Back in the old days when a freezer was a piece of ice, fishermen in Alaska had two problems. The first one was finding the fish, although that wasn’t too complicated, the ocean was chock-full of fins; but the second problem was a little harder. The government regulated how long you could keep your catch on the boat, and it wasn’t very long.
Canneries were the answer. Owning a cannery was having a license to print money. Really. As operations spread up and down Southeast Alaska, each cannery had its own currency. True company towns, canneries had their own workforce, their own laws. A big cannery needed a couple hundred workers, for everything from keeping books to making the millions of cans needed to ship all that fish, as well as the actual cleaning and prepping of fish on the line, called "slime row."
Canneries were usually somewhere beautiful, someplace you could see from far off and aim your boat towards. But canneries didn’t survive the advent of refrigeration. Most were taken back by the forest or simply left to rot. With one exception: Icy Strait Point, beautifully restored. Just opposite Glacier Bay, Icy Strait Point stretches for a few hundred meters along the beach; the old wooden buildings, bright red in the endless green of the Tongass, now offer a museum and a cannery demo. But more interesting is simply the madness of scale. Icy Strait Point gives a chance to look into history to see where Alaska’s money came from, all in a ghost town of millions of fish.