When I was 18, my father decided I need to get a job. He had connections with everyone – including someone at the Columbia Wards fish cannery.  I wasn’t asked if I wanted to work there. Dad informed me I’d been hired.

The cannery was about four miles from our Gaede-80 homestead, down Kalifonsky Beach Road. I drove an old blue pick-up, which didn’t go very fast, and which later I discovered was not really attached to the chassis.  All the same, it got me to work.

It was common for college kids from Outside to come work for the summer, so I had peers of sorts. Japanese worked there, too, with the salmon eggs. The cannery was a 40,000-square-foot warehouse. No heat. Cold fish. Fish smell. I wore several pairs of wool socks in my tall black rubber books, a winter coat with a clear plastic apron that wrapped around most of me, and a bandana kerchief on my head.

My job was the assembly line where cans of fish traveled past me and my job was to use a kind of pliers to flip and twist any exposed skin downward or to the sides. The purpose was so the eager purchaser would open the can and find an attractive round of meat.

Working along the conveyor belt took some getting used to. It never stopped and our work was done while the cans traveled in front of us. The constant movement caused a kind of mild motion sickness.

The work was monotonous. The work was cold. We stood all day – or all night – depending on when the fish had come in. To break the boredom, someone down the line, just in front of the lid-stamper, would accidentally flip a can over. Of course, this jammed the lid-stamping machine and we’d all have to take a break while the mechanism was unclogged.

In 2007, the cannery was recognized as a historical landmark and several buildings were put back into use. All the buildings had signs designating their previous use and there was a map with walking tour available at a visitor center. What a step back in time for me! I was so excited to re-walk back into my past. It made a wonderful field trip to take guests.

Just this week I learned that the warehouse is being torn down. I was shocked. On July 13 and 14 timbers from the building will be available for purchase. I plan to be there.

Columbia Wards fish cannery


What did you do for summer work as a high school or college student?

Was it your idea or your parents?

What are your memories?