1964 Earthquake Exhibit
Community Chapter Pull Quote
“There was no wealth in the community. We were entirely dependent on salmon fishing at the time.”
Text to link Roy Madsen audio file (RoyMadsen-05)
Community Chapter Narrative
Kodiak is a hard-working fishing town in the Gulf of Alaska on the northeastern edge of Kodiak Island. From this remote location, island residents harvest and process millions of pounds of fish annually, making Kodiak for decades now one of the top three fishing ports in the nation.
Like most major fishing ports, Kodiak is a multi-ethnic community. The first people of Kodiak paddled skin boats from the East and landed on Kodiak 10,000 years ago. Known as the Alutiit, they remained the island’s sole inhabitants until the late 1700s when Russian fur hunters in pursuit of the luxurious sea otter pelt, reached Kodiak. Finding a large otter population in the region and the Alutiiq people skilled at harvesting them, the Russians overpowered local resistance and established their Russian-Alaska fur trading empire at St. Paul Harbor, Kodiak.
When Russia sold its Alaska holdings to the U.S. in 1867, the global fur market was waning and the Kodiak economy was shifting to other marine resources. In the late 1800s Scandinavian sailing vessels harvesting the productive fishing and whaling grounds off Kodiak Island called into St. Paul Harbor and many fishermen onboard made Kodiak their new home. About the same time, West Coast fish buyers, upon learning of Kodiak’s prolific salmon runs, built canneries throughout the region and brought Filipino and Chinese crews to Kodiak to run them. Salmon remained the backbone of the Kodiak economy until the 1960s when shrimp and crab took hold of the town, creating instant wealth throughout the community similar to that of the Alaska Gold Rush.
Today a variety of marine species such as cod, Pollock, halibut, salmon, and herring dominate the Kodiak economy. Many island residents work aboard fishing boats or in fish processing plants while others work for private businesses that support the fishing industry, for public agencies that protect and oversee Alaska’s fisheries, and for organizations that support the fishing community. And, as in the past, many newcomers today arrive from far off regions like Southeast Asia and Latin America to partake in the ocean’s bounty and make Kodiak their new home.
What was Kodiak like in the early 1900s? How did the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake change the town? Click the link below to hear lifelong Kodiak resident Judge Roy Madsen, an Alaska Native Elder of Russian and Scandinavian heritage, describe his hometown.
Judge Roy Madsen