, Kelly and I paused a few moments to remember Dad. We looked in vain for any traces of the bell in the bell tower, sent to Dad by the congregation of his first church in Elma, Washington.  Someone had removed it years before.  So we moved to the rear of the building, where an even more obvious trace of the Smith family still remained. (Continues below…)

“Timmy” Smith in the winter of 1953-54, and in the summer of 1998, with the podium (lectern) made for Dad by the Jager family. A representative of the Mission visited the building a year or so later, to retrieve it for the new chapel at Camp Woody, but it was gone. It was wonderful to still find it there when we visited, and to find the hymnbooks, too!!

Directly behind the sagging old chapel, surrounded as always by pushki and elderberry bushes (and at the end of a road that led to the airport, as it turns out) was the old warehouse Dad built in 1957.  It was built from the timbers and corrugated tin panels of the old Uyak cannery which once stood opposite Harvester Island.  The cannery is long gone; Dad’s scavenger work looked like it was just built yesterday.  Locked up tight, the building was used by a local bear guide (he later bought the property) so we only got to look outside.  The original stairs still led to a now sealed-up plywood door, and I took a photo of Kelly sitting on them, to replicate one Robin took of him in 1961. Around back was another door, which faced a field where our old shack of a home once stood. A sagging white mobile home now stood near where the shack once was.  We took another look at the classic and sturdy cannery-style construction of the warehouse, proud to see such a display of Dad’s handiwork, and turned our attention to checking out the rest of town, and to get a good look at the cannery.  (Continues below…)

“The original stairs still led to a now sealed-up plywood door, and I took a photo of Kelly sitting on them, to replicate one Robin took of him in 1961.”  I tried to make the 1998 photo the same relative size (door width, etc)

Our exercise in private nostalgia was largely over, and we walked past city offices and the post office, buildings far newer than our memories, on roads that had never existed in our day.  The old cannery would still yield a few memories.  We crossed a little stream, and were nearly overcome by the stench of the dead, spawned salmon.  A large group of weary fish still weaved their way upstream to finish their tasks.  We paused to chuckle at two boys playing among the patiently swimming line of fish. Their other friend, an energetic black lab, was having a field day collecting the lethargic fish from the stream and depositing them on the bank, barking at them as they tried to flop back to the water. One of the boys emerged from below the footbridge where we stood, holding approximately half of a salmon, and announced loudly, “This one’s dead for sure!”  Can you imagine those two boys at bath time?

At this point we suddenly realized that we were being eaten alive by a cloud of “no see ums,” the pernicious gnats that persist frequently in summer. They had detected our warm blood and were coming in for lunch.  We waved them away and walked briskly toward the cannery, leaving the bugs in the fetid air of the stream. A quick walk works as an escape, because “no see ums” can’t fly very fast. A trip out to the dock would supply the added advantage of a breeze off the bay, so we hightailed it out of there.

The cannery always was a wonder to me, and it did not disappoint this time, either. Row upon row of corrugated tin buildings crowd the shoreline on a narrow spit of sand, with buildings facing both directions. Some of the structures had at least three levels, and most were huge by comparison to today’s canneries. The old Alaska Packers Association cannery, now run by private investors as a much smaller operation, occupies only a few of the buildings on what was once the longest dock in Alaska. Two of the buildings were getting new red enameled roof panels for the first time since when? The 1930’s? To the left as we walked out toward the face of the dock, two unused bunkhouses, each as large as a good sized apartment building, were slowly rusting away.  I remembered every building.  Including the long, low building that housed the power plants.  (Continued below…)

The roaring diesel generators and whine of multiple fans and gears just sounded like your average commute on the 10 freeway approaching the 605 in Southern California. But the look, feel and smell of the place brought back waves of memory. I stepped out on the walkway covering the water pipes and walked to the far side of the vast cannery, taking several photos to splice into a panorama. Even at some distance, I could not fit all of the buildings into a single shot. The cannery was still huge, but impressive now for its slow and picturesque decay. I met the owners in Kodiak a few years later and they offered me a tour; one of these days I’d love to take them up on it! Kelly, who knew the cannery better from his days working for Kodiak Airways than from when he visited as a toddler on the Evangel, occupied himself inspecting an old Boston Whaler skiff pulled up nearby in the beach grass.

We paid our respects to Dad again out at the end of the long dock he had used so frequently while running the Evangel, and then decided to drop by the city offices. We explained who we were and why we were in town to a nice lady who worked for the city, and found out she was the daughter of my childhood friend Stanley. I had brought a packet of enlargements of old photos with me in hopes of running into someone I knew, and was able to leave her with some of the great photos I’ve included in these three articles on Larsen Bay. It was a pleasant way to end our memorable journey back to the village. I am pleased to be able to record (with my limited memory and child’s perspective) a little of the history of the great village of Larsen Bay, by means of my stories and especially my family’s wonderful photos.

Scenes of the old Alaska Packers Association cannery in Larsen Bay, 1998

Top: Tim on the dock close to the power generators. Right: Kelly on the long dock near where the first photo in this article was taken. Below: Three photos combine for this shot of the old bunkhouses and cannery buildings

Conclusion of the three-part series on Larsen Bay: The cannery is still enormous, the “warehouse” Dad built looks like it will last another 50 years, the bay is still peaceful and the mountains are still beautiful behind the village. And the people are still warm and friendly. But as my photo out the window of our plane as we left attests, Larsen Bay has not stood still. Hunting lodges and bear camps with all the amenities now hug the shoreline, roads lead to and from the airstrip, and a new school shares the skyline with the ancient cannery. Larsen Bay will do fine. I am proud to call it my first home, and glad we got to see it again.

The next article is

Evangel Island Journey: Shelikof Strait Stops”

Including Harvester Island, San Juan Cannery, and the Village Islands

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Information from this site can be used for non-commercial purposes with attribution. The text of all the articles on Tanignak.com and TruthTexts.com are copyright 2020 by Timothy L. Smith (see the “About Tanignak.com” link). The photographs are copyright the estate of Rev. Norman L. Smith, or are copyright Timothy L. Smith unless otherwise attributed. Many thanks to the people who have shared their stories and those who have allowed me to use their photographs on Tanignak.com!