Cutting wood for a sauna near Bristol Bay, Alaska (1929)

This photograph has an inscription on the back which is written mostly in Finnish:

Finns in Koggiung, Alaska (1929) 6

I was able to read enough of the Finnish words to guess that the men were cutting wood to heat a sauna.  After I published this post, readers in Finland confirmed that guess.  Luisella from Tra Italia e Finlandia helpfully typed out the inscription: Tästä näjet kun me ollaan sauna puita täällä tekemässäSusupetal from susupetal photo gallery kindly translated it: Here you can see how we are cutting wood for sauna.

 

The location, spelled Kaggiung above, refers to an area in Alaska where an Eskimo village called Koggiung was once located.  The village was on the Kvichak River near Graveyard Point, where the Kvichak flows into Bristol Bay.  Graveyard Point can be found on Google Maps.  The last cannery in the area closed in 1959, but seasonal fishing still takes place there.

 

Bristol Bay is home to the largest salmon run in the world.  In the first half of the twentieth century, many canneries were built around the bay.  Immigrants were recruited to work seasonally in the canneries, including Scandinavians from the Seattle area.  Italians, Chinese and Filipinos were recruited from the San Francisco area.

 

Some beautiful pictures of Bristol Bay can be seen on the website of the World Wildlife Fund.

 

We know from the inscription on the back of the photo that the men were gathering for a sauna on June 20, 1929.  In 1929 the summer solstice would occur on Friday, June 21.  A sauna was probably not an unusual event, but a sauna on the eve of the solstice would have been a festive occasion.

Finns in Koggiung, Alaska (1929) 2

Finns in Koggiung, Alaska (1929) 3

Finns in Koggiung, Alaska (1929) 4

Finns in Koggiung, Alaska (1929) 5b

 

If you’d like to learn about the history of fishing in Bristol Bay, the Anchorage Daily News produced an excellent short video in 2015:

 

Finally, I wish all my readers a Happy Summer Solstice on June 20-21, 2021!

 

38 thoughts on “Cutting wood for a sauna near Bristol Bay, Alaska (1929)

Add yours

  1. After watching the fascinating story of the Bay, I can better understand the looks of glee and near mischief on the faces of these men. The summer solstice sauna would have been indeed very welcome, warm and festive. It looked like a very different experience working there than perhaps in New England where entrenched families fished. I never associate immigrant populations with fishing, but it makes sense that those from countries where fishing was essential would be drawn to Bristol Bay. I learned so much today, Brad. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Mary Jo! I wish we knew exactly what sort of work these men did. They could have worked on the boats or in the cannery itself, or they could have been engaged in other work such as carpentry or construction. Here in New England, Finnish men often worked in the building trades. In any case, they seem happy to be there in a remote and beautiful part of Alaska. It may even have been more fun than life in Seattle or wherever their home was. Thank you so much for your very kind comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful “slice of life” photo! The guy in the far right looks like he’s mimicking having a drink! I was at Stonehenge with my family on the eve of the summer solstice in 2007 and we got to see a group of modern-day Druids gathering there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You know, I didn’t realize that man might be mimicking taking a drink! I did wonder if alcohol would be available in such a remote place. Probably only beer, and probably only on special occasions. Midsummer would certainly quality as one of those. How fun to be at Stonehenge for the solstice! I’ve not had a chance to visit Stonehenge yet, but I’d love to see it one day. Thanks so much, Shayne!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Morgaine! I’ve been reading a little about Midsummer traditions. It’s really quite a big event in some European cultures. I wonder why we don’t celebrate it more here in the States. I wonder if it was celebrated more here during the Colonial period, and then the traditions faded.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I concur with the comments of your other readers. I learned a great deal from your post, and the men look as though they were having a good time getting ready for the celebration ahead. Happy Summer Solstice to you as well, Brad!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Terrific post, Brad, full of interesting information and links, and such a happy photo sparking the journey.

    I can only imagine how difficult fishing and cannery work was in 1929, so if those men were about to celebrate the solstice with a sauna, it’s no wonder they’re smiling and posing happily for the photographer!

    Happy Summer Solstice to you, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Rebecca! (Or should I say Becky?😉) The more I learn about Midsummer in Finland and the other Nordic countries, the more I understand that it would have been a really festive occasion for these guys. Party all night! 😀

      Like

  5. Sauna is a must for Finnish people and especially in Midsummer (and Christmas). Those men know what’s ahead and they look so pleased! Midnight sun and sauna (and lots to drink).

    The text translated: Here you can see how we are cutting wood for sauna.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These men were so far from their native land. But they shared a language and traditions. Their fellowship would have made them feel at home. Koggiung would have turned into Little Finland for one night. 🙂

      I wish we had Midsummer traditions here in the USA. They sound really fun!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s interesting to see them using catboats for fishing in that area, although I suppose there’s no need for surprise. Catboats (a single mast forward, with a single gaff or marconi rigged sail) have been used for fishing everywhere from Egypt to the US northeast, and obviously in Alaska, too! Gaff rigs, with four-sided sails, have mostly given way to the marconi rigs, which have three-sided sails. They’re traditionally a working rig, but they’re just as enjoyable for pleasure sailing — Winslow Homer often included them in his paintings.

    The photo’s delightful, and the information about the sauna interesting. I had no idea that a sauna was associated with midsummer festivities — but why not? Particularly in Alaska, it would make sense, although here on the Gulf coast, our summer sauna’s a daily event from about mid-June to September.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s very interesting about the boats and the sails, Linda. When you sailed to Alaska, did you consider going to Bristol Bay?

      I can understand why saunas wouldn’t be popular down there on the Gulf. They aren’t common here in Vermont, either. We have rivers and streams that are swimmable, but not many lakes or ponds.

      Like

  7. Gosh, working the fisheries and canneries looks intense and exhausting! Right down to soldering the cans by hand, and living in boat tents sometimes, wow! I really love this one! There’s something quite special about it. This is a big week ahead! As I understand it, solstice is June 20/21 and midsummer is 23/24. A great freak of merry making to be had. Happy Summer Solstice, Brad! ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy Solstice, Suzanne! When putting this post together, I opted not to use the term Midsummer, because historically that seems to have referred to the holiday celebrated on June 24. However, in modern times it seems to be used to refer to the solstice as well. It’s all a bit confusing, but also good fun! I have to admit that I went to bed last night well before the solstice occurred at 11:32 pm here in the East. 😴 We had a beautiful morning this morning to start off summer, but it’s going to be hot and humid today (89 F). Oh well, it’s summer, after all. 😓😌

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Not terribly relevant to your post, but the mention of Finnish sauna brought back memories of a summer holiday when I was a teenager. We were in a little wooden house in the woods in Finland, not very isolated as there were a number of these houses, but they were spaced out. The water for cooking was fetched from a well (it was better quality than the tapwater). There was a sauna attached to the house (doubling up as a shower) and we used it a few times. When we got really hot, we ran out and jumped into the lake. There was a rowing boat that belonged to the house as well, so we went rowing on the lake as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds really nice! I think the first time I experienced a sauna was when I was quite young, maybe 7 or 8. My family had a cabin in northern Wisconsin and we visited a sauna there. Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota are mostly forested and have a large number of lakes and ponds, so it makes sense that immigrants from Northern Europe would be drawn to them. I fell in love with that environment as a child and will probably always yearn for it on some level, even if I choose to live in a place that’s rather different (for example, more mountainous or closer to a seacoast).

      Like

  9. Ooh, fascinating! What a great find (the picture, and the fact that it has legible handwriting), and you’re absolutely right about the Midsummer sauna! Thank you for sharing this, and though it’s waaaay too late to say this, hope you had a great Midsummer!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: