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Juneau-Douglas City Museum


Asp, John L. (Cameron)

by John L. Asp
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My grandmother on my mother’s side was Annie Von Henriques. She met my grandfather Gullium Hassan Mohammed Arab, British subject, while she was on vacation in Hong Kong. They were married on one of his business trips to Kobe, Japan. They lived and raised eight children in the Kobe International settlement.

My grandmother Emma, on my father’s side was born on the island of Megit, Marshall Islands and married my grandfather John Cameron. Captain Cameron sailed out of Glasgow, Scotland at sixteen as an apprentice seaman on the bark Ida, destination Desmerara, British Guiana and did not see home again until 1874. He sailed the South Pacific Ocean for close to thirty years. Side trips were made to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. He was shipwrecked for 8 months on Midway Island when the vessel Wandering Minstrel went aground. With two companions they prepared one of the lifeboats for a journey of 2700 miles and 43 days, with only a broken sextant and a compass the size of a wrist watch. They made land on the Island of Mille, Marshall Islands. Deciding to sail his ship Ebon to Kobe, Japan in 1893, he arrived in 1895, after stopping at all the 23 islands he had known. His last command was to deliver a nineteen ton cutter yacht from Kobe to Vladivostok, Russia. His book “John Cameron’s Odyssey” was transcribed by Andrew Farrell for the Honolulu Advertiser and published by MacMillan Co. in 1928, three years after his death at Kobe.

My mother was Maude Matildae Arab, a British subject born in Kobe. I was born John L. Cameron, in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 12, 1926 at the Kaukkeolania Children’s Hospital. After my mother’s divorce from John McMillan Cameron sometime in 1928 or 1929, she met and married my stepfather Svend (Sam) Asp in Kobe, Japan in 1931. He adopted me and I had always considered him my father and did not meet my biological father until much later. Brother Sven was born a U.S. citizen in Kobe as his father Svend was a citizen of the United States.

My mother played the piano and organized a band which played at hotels and on occasion in Hong Kong. She rode a motorcycle (Indian) touring Japan with her brothers. The family attended the Kobe Regatta and Athletic Club where they all played tennis, swam, sculled and sailed. My cousins Helen (Arab) Bonnett and Dulcie (Arab) Collins, Sven and I would play on the beaches, sometimes at Suma at a summer house.

Svend (Sam) Asp, a mechanical engineer was born in Lokken, Denmark and trained in Copenhagen. He
was one of many fine engineers from all parts of the world who entered the fishing industry in Alaska during the end of the 1800’s and beginnings of the 1900’s. He came north to build the first cannery in Kamchatka, Russia. He often told me that the Russians built their canneries right over their rivers so that the fish would swim right up into the cannery!

With rumors and signs of war, most of the family decided to leave Kobe. We left for Seattle in 1934, others to England and Canada in 1935, with the exception of Uncle Harry, his wife Louisa and the children Helen and Dulcie who were not able to leave before the war broke out. In Seattle, after arriving from Kobe, we lived on the hill above Lake Union.

In 1935, our family headed for Valdez to convert Ft. Liscom into a cannery for Andy Day (better known as Hillbilly Day). Ft. Liscom was across from the old town of Valdez where the oil terminal is now. We boarded an Alaska Steamship in early spring. My brother and I would always make the “first call” to breakfast, and all other meals. I still remember white tablecloths, silverware, and fine china, and all the passengers got their turn dining with the captain, at his table. Sven and I would spend a good part of the day exploring the ship. The highlight would be to check out the ship’s lounge. I can still see the cannery men playing poker. Thick cigar smoke hanging over the tables and players clicking the poker chips. Clinking of the bottles and glasses. The hum of conversation and the laughter that filled the room.

One of the stops was Juneau, with its wooden sidewalks, something we had never seen. Before we arrived in Valdez the captain made a stop at the Columbia Glacier, blew several blasts from the ship’s horn and we watched in amazement as a huge chunk of the glacier fell into the sound. It was an awesome sight for young boys to witness.

After completion of the cannery and two seasons at Ft. Liscom, we were back in Seattle and Sam Asp made arrangements to convert a cannery located across from the town of Tenakee, in Saltery Bay. In 1937, we spent the night before departure at the Mayflower Hotel. I remember walking through the lobby to register with my family. My dog “Blackie” accompanied us on the end of a rope which I used for a leash. Nobody blinked or raised an objection!

We arrived in Tenakee on the Estebeth and stayed in one of Ed Snyder’s cabins long enough to get supplies and hire Ray Paddock’s troller to take us to Saltery Bay. The cannery had been shut down for some time but Sam, “Pop,” as we called him, had everything up and running by nightfall. Sven and I spent two summers there. It was a beautiful bay where we had a great time exploring, learning to catch fish, shooting a .22 and eating with the crew in the mess hall.

In fall 1938, the cannery burned to the ground. (I made a trip back there with Evan Scott and Denny
Merritt on his boat the Escape in the late 1980’s. It was still beautiful but did not expect to see the clear cut that had been done.)

Sam decided to rebuild the cannery one-fourth mile north of Tenakee in front of Jack Carmichael’s place just north of where the O’Toole place is today. Sam salvaged many parts from the canneries at Saltery Bay and Excursion Inlet. He bought an old car from George Murphy and made a pickup out of it to haul supplies. Tenakee’s first car was a converted Studebaker pickup! Sam purchased a 67 foot packer Hyak from Nick Bez for $1200 and hired Cap Hayes to run her as a tender to buy fish. On the boats that I knew well, I would go into the galley and watch the captain and crew divide up their share of $10,000 on the galley table.

The canning of crab was difficult at best, for the inside of the can turned green. Sam found this out by accident one day when talking to another engineer. He had his back to the patching table and his hands on it. Rubbing his fingers he noticed that they were green. The top of the patching table was made of tin. He came up
with the idea of using paper liners inside the cans. That process was used until the arrival of lacquered cans.

Sam extended the dock into deep water so the Northland ships could dock and load canned salmon.
The cannery operated from 1938 to1948. Sam died in 1952 and is buried in Seattle.

I moved to Douglas in 1940 to attend high school. Mom, Pop and Sven traveled south that fall and Sven attended St. Martins that year. During the war years the family lived in Seattle. Mother taught a night class at the University of Washington and was a riveter at Boeing Aircraft by day. I joined them there and enrolled at
Broadway High, but later joined my brother at Puget Sound Naval Academy.

I enlisted in the Air Force Reserve, was called up in June, 1944, sworn in and sent to Ft. Lewis, then shipped to Amarillo, Texas for basic. Then to Harlingen, Texas for gunnery school. Mtn. Home, Idaho and Gowen Field, Idaho followed. More training in B-24’s. We were sent to Ephrata and then to Davis Monthan Field in Tucson, Arizona for training B-29’s. We were sent home on a 30-day furlough. During this time, I was in Tenakee and the A-Bomb was dropped, ending World War II. I went back to Douglas High School to graduate in 1947. Then I attended the University of Fairbanks in 1948 for a short while, then Washington State College.

Before the close of the cannery, my brother Sven was hired by the Alaska Road Commission in Valdez.
He ran heavy equipment, drove truck trailer for Whitey Olson out of Valdez to Anchorage and Fairbanks and, with a bulldozer in the lead clearing the way drove one of a fleet of trucks, hooked in tandem, that hauled equipment to the north slope to be used for the building of the Dew Line. He got back into fishing when he
purchased the F/V Big Sea and converted it into a packer. This was the beginning of his fleet of ships, all used for packing. Sven married Maxine Pautzke in 1979, his third wife. He has a daughter Sharon and three sons and lives in the Seattle area.

Returning to Juneau, I married Ruth Wilson in 1950. Daughter Jo-Ann was born in 1951. Son Svend Thomas was born in 1953. In 1958, I moved the family to Seattle and attended the Burnley School of Professional Art. After completing the course at Burnley, I went to Honolulu in 1961 and was a staff artist with Liberty House, and then Gem’s of Hawaii. In 1964, I was made advertising manager for Gem’s and hired a year later by Liberty House as its art director. I decided in 1967 to free lance for Gem’s store in San Francisco. I was divorced in 1969 and returned to Honolulu and continued free lance work.

In 1979, I went to Cordova to work with my brother Sven on the Big Sea and moved there in 1980. My daughter Jo-Ann was involved in an accidental shooting which left her paralyzed. I moved back south to be near her and worked free lance at the Bon Marche. She died in 1988. I stopped working boats with Sven in 1987 and started painting full time in Douglas.

The beauty of the landscape on our first trip to Alaska in 1934 has stayed with Sven and me to this day. I know it did with Mom, until she died in Seattle in 1981.