Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Chignik Bay, Alaska

Chignik, Alaska, is on the Chignik Bay on the Alaskan Peninsula about 200 miles past Kodiak and above the Aleutian Islands. It is still a remote fishing village in a remote region of Alaska based around two fish plants.

Chignik, Alaska; map courtesy of Chignik Bay Adventures

By the time Minerva B. Hansen[1] was born, Chignik was a growing area and the canneries continued to draw people. A summer school had opened in 1903 on the southside of Chignik Bay where a number of Euroamerican men had begun a new settlement. This is where the community, informally known as Andersonville, was established. It was likely named for George Anderson, Minerva's maternal grandfather. St. Nicholas chapel was on the north side of the bay and the residents of Andersonville would paddle across the bay to attend Orthodox services. Also, on the north side were several Native Aleutian communities.

St. Nicholas chapel in Chignik, Alaska; courtesy of the Alaska State Library

According to Michelle Morseth's book, Chignik Bay "became an early geographical boundary between the new community of immigrant men married to local women, and the local Native community. The distinction between the two communities was soon evident since, for many families, establishment of a separate community meant a rejection of Native culture and Russian Orthodoxy.

The bay continued to support two villages for 13 years. The south side became a permanent year-round village with a school, health clinic, and airstrip. Few residents on the north side survived the 1919 epidemic and the old village was abandoned soon after.

Andersonville circa 1909; image courtesy of the Alaska State

Father Modestov, an Orthodox priest, visited Chignik Bay in 1909, seven short years before Minerva was born, and left a description of the village on the north side:

"We arrived in Chignik at 10am and were met by the people on the shore. They took us in a boat to Vvendskoe (north side village), which is half an hour away on the other side of the bay. The village consisting of 2-3 barabaras was founded about ten years ago. In 1907/08 upon the priest's requests, the inhabintants built a church in the name of the Entry (vvendeniye) of Virgin Mary into the Temple. Since then the village has grown. Orthodox from Nushagak mission and Afognak parish moved here. People from other villages are also settling down here since there is a number of local conveniences. There is a lot of fuel in the area and it is close at hand; there is an ample supply of salmon; there are stores and a post office, and two fish canneries where people can get jobs. There is a doctor and the priest visits this settlement every year. Eskimos, Aglemiuts and creoles do not have such conveniences in their old places and, therefore, are settling down in Chignik abandoning their old residences."

'Andersonville circa 1909,' Alaska State Archives
Chignik Bay, Alaska, Chignik Bay Adventures

[1]Minerva B. Hansen was the wife of my first cousin twice removed, Alexander Eugene Muir (1917-1999). They married sometime before 1940 likely in Washington State when Alexander was in the Coast Guard. Minerva's parents were Lars Antone Hansen II and Nancy J. Anderson, whose father came to Chignik in the 1890s and married a creole woman -- someone of Russian and Native Alaskan descent.

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