By Bruce Weyhrauch
Usually known for its mining history and Alaskaís Capital City, the seat of government and white collar workers, Juneau is also home to the largest population of commercial fishermen, skippers and crew, and one the largest commercial fishing fleets in Alaska. Juneau has also been home to large commercial fish processing companies and continues in that tradition. Most old timers remember Juneau Cold Storage downtown (it burned in 1986). Juneau is now home to Taku Fisheries and Smokeries, Alaska Glacier Seafood, and many other small and medium processors. Juneau, however, did not have a memorial to commercial fishermen.
Commercial fishing is the most dangerous occupations in Alaska. Almost everyone knows someone who has lost a relative, loved one, friend or acquaintance to this industry. In addition, commercial fishing is very important to the diverse fabric of Alaska and the economic health and diversity or its communities.
In 1991, a small group of folks got together in Juneau to talk about building a memorial to commercial fishermen. Those who were initially interested had lost a brother, son, husband or friend to a commercial fishing accident. First, the Memorial committee formed a nonprofit corporation with the state and IRS so it could collect funds to start on the Memorial. Next, it polled local commercial fishermen on their ideas about the design, purpose, and location of a memorial. Then it solicited designs for a memorial and picked a design submitted by James Bibb, Jonathan Douglas, and Jensen Yorba Lott Architects. The committee found a piece of undeveloped land on the Juneau waterfront next to Giorgioís Restaurant (now the Twisted Fish), and Taku Fisheries.
Working with the City, the owner of the land gave the City an easement on the land in order to build the Memorial. Trucano Construction of Juneau agreed to construct the Memorial at cost. The city was very supportive of the Memorialís construction and provided support staff and funding to help get the job done. The Memorial committee ordered granite from Vermont and Canada, and got a master stonemason from New Hampshire to come up and hang the granite on the Memorialís cement walls.
Even before the Memorial was located on the waterfront, we started hosting an annual blessing of the fleet on the waterfront. Our first Blessing was in 1991 at the old downtown ferry terminal when there was still a ferry terminal downtown. Governor Wally Hickel was out first guest speaker and Terri Tibbett was the very first person to sing at a Blessing; she sang the Navy Hymn.
The Memorial committee receives about 6 applications a year for names to be engraved on the Memorial. Each year, with the support of the community, the Memorial hosts the annual blessing of the fleet and dedication of names on the first Saturday in May at 10 a.m. With the Cityís help, this annual event demonstrates our collective support for the commercial fishing industry.
With this Memorial, we salute the economic and social importance of Alaskaís commercial fishing industry. Importantly, the Memorial provides a place to remember those commercial fishermen and women who have died, and provides a quiet place for remembrance and reflection.