2015: Visit the Hanthorn Cannery Museum in Astoria

Preserving the History of the Canneries and the Workers

The Hanthorn Cannery Museum in Astoria is a place like no other on the west coast: a collection of old fishing and fish-canning equipment and boats housed in the oldest cannery on the Columbia River, dating from 1875. There is no charge to enter the museum or walk all over the pier, which is a vast space under cover–once used for frozen fish storage and processing.

The 39th St Pier also houses a brew pub, coffee shop, vacation rentals, apartments and regular offices—all with fantastic of the river, anchored ships, and the Washington shore four miles. You can drive onto the pier, but parking is never easy when there it is busy, which is most of the summer!

I volunteer at the museum and also write many stories in there, and I often usually arrive by bike after a bracing two -mile ride along the Riverwalk from downtown. The pier was built by a Mr Hanthorn, then became part of the Columbia River Packers Association (CRPA) in 1897, but is best known by the name it had from 1960-80: Bumble Bee Seafoods, which is now a large corporation based in San Diego.


1897 – A group of 7 cannery owners in Astoria formed Columbia River Packers Association (CRPA). Together, they set out to fish and process salmon. In 1900, CRPA purchased several sailing ships and began building a cannery on Bristol Bay, Alaska.

1910 – The Bumble Bee Brand was coined and became one of many CRPA labels.

1920 – Albacore tuna was discovered in seasonal abundance off the Oregon coast. CRPA began expanding its cannery in Astoria to capitalize on the Albacore.

1930-1950 – Albacore surpassed salmon as the company’s principal product. CRPA grew into a recognized leader in the industry, and Bumble Bee became one of the most respected brands.

1960 – Bumble Bee Seafoods, Inc. became a wholly owned subsidiary of Castle & Cook, a prominent Hawaiian seafood company.

1977 – Bumble Bee continued to expand, acquiring a tuna cannery in Puerto Rico, a fishing operation in Ecuador, and Harbor Industry cannery in San Diego.

1980 – Bumble Bee closed all canning operations in Astoria.

1984 – Bumble Bee underwent a series of ownership changes.

1999 – Bumble Bee purchased BC Packers –owners of Clover Leaf, the leading brand of tuna and salmon in Canada. It also began distributing King Oscar packed sardines.

2003 – Bumble Bee became Bumble Bee Seafoods, LLC., and grew into the largest branded seafood company in North America.

2008 – Bumble Bee was acquired by Centre Partners, becoming a privately held U.S. company.

2010 – Bumble Bee Foods is acquired by Lion Capital LLP.

Pier 39 banner PM webHere is some background on the foundation.

1) The Hanthorn Cannery Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the preservation of the history of the Columbia River fish canneries, cannery workers, and fishing industry from 1875 to the present.

2) The foundation was founded in 2004 and operates the Hanthorn Cannery Museum on Pier 39, Astoria– the oldest surviving cannery building on the Columbia River, founded 1875.

3) The museum is open every day, free of charge, and strives to educate and inform visitors about the daily life and work of the canneries.

Financial Support

The biggest supporter of the foundation’s work is the Bumble Bee corporation of San Diego, which stays in close contact with the museum. The Samuel Johnson Foundation also gave us a grant of $5000–thanks to Senator Betsy Johnson. Individual donors have been fishing-industry veterans and their family members. The foundation applied for the Clatsop Cultural Coalition Grant and was awarded $2,000 in December 2014 for the re-wiring of the museum and installation of LED lighting throughout.

(This was followed by the installation of two LED video screens in the spring.)

CRPA cannery ladies enjoy a break from work in the 1940's when a fishing boat brings in an octopus

CRPA cannery ladies enjoy a break from work in the 1940’s when a fishing boat brings in an octopus

Re-Building Projects Winter 2014-15

Unfortunately, this success was quickly followed by the discovery of a broken 12” X 15” beam supporting the floor of the museum had broken in half. This was luckily spotted during a routine inspection under the building at low tide, and threatened the foundation of the entire museum area. The local experts called “pilebucks” worked at low tide over the next three weeks to install temporary pilings while replacing the broken beam and supporting it with new verticals set on old but sturdy pilings. The cost was $2,700.

Future Structural Repairs

This problem has already re-occurred again in April 2015 in another corner of the museum, though I have been assured that this is not yet an emergency. But it has resulted in a revisal of our structural preservation plan: we are now focusing our attention and fund-raising on the repair of the pilings and timbers that support the museum floor–and the surrounding pier. (The entire structure sits on pilings in the Columbia River 120 feet from shore.)

bumble bee signGoals 2015-16

1) Ensure the soundness of all pilings, beams etc. under the museum and in the adjoining areas of the pier. Repair all problem spots before they threaten the existence of the museum.

2) Bringing the museum into compliance with local fire safety rules, requiring the installation of sprinklers.

3) Rebuilding the sagging freezer room walls, ceilings and floors.



About seamarsh

Still trying to find the answers to life's nautical questions.
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