The Sapphire Princess docked at Ketchikan, Alaska this morning at 6:30am. As we were coming into port, Peter snapped some wonderful pictures of our journey.
We were on shore by 7:15am and began our tour of the city, attended an amazing lumberjack show, and toured Totem Bight Park. Ketchikan received its name from the Tlingit people, who originally settled this area as a summer fishing camp. The Tlingit name for Ketchikan Creek was recorded in 1881. One translation of the word extends into “spread wings of a prostrate eagle” because the course of the creek when viewed from above resembled the outspread wings of an eagle. Another version says the real name was Katskan or land belonging to Kats, an early Tlingit chief.
By the late 19th century, the discovery of gold and copper created a need for a mining supply center. Gold was discovered in the nearby hills and copper was discovered a short time later. Ketchikan quickly became the supply center for all the mines in the surrounding area. Ketchikan’s economy is dependent on tourism, commercial fishing activity and marine and retail services. Today it is a popular tourist destination. It is known as “The First City” because it is the first stop for ships heading north along the famed inside passage.
It was a glorious weather day in Ketchikan, the SUN was out and by midday it was in the high 60s. Our tour guide told us that seeing the SUN is VERY rare, even in the summer. Make a note that Ketchikan gets an average of about 14 FEET a year of rain! OH MY GOD! I need the sun, however I learned that people in Ketchikan need the rain. They love the rain, and we were told people get edgy when it doesn’t rain in a few days. Want to know why? Because Ketchikan has no municipal water supply and the only source of water is RAIN. Every house has a cistern to catch rain. To me this gives rain a whole new meaning. Rain is a necessity for life here. From my East coast perspective, I would say living in Ketchikan is downright challenging at best. It may be tolerable May through September, but after that point, the amount of sunlight decreases each day and the weather becomes cold. Ketchikan’s number one industry is tourism, with 36 cruise ships visiting EACH DAY during the summer! During the winter months the whole area goes into hibernation. Ketchikan is an island and the only way onto it is by ship or plane. Our tour guide told us that Alaska Airlines is the ONLY airline that flies into Ketchikan and the cost of an hour and a half flight from Ketchikan to Seattle is over $600. Being an island, the cost of living for residents is very high. Our tour guide bought 3 bundles of asparagus in the grocery store last week and she spent $23 on that alone and a package of ground beef was over $9. In a way it leaves you speechless! Keep in mind that our tour guide is a special education teacher during the year and in the summer months she is a tour guide. She says she can’t live in Ketchikan on her $36,000 a year school job.
The first stop on our tour today was to a lumberjack show. Peter was familiar with this sport, since he has seen these lumberjack athletes perform on ESPN. Honestly I did not know what to expect, but after watching this entertaining and yet amazing show for an hour, I can clearly see the art and skill needed to be a lumberjack. It doesn’t necessarily involve just sheer strength and bulk, it requires ability and agility. The audience at the show was divided into two halves. One half cheered for the American “Spruce Pine Mill” lumberjacks and the other half cheered for the Canadian “Dawson Creek” lumberjacks. These two teams competed with each other doing various lumberjack stunts. The site upon which the show took place was the old Spruce Pine Mill of Ketchikan and the only other large pine mill nearby was in Canada, The Dawson Creek Mill. So history provides some explanation for the names of the competing lumberjack teams.
Our “Dawson Creek” team member, Bryce, throwing an axe at a target! Bryce was an amazing lumberjack and apparently he has achieved an “ironjack” status, a status that only 19 other people have obtained in the world!
Bryce won the pole climbing competition today. He climbed up 55 feet in the air within 30-40 seconds!
Our other team member, Michael, was also amazing. Very agile and light on his feet. During the log rolling competition it almost seemed like he was dancing rather than just picking up his feet.
At the end of the performance, Peter took my picture with the two competing teams.
The next stop on our tour was to Totem Bight Park. At this park, we learned about the rich Native American history on the Island of Ketchikan. In fact, during two weeks of every school year, local Native Americans come into the classrooms and teach curriculum. The Native American history, traditions, and culture are imperative to all that live in Ketchikan, and Native American children and non-Native American children are integrated in the same schools. In addition, in middle school, every Ketchikan child is sent on a three day “survival camp.” Basically that entails a test of survival. Middle school children are given only a sleeping bag and NO other provisions. They must use the skills taught to them by Native Americans in order to live for three days without food, water, or shelter. As I was listening to this, the scary notion crossed my mind that I would never have graduated from middle school if I grew up in Ketchikan.
At this park we learned about Native American Clan Houses. Within each house lived an extended family of about 40 or more people. All these people were related to each other. However, I must emphasize that in this one large roomed house there was NO privacy. There were no closets, instead of walk in closets, they used walk on closets (closets which were found under the floor boards). In each clan house was also totem poles. I learned today that there are six different types of totem poles. Some are for memorial purposes or serve as headstones of a deceased and others can be used as supporting posts within a house for example. Nonetheless regardless of the purpose, the totem pole ALWAYS tells a story. Not in WORDS, but in pictures. Usually pictures of animals. In addition, totem poles always have a human face on them, to indicate the strongest or most dominate part of the structure. Like we read a book from left to right, a totem pole is read from bottom to top! It was fascinating to me how our tour guide who is a non-Native American knew many of the legends and cultural stories of her local tribes. In fact, she was able to translate many of the totem poles we saw and shared the legends and meanings with us. It was like listening to an Aesop fable, filled with meaning and a moral lesson!