Friday, March 14, 2008

It Smells Like Money To Me

This is all that remains of a once bustling, salmon cannery, located along the banks of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon. The salmon canning industry grew rapidly in the late 1870s as the market for inexpensive canned salmon increased in the eastern United States, Australia, and Great. During this period, the combined production of the region’s thirty-nine canneries exceeded 42,000,000 pounds of salmon/year. That’s a lot of fish no matter how you measure it!

A visitor to the Astoria during this period remarked that salmon canneries were huge and unsightly structures; constructed on plies over the river. He further noted that no concession was given to architectural effect or taste. Since the canning of salmon was a “wet process” requiring abundant cold water, the floors of the cannery were built with gaps between the flooring planks, thus allowing for the water to drain back into the river. Such a design also allowed cold air to draft into the cannery making it an extremely damp and cold working environment.

Beginning in the 1930, the cannery work force evolved and became dominated by local women of Scandinavian decent. It’s difficult to find a longtime Astorian who did not spend part of their working life employed by a cannery. Canneries were also known to have a very distinct aroma; simply put, they smelled like fish! If you asked a cannery worker about the constant odor, their reply would be that it smelled like money!

On this beautiful March day, all that remains are the piling that supported the building above the river and the cement floor where the boiler once stood. Long forgotten are the people who worked the canning lines and endured the smell of money.


Ptelea said...

I'm curious about how long ago most of these canneries closed. We still have canned salmon, so where is it canned? (you don't have to answer - I am just wondering!)

Steve said...

The majority of the large canneries closed by the early 1930 as the salmon runs declined and the depression hit. Today, there are three custom canneries still working, but the majority of this output is crab and shripm which is package for the fresh-frozen market.

As far as actual canned salmon is concerned, the majority of it now comes out of Alaska.