By Norm Carson, January 2009

September 26, 1938 is the day the F/V “Pelican” arrived in Lisianski Inlet to begin construction of a cold storage. The timing of this event coincided with the movement of the salmon troll fleet westward from Sitka and on up the coast to Yakobi Island. Before the arrival of the “Pelican” the Lisianski area had witnessed developments by miners and a government navigation site at Soapstone Cove.

In the early 1900’s Jack Cann began developing the Apex-El Nido mine across from what would be Pelican. The Apex-El Nido would produce 18,000 ounces of gold but was essentially shutting down at the time of the “Pelican’s” arrival. In the early 1930’s Hjalmer Mork and his partner Jack Ronning arrived to start working their gold mine, the “Goldwin Prospect” near Junction Island. Hjalmer and his wife, Eliza, children Anna, William, Betty, Raymond, Agnes, and Elmer, (Marie was born later), would spend the first winter in tents pitched near the beach. The Morks were joined at their tent encampment by Jack and his wife Agnes; the following year they would float a house to the site from Excursion Inlet. Agnes remarked how she wished the house was over on the sunny side of the inlet; they moved it and that area is now known as “Sunnyside”.

While the Morks and Ronnings were working the “Goldwin Prospect” another mining venture began up the Lisianski River. Jack Koby brought his wife, Inez and their children Betty, Mary, and Jack to the head of Lisianski Inlet and built a small house along the Lisianski River tide flats. The Koby’s prospect was known as the “Lucky Strike” and was located three miles up the river. Jack and a crew of two men took a small tractor to the mine and hauled out the ore in 55 gallon drums to the home site where they processed the ore.

During the early 1930’s a fish buyer from Sitka, Kalle “Charlie” Raatikainen, purchased the vessel “Pelican” to use as a fish packer. Kalle was buying fish from salmon trollers strung along the coast from Khaz Bay to Deer Harbor. Once he emptied the hold of the last fishing boat, he would turn and head 80 miles southeast to Sitka Cold Storage. After unloading the catch Kalle would purchase and load groceries and gear for the trollers then head back west. Kalle was weary of the long days and was determined to solve this by building a cold storage closer to the fishing grounds.
Kalle was well acquainted with Hjalmer Mork and sought his input on where to locate a cold storage. Hjalmer took Kalle to the future site of Pelican and advised him to build his plant at this location. The site had deep water close to shore, a somewhat protected harbor, and a stream with a lake that could be adapted for a small hydroelectric dam. Kalle took Hjalmer’s advice and began making plans for his future fish plant. Kalle was short on money but long on charisma; wisely his attorney Henry Roden incorporated the venture. Kalle took the money he had and put it into materials and wages for workers but it would not be enough. Kalle organized fishermen and some employees to begin construction at the end of the fishing season of 1938.

It is known that on September 26, 1938, on board the “Pelican” were the skipper Arthur Mantyla, bookkeeper Bob DeArmond, a cook by the name of “Slim”, and a cook’s helper Eli Rapich. Kalle had pre-positioned his two fish buying scows to use as a bunk house and mess hall at Lisianski Inlet. Amongst the earliest fishermen present were Peter Brown, Don & Thelma White, Jack “Boomer” Wilcox, Gust Savela, and Arthur “Coho” Walker and wife Martha. While these men and women gathered on the shore of Lisianski Inlet to start building the fish plant, Kalle was in Seattle ordering the materials and lumber.
Within a few days Joe Paddock and his brother Jim arrived with their respective boats towing a pile driver. Other Paddock brothers Ray, Tom, and Martin joined in at various phases of the project. Hjalmer Mork and Jack Ronning brought their air compressor and jack hammers to drill the rock and blast out a foundation for the cold storage. The men worked furiously to prepare a site for the cold storage wharf. Later in the fall, the steamer “Tongass” arrived with the lumber and materials. It was at this time the project nearly came to a halt, Kalle had no money to pay for the materials.
Kalle’s book keeper, Bob DeArmond had the task of advising the Captain of the money crisis. The materials had already been unloaded and it would have been very time consuming to gather them back on board. After a severe berating by the Captain and some radiograms to the Seattle office, the authorization was received to leave the materials with Kalle’s promise to pay. Kalle enlisted a fisherman, Gust Savela, who had an engineering background, to oversee the building of the dam. Savela and his crew of Scandinavians worked on the dam and Jack Koby was employed to do the blasting. Kalle and another crew concentrated on the cold storage. The men first built a bath house, a necessity for these Finlanders, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, etc.
Unfortunately this building burned soon after construction, but true to its importance, another was quickly built. During these years Pelican was often referred to as “Finn Town”. With a bank account in need of funds, meeting payroll was a problem; this was solved by issuing shares of Pelican Cold Storage stock in lieu of cash. A sawmill was brought to the community and lumber was produced for a boardwalk and homes. The Paddock brothers built two of the first private residences; they were later adjoined into a single home. A Sitka investor, Arthur Silverman, built a beer hall and the settlement began to take on the feeling of a community.
A portion of the re-built bath house was used for a store and later a school room; Arvo Wahto from Douglas was the first teacher. The Mork’s and Koby’s moved to town from their respective mines; the men worked on constructing the plant and their children were Pelican’s first students. In November, the first U.S. Post Office was established and Bob DeArmond was appointed postmaster and the name “Pelican” was used to identify the community. By 1940 the Cold Storage was basically “roughed in” but there was no equipment. During the fishing season of 1940 A.R. Breugar of Wrangell brought his floating cannery and tied it up in front of the plant. Breugar operated that summer and produced the first value added product at Pelican.
The war years were a difficult time as materials were in short supply and laborers were needed for production of everything that would be needed to eventually fight a two front war. During the season of 1941 a Sitka businessman, Pros Ganty, partnered with Larry Freeburn to operate a fish cannery inside the cold storage plant. This operation was successful and later a separate building was constructed to house the cannery. Kalle had run out of money and it was at this time Henry Roden, persuaded Norton Clapp to invest into the corporation.Clapp consented on the condition he would be the majority stockholder, it was Clapp’s financing that allowed the needed refrigeration and hydro equipment to be purchased.

Late in 1941 the much needed refrigeration equipment was installed and the hydro was completed. In 1942 Pelican Cold Storage opened for the business of buying, processing, and freezing of fish. In August of 1942 the plant froze its first load of salmon in the “sharp” freezers. There was a significant amount of fish to process but not many workers;
one million pounds of fish were processed the first year. The following year the community was incorporated as an organized city within the Territory. In a little more than four years Kalle Raatikainen's dream had come true, his cold storage was completed, the basics for a community were in place, and the city of Pelican was established. The town's motto "closest to the fish" had brought it into existence.