Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hoonah, Then and Now

The Otter Welcome
We departed Swanson Harbor at 7am for a two and a half hour cruise to Hoonah, a planned stop for the afternoon at this Tlingit village.  A sea otter welcomed us as we rounded Cannery Point on Chichagof Island and entered Frederick Harbor located off Icy Strait.  The extensive cannery buildings painted red seemed impressive.  
Marina at Hoonah
After tying up at the marina (free until 5pm), we hopped on our bicycles and rode out to the cannery where we met Stan, a fisherman and long-time local of Norwegian descent; he and his wife own a shop at the Cannery.  Stan told us that a cruise ship would be arriving the next morning and shops in the Cannery would be open and tickets for activities would be available, including a performance by Tlingit Dancers, and the World’s longest and highest Zip-Line would be open.  
Hoonah Cannery at Cannery Point
Wow, Hoonah proved to be much more than we expected.  “Guess we will have to stay the night.”   Hoonah has been the primary permanent settlement of the Huna Tlingit since earliest recorded history and today it is the largest Tlingit community in Alaska with a population of 800 people.  The village was given its modern name by Captain Vancouver in 1794; the Tlingit name is Gaotlakan (Gaaw T’ak Aan).  
Huge Crab Pots, Hoonah
For many years residents relied on fishing for their livelihood, whether it was a commercial venture or subsistence fishing.  
Hoonah Cannery
In 1944, a devastating fire swept through Hoonah consuming almost the entire town; priceless irreplaceable Tlingit artifacts were lost.  The federal government helped to rebuild the community; and although there is still an active fishing fleet, locals now rely on tourism.  
Hoonah Cannery
Hoonah Cannery
The cannery closed in 1953 and was subsequently refurbished by local ingenuity and government assistance.  The cannery now serves as a Cultural Center and houses shops selling local arts and crafts.  We were quite impressed with what has been accomplished, and it is obvious that people in the community understand the business of tourism. 

Hoonah-based charter boats offer trips in the summer for whale watching and bear sightings; kayaking has also become popular, the 40-mile paddle from Hoonah to Tenakee Springs is considered a global highlight.  On our way back from the Cannery, we met Paul at the docks who had brought his boat over the tidal grid to do some work.  He was waiting for the tide to go down so his boat would be out of the water, sitting “high and dry” on the grid for maintenance.  
The Cannery, a big tourist attraction at Hoonah
We haven’t yet worked up our nerve to use a tidal-grid; we have always used a haul-out facility.  Of course we stopped to chat for a while and learned that he had grown up at the cannery; his father was Norwegian and his mother was Tlingit.  
Paul with his boat on the Tidal-Grid
He had been the harbormaster for the marina and has since retired.  He gave us some pointers on how to use a tidal-grid which may come in handy when it’s the only option at hand.  Hoonah is a fascinating place with friendly people, we would definitely recommend this stop for other boaters.

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