Immigrants from the Bristol Bay village of Nushagak founded Kanatak in 1890. Kanatak grew from "just a few barabaras" to a village of at least 100 people by the 1940's. Ties with other communities were maintained when friends and relatives traveled to Kanatak for summer work at the cannery. The village was also a refuge for families from Cold Bay, Katmai, and Wrangell after their homes were destroyed by the Katmai volcanic eruption.
The oil drilling industry brought many others to Kanatak in the 1920's. Marlane Shanigan, who belongs to one of the last families to leave the village, describes this period:
"Kanatak ... was once a major town. It sprang to life in the 1920's with the beginning of oil exploration and died almost as quickly in the late 1940's ... when the oil companies left so did the stores, the bakery, the hotels, and the merchants. Residents eventually chose to spend their time in Kodiak, Egegik, and Chignik, communities that offered jobs and a place for children to go to school.... Because of this, many writers have referred to Kanatak as 'abandoned.' However, I disagree. Abandonment means that one leaves without the intention of returning" (quoted in Crowell, Steffian and Pullar 2001).
Ms. Shanigan goes on to say that the Kanatak Tribal Council is working today "to enable us to rebuild our homes and to establish a direct connection to our land ... and thus to our Alutiiq culture."
A visit to the oil town of Kanatak, circa 1930's.
Courtesy of Anchorage Museum of History and Art, B64.1.354.
"New Kanatak" during oil exploration, circa 1920. Courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks, Rasmuson Library, Mather Collection 82-178-69.
Sod and frame houses in Kanatak, circa 1920.
Courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks, Rasmuson Library, Mather Collection, 82-149-2240.
Chief Kalmakoff and wife and Haddie, Kanatak, circa 1922. Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Henton Collection, B65.18.182.
A woman and two children in ground-squirrel parkas at Kanatak, circa 1909. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, Flamen Ball Collection, PCA 24-109.