Catch it if you can in Ketchikan

August 23, 2016

Catch it if you can!

Catch what? Why, salmon, of course! Ketchikan, Alaska proclaims itself to be the world capital of salmon.

Dale and I both signed up for a shore excursion. His was salmon fishing! At the end of the day, I was delighted to find out that he had actually caught one, the type known as “pink!” Pinks are the smallest type of salmon and have a milder flavor than the popular “coho.”  On the fishing boat were five people, including him.  Although 15 salmon took the bait, only three were actually caught.  All the others managed to get off the hook before they could be reeled in!

My husband with the fish he caught!

Another man on the boat caught a coho, and since he didn’t want to pay the processing and shipping costs, the boat captain gave it to Dale, since he had elected to have his shipped. So both fish were deboned, filleted, fresh-frozen, and packaged and sent to us, a total of about 15 lbs.! Here is one of the delicious meals we’ve made from it so far:

Salmon (both coho and pink) with sliced vegetables and green beans. My stepdaughter made a wonderful balsamic-based sauce with spices! She used a recipe, but ad-libbed substitutions according to our own preferences.

Catch it if you can! Downtown Ketchikan

Meanwhile, I was on my own quest in Ketchikan.  My excursion (to Misty Fjords National Monument – see separate post) got back in early afternoon, so I decided to look around the town. The tour guide on the excursion had given us all maps as we stepped onto the pier.

Looking at the map, I saw that there were two historical walking tours, one of downtown and the other the western part of town.  Our tour guide had suggested visiting the former red light district, but I sort of forgot about that in my quest for totem poles.

I looked at the map and started the downtown walking tour.  I decided to just see what I wanted and not worry about following the numbers.  First was a sculpture with statues of various figures that represented the people who settled this area.  A Tlingit woman tells the story of these settlers, which include explorers, gold seekers, native tribes, missionaries, etc.

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“The Rock”: A Tlingit woman sits with her drum, singing a song of Ketchikan and its inhabitants – Tlingit, loggers, miners, fishermen, pilots, pioneers.

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Then I walked up the street with a sign arched over it that read, “Welcome to Alaska’s 1st City, Ketchikan, the Salmon Capital of the World.”

Downtown Ketchikan – the neon welcome sign can be seen over a main street.

I came to the historical Episcopalian church, a simple white structure with nice, but not elaborate stained glass windows.  Built in 1904, it was the first church established here.  Since I had no $1 bills, I emptied out all my change as a donation to the church.

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St. John Episcopal Church
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Interior of the church looking toward altar
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Drum used in some services

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I followed that street up to a small park with a totem pole at one end and a historical clock at the other.

Chief Kyan Totem Pole. This is a replica of the original which belonged to Tongass Tlingit Chief George Kyan, whose brown bear crest is the figure at the bottom of the pole. Above Brown Bear are Thunderbird (middle) and Crane (top).
Whale bench!
Bench in the park

There were other totem poles, each with a sign telling its meaning.  The native peoples did not have a written language and used these carved poles to tell the stories of a person or family.

Chief Johnson totem pole
Chief Johnson totem pole (No, I don’t know the woman standing in front of it!)
Top of Chief Johnson totem pole
Top of Chief Johnson totem pole

I then headed up Steadman, where there were a couple more totem poles, then headed up Deermount to find the Totem Heritage Center.


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St. Elizabeth Catholic Church
St. Elizabeth Catholic Church – at the side is an entrance to the Ketchikan mortuary!

Catch it if you can: Totem Heritage Center

For anyone interested in totem poles planning a trip to Alaska,  make time to visit the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan. You can spend half an hour up to two hours there. It’s not very big – only three rooms.

Admission was $5.00, which got me a guide to the exhibits, but I found it more useful simply to read the placards next to the displays.

Totem Heritage Center
Totem Heritage Center

At Totem Heritage Center

This totem pole commemorates those who gave of their time and funds to establish the Totem Heritage Center.

A group of people has been collecting old totem poles, many of them in pieces, partially destroyed and all lacking their original paint.  A docent there, Margaret, told me that the native peoples used three basic colors derived from materials used to make the colors.  These poles told the story of a family, she said, or an individual, because they had no written language.  Each carved figure represented something: raven, bear, wolf, fish, whale; and many had human faces carved on them also.


Heraldic Pole, Haida. This stood in front of a community house where many related families lived.

Dinosaur at the top of a totem pole??

This mortuary pole is kept inside a glass case. This pole shows a figure of a man holding a large club and a sculpin.

Once the poles were erected, they were left to deteriorate gradually and naturally. Western red cedar weathers the moist climate fairly well. The poles on display were carved in the mid-19th century. They provide examples of traditional carving for inspiration and teaching.


Raven mortuary pole, Tlingit (see next pic)
Raven mortuary pole, Tlingit

In an adjoining room were displays of masks and rattles.

Masks of the Northwest coast, created by instructors of carving classes at the Totem Heritage Center.
Halait (shaman) - Tlingit style mask, 1979; artist: Duane Pasco
Halait (shaman) – Tlingit style mask, 1979; artist: Duane Pasco




Eagle Transformation dance rattle, 2003, by Norman Jackson, Tlingit; Carved from yellow cedar and decorated with acrylic paint. Inside are pebbles and spruce root.

I had limited time – less than an hour – to see the entire exhibit before I had to return to the ship.  I would have liked to spend more time talking to the docent. The other people in the museum were a couple of young people who were there to learn about carving traditions, and they had many questions.

One thought on “Catch it if you can in Ketchikan

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