Thursday, June 22, 2006

Alaskan History Cruise, Part Six - History of Victoria

(The Empress Hotel in Victoria)

Yes, I know that Victoria is not in Alaska. It is in British Columbia. However, it is the last stop on this Holland America Alaskan Cruise. As this is on the cruise, I will include it on my history series based on the tour. Please, no nasty comments on the location of Victoria! I know...

The ms Zaandam will only be in Victoria for four hours late tonight. I plan on visiting the downtown and looking around and maybe drinking some beer. However, I am not going to have the opportunity to explore much history. As such, there will be no "Miland in Victoria" section to this post.

History of Victoria

The local natives have been in the Victoria area for over 7000 years. They had a complex society which placed a heavy emphasis on wealth and included slavery. In 1778, Captain Cook located Nootka Sound. With him was William Bligh of the Bounty mutiny fame. Cook traded with the natives and departed.

The Harmon, captained by James Hanna, visited in August 1785. His crew had bad manners and exploded gunpowder under the chair of a local chief. The natives got angry and started fighting. Twenty of them died in the ensuing fight.

Captain Vancouver surveyed the area in 1792. He created a good map of the area. Alexander Mackenzie reached the area via land and canoe in 1793. He was the first recorded person to cross North America primarily via land.

Fort Victoria was built by the Hudson Bay Company in 1843. Obviously, it was named for Queen Victoria. It grew quickly and had 25,000 miners present by 1858 participating in the Cariboo Gold Rush.

Law and order was an early priority for the community. Victoria passed the first gun control law in North America. Judge Matthew Begbie was on the bench from 1858 to 1894. He is noted for sending 28 men to the gallows.

Like most of the posts in this series, I have concentrated on the origins of this city. There is a lot more to the history of Victoria. One good place to find more information is Wikipedia. I will wrap up this whole series on Saturday or Sunday when I get back home.

Previous Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Five - History of Ketchikan

Next Pos: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Seven - Back in Seattle

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Alaskan History Cruise, Part Five - History of Ketchikan

(Dolly House Museum)


The ms Zaandam was in Ketchikan today. This city has history of course but it pales a bit in comparison to Sitka. The ship was only here in the morning as well so I did not have a lot of time to explore.

I did learn that the "bridge to nowhere" is proposed to be built here. There is legislation in Congress to build a 400 hundred million dollar bridge to connect a few islands to Ketchikan. Very few people would benefit. As nice as the people are here, I have to think there would be a better use for this money...

History of Ketchikan

As with all parts of Alaska, the local native tribes claim they have been here forever. Evidence shows that the area was used as a Tlingit fish camp in pre-European/American settlement days. Americans (and others) came to the area in 1885 when miners and fishermen moved in. A gold strike in the late nineteenth century brought in more immigrants.

Timber and fishing helped Ketichikan to grow. By the 1930s, the town claimed it was the "salmon capitol of the world." I saw several signs which still make this claim. There are over 9000 people in the city today. (A lot more on cruise ship days of course...)

Miland in Ketchikan

As I mentioned earlier, the ms Zaandam was only in dock briefly. My wife and I only had time for one shore excursion. We selected the "duck tour." This consisted of a bus that also is a boat. We drove around town and then went right into the water with the same vehicle.

I learned a lot about the town lore in this tour. In addition to what I wrote above, the history of Ketchikan features a prominent red light district from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At one point, over 120 women were known to ply the prostitute trade in town. The Dolly House Museum shares this history and features the life story of the most famous prostitute in Ketchikan history. The museum stills sells gift certificates even though the hooking trade is now dead or underground...

This was a charming little city (town). Outside of the salmon and the seasonal tourist trade, I do not see much to suggest it though. I can imagine living in Sitka or Juneau but not here.

Previous Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Four - History of Sitka

Nex Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Six - History of Victoria

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Alaskan History Cruise, Part Four - History of Sitka

(Saint Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral)

This post is a bit difficult to make. Not because Sitka is lacking in history, but because it may well be the most historic city in Alaska! I was overwhelmed with history today as I explored the city and nearby area.

History of Sitka

In the 1500s, the Tlingit settled what is now Sitka. They called the area "Shee Atika." Russians would later have trouble pronouncing this so they shortened it to Sitka.

In 1741, Vitus Bering was the first known European to discover what is now Sitka. In 1790, Alexander Baranof was appointed the first governor of Russian America. A few years later (1799), Governor Baranof built a fort close to Sitka.

Relations between the natives and the Russians were not smooth. After years of uneasy truce, Tlingit warriors destroyed the Russian fort in 1802. Very few Russians survived the battle. Baranof was enraged and in 1804 (with Russian naval support) fought the six day Battle of Sitka. The Russians won the battle and designated Sitka the capital of Russian Alaska in 1808.

In 1867, Alaska was sold to the United States for the sum of 7.2 million dollars. The official change of sovereignty ceremony was held in Sitka. Sitka then became the capital of the American Alaskan territory. Sitka would serve as the capital until 1906 when the seat of government was relocated north to Juneau.

Sitka today is a thriving cannery town. The port is the 34th most economically valuable in the USA due to the amount of fish harvested and shipped from here. It is also a popular cruise ship destination.

Miland in Sitka

My wife and I started the day with a 4 mile hike in the Tongass National Forest. This forest is all over southeast Alaska. While hiking, the guides showed us the site of the original Russian fort that was sacked in 1802. Other than that, the hike was enjoyable but not very historically themed.

Our afternoon hike was more history themed. We took a walking tour of the city. We saw several sites including:

1. Saint Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral - This historic cathedral was originally built by the Russians. It burned to the ground in a fire in the 1970s. The citizens of Sitka were able to save 95% of the icons and the cathedral was later rebuilt based on the original blue prints.

2. Russian Bishop's House - This was constructed out of native spruce in 1842 by Finnish carpenters. It is one of only four surviving examples of Russian Colonial Style architecture in the Western Hemisphere. Father Ivan Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov) of the Russian Orthodox Church occupied the residence until 1859. The Church operated the facility as a school, residence, and place of worship for another century.

3. Sitka National Historical Park - This park had nice hiking trails. It also had a large number of native totems. A guide explained the historic significance of each.

Previous Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Three - History of Glacier Bay

Next Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Five - History of Ketchikan

Monday, June 19, 2006

Alaskan History Cruise, Part Three - History of Glacier Bay


I have spent the day on the ms Zaandam cruising Glacier Bay. As the name suggests, Glacier Bay, Alaska is the home to several glaciers. The entire bay was carved out by the ice as it expanded and then receded.

There were no shore excursions today but there were no need for any. I spent most of the day on deck watching the great scenery. In addition to glaciers, there were numerous mountains and wildlife. I think I saw about a dozen whales today in addition to birds and sea lions. We spent the most time at the Margerie Glacier and it calved (dropped ice into the sea) several times making a loud thunder sound. A park ranger from the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve boarded the ship and give a nice presentation too.

History of Glacier Bay

The native seal-hunting Tlingit have been in the area for as long as they remember which may be a few thousand or only five hundred years. With oral folklore, it is hard to tell. Their stories tell of a time when a glacier came to life and moved as fast as a dog forcing the natives to flee the area.

Joseph Whidbey (working for Captain George Vancouver) visited and mapped Glacier Bay in the 18th century. By 1879, the glacier had retreated 50 miles startling and confusing later visitors who had inaccurate maps. A glacier retreating 50 miles in a century would be cited as evidence of global warming today! However, glaciers retreat and expand and it is not always tied to current weather patterns as a look at Glacier Bay history shows.

The famous naturalist John Muir visited Glacier Bay in the late nineteenth century. He wrote articles about the location and tourists began visiting in 1883. The United States Federal government set aside Glacier Bay and the surrounding area as a National Monument in 1925 and made it into a National Park in 1980.

I have a full day of hiking in Sitka tomorrow. My post (if I am awake enough to write when I get done) will be late.

Previous Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Two - History of Juneau

Next Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Four - History of Sitka

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Alaskan History Cruise, Part Two - History of Juneau


(Juneau from atop Mt. Roberts)

Do you know what the capital of Alaska is? Do you know? It is Juneau of course! At least, that was how I was prompted to remember the Alaskan capital when I was in grade school learning the capitals of all 50 states.

The ms Zaandam arrived in Juneau today. There were a lot of historical sites to choose from on the shore excursion list. Of course, we did none of them. My wife looked at the list months ago when we were planning our intenary and she really wanted to take the whale watching trip. I agreed and we had a good time spotting several different types of whales. (And I would rather not recount the history of the Alaskan whaling community...)

History of Juneau

The History of Juneau gives a short summary of the city history. It notes, "The area was a fish camp for the indigenous Tlingit Indians. In 1880, nearly 20 years before the gold rushes to the Klondike and Nome, Joe Juneau and Richard Harris were lead to Gold Creek by Chief Kowee of the Auk Tribe. They found mother lode deposits upstream, staked their mining claims, and developed a 160 acre incorporated city they called Harrisburg, which brought many prospectors to the area. The state capital was transferred from Sitka to Juneau in 1906 while Alaska was a U.S. Territory. The Treadwell and Ready Bullion mines across the channel on Douglas Island became world-scale mines, operating from 1882 to 1917. In 1916, the Alaska-Juneau gold mine was built on the mainland, and became the largest operation of its kind in the world. In 1917, a cave-in and flood closed the Treadwell mine on Douglas. It produced $66 million in gold in its 35 years of operation. Fishing, canneries, transportation and trading services, and a sawmill contributed to Juneau's growth through the early 1900s. Mining declined by the 1930s, and the A-J Mine closed in 1944 when it was declared a nonessential wartime activity. The A-J produced over $80 million in gold."

The original name of the city was Harrisburg. However, locals objected to this name as the locality grew as so many other places in America were named this. The town name was changed to honor the local US navy Commander Charles Rockwell. Rockwell became the new name. In 1881, Joe Juneau was complaining that nothing in the district had been named for him and the name was again changed this time to Juneau which it remains today. (The Tlingit name of the city is Dzántik'i Héeni "flounder creek.")

Juneau is not located centrally in the state. It is far removed from Anchorage and Fairbanks. This has prompted several attempts to move the capital elsewhere. In 1954, a measure was passed to move the capital north in order to locate it closer to the territorial population center. This plan stalled and Juneau remained the capital. In the 1970s, plans were made to move the capital to a site near Willow, a town north of Anchorage. However, these plans never went very far either.

Miland in Juneau

As mentioned, my wife and I participated in a whale watching tour. We saw a variety of humpback whales (some rather close) as well as eagles, seals, and sea lions. I also was surprised to get a dose of history on the tour.

The boat we were on passed by Admiralty Island. This huge island has the world's highest density of brown bears in the world averaging one bear per square mile. It is also the site of Point Retreat. On a voyage looking for the Northwest Passage, Captain George Vancouver was sailing by Admiralty Island in the eighteenth century. He spotted native war canoes and beat a retreat to what is now Retreat Point. His hiding spot worked and he (and his crew) survived.

We also saw Vanderbilt Reef. This is the site of the 1918 sinking of the Princess Sophia. The ship ran aground. Help arrived but the captain waived off the help assuming that the rising tide would free the ship. Instead, it broke in two and sank. All 343 people on the ship died.

After the whale watching, we went into Juneau and went up the tramway to Mount Roberts. It gave us a good view of the city and the port with five cruise ships in dock. These tourist ships probably explain the tackiness and high prices of the tourist trap district in Juneau right off the dock. I was not impressed. However, I did enjoy the Red Dog Saloon. This old bar was a favorite of miners in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The miners used to drink their fill on payday and then leave a dollar pinned on the wall with their name on it so they would have money to drink with later. Many of these dollars remain on the walls. This was a nice bar and well worth visiting!

Tomorrow we will be in Glacier Bay and that will be the focus of my next post.

Previous Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part One - (At Sea) A History of Holland America and the ms Zaandam

Next Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Three - History of Glacier Bay