The following series of articles are written by Cher Easley, whose mother, JoAnn Winifred Jackson, born in 1921 in Norway, spent her early years living on fox farms in the Goddard area. JoAnn married Murray "Frenchy" LaCour. She died in 1988 and is buried in Sitka.
JoAnn’s sister Gertie (Grethe), born in 1926, was married to Francis "Andy" Anderson until 1988, and is now married to Frank Ahern. Their youngest sister Polly (Anna) was born on Legma Island in 1927, and married Edward “Shorty” Swearingen. Polly died in 1992 and is also buried in Sitka. There were also brothers George and Chris, so there are a few cousins and descendants around Sitka still.
Please enjoy this account of one family, and if you have any comments or stories, corrections or additions, please leave your note in the comments or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
Fur farming was the third largest industry in Alaska in the 1920s, behind fishing and mining. The popularity of fur farming on southeastern Alaska islands, which farmers leased from the U.S Forest Service, forced many Alaska Native families off property they had used for countless generations. This injustice must be remembered as part of the story, as well as the ancient, rich Tlingit traditions, place names and stories associated with this place near Shee At’iká T’aay X’é, or the Shee At’iká (the islands around Sitka) hot springs mouth.
- Rebecca Poulson
Part 1: Coming to Alaska
Any folks who traveled from one country to another with their spouse and/or children in those days were issued a “family passport.” Grampa was identified as a fox farmer; Anna as a housewife and there must have been an “under five” discount fare (free?) because even though Gerhard (Uncle George) was six and Johanne (my mom JoAnn) was four, their passbook and the passenger list say he was four and she was three years old.
Obviously, they did need to save every dollar they could because Grampa had a huge stack of bills to pay and needed a lot more money to travel and settle into their new, targeted, unique island home. In an interview he had with Forest Service ladies Rachel Myron and Megan Pasternak, here’s some of what Uncle George said about his family moving to Alaska in 1926:
On May 12th, Kristoffer (Grampa), Anna (Nanny), Gerhard (our Uncle George) and Johanne (our mom JoAnn) left their home in Myssa which was a subdivision of Sokndal, the “big city” (with its administration center in Hauge i Dalane), on the southern end of Norway. They needed to get transported to Stavanger for their connection to Newcastle, England--a train that took about four hours and 40 minutes. From there they had to go about 124 more miles (about 2 hours and 53 minutes) to get to Liverpool, England. That’s where they boarded their “final connection” to reach Halifax in Nova Scotia.
The Canadian Immigration Service’s Passenger List on the SS Baltic II manifest lists Grampa as a farmer in Sokndal, Norway, who intended to be a fisherman when he got to Canada.
This ship they came over on could carry up to 2,875 passengers. There was room for 425 in First Class, 450 in Second Class and the rest were in Third Class, which is the one our family rode in. Six-year-old George was feeling very homesick and angry because he had to leave his best friend and favorite Gramma. Aunt Gertie remembers George describing the ocean trip and “accommodation” on the boat as not being very good—he said it was more like “steerage-crowded, noisy, and miserable—those were his descriptive words.” My mom JoAnn was also wishing she could have stayed home with her cousin Hjordes. She got lice in her hair and almost had to have a total shave. Anna (Nanny) was also homesick and pretty much constantly seasick because she was five months pregnant and her stomach was kind of “gentle.”
They also had to deal with one of the most important issues when traveling with two little ones- the availability of a potty. The description of the Baltic II said if a room didn’t have a private bath, there was a generous provision of conveniently located public bathrooms that were kept immaculate. Plus, if passengers wanted a bath, a steward or stewardess would make arrangements. Even though it was the lowest ticket price, Third Class looks pretty nice; it had a playroom for the kids and check out the dining room—where most of the passengers did end up taking their meals. The average table had seats for four to six people. The ship did have electric heat and lighting and if you wanted shoes cleaned and polished you could just leave them outside your door for pickup & they would be returned the next morning.
Uncle George said, “We arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the eastern coast of Canada then we were going clear across Canada on a train and stay over on the Western Coast till we could uh, emigrate. It had something to do with the quota system on May 24th. A lot of the other passengers on this ship were Englanders leaving their country because of the miners’ strike; most of them probably thinking they could get coal miner jobs in Canada or America.”
Grampa had gotten an ok for the family to stay with Mr. R.J. Verne, a friend who lived in Vancouver, British Columbia. And one thing for sure is our Grampa had no intention of living there or anywhere else in Canada.
Even though it was May, they were going across the Rockies, which meant traveling in snow. He also had to pay for four trans-country tickets to the West Coast--- And incredible as it seems, this was 2,752 miles by train (more miles than they sailed to get across the ocean) to get over to Vancouver. They said this trip usually took about a week.
Today, certain of these westbound train trips from the colorful, lively Halifax on the east coast of this enormous country experience the best of cross-country Canadian travel. From this fishing village in Nova Scotia, through the history of French-speaking Quebec, across prairies and through the breath-taking beauty of the Canadian Rockies takes 16 days, and costs $7,719 per person, according to Canada Rails Vacation.
For the next few months, Kristoffer worked at a lumber mill. Every day they all learned more English (which actually turned out to be really helpful when they did get to America). However, the more time they had to wait, the more they worried about spending all their money. Obviously they were going to need some when they got to the USA and up to Alaska.
One of the experiences (stories) they told about these trying times was when Anna was going to the market to buy some fresh salmon. She got in the “three items or less” line and didn’t think she had to look inside the wrapping before the fish was bagged. When she got home and discovered it was lingcod and she had paid twice the price for it, Grampa was pretty ticked off.
He had been doing everything he could to make sure they weren’t spending more money than they had to so they would have enough to get up to Alaska. He definitely didn’t appreciate anyone taking advantage of their situation. So, he went to the “return” manager at the market and asked for his money back or twice the amount of fish he had paid for!
It was about four months after living in Vancouver British Columbia, Canada when the family was allowed to cross the border into America, at Blaine, Washington, on the 14th of September 1926. Three days later, after settling into a hotel room, Nanny went into labor. George and JoAnn remembered being very scared because they were left in such a “strange” place all by themselves.
Well, Grampa did have to get Nanny to this hospital and sure enough Grethe (Aunt Gertie), arrived on the 18th - so she was their first child born in America! Nice!
AND, these “other two” were very happy when their mom and dad came back the next morning with their new baby sister.
The Alaska-Juneau (AJ) Mine was a big camp about 1½ miles east of Juneau with a bunk house and mess hall. There were cabins, a post office and even a school. There were about 600 workers and right then it was the main economic engine for Juneau. It wasn’t until 1944 that it was declared a “nonessential wartime activity” and closed.
Grampa was able to find and rent an apartment located above the funeral parlor and JoAnn (mom) remembered it was very very cold. Over a funeral parlor? Not surprisingly, staying in Juneau throughout the winter, and working in the Alaska-Juneau (AJ) Mine, most likely it was. He probably stayed out there at the mine while he was on shift which was definitely ok because most likely the apartment they were renting was pretty crowded.
To be continued: Part 2: The Chris Jackson Family on Legma Island