Kake’s historic salmon-packing cannery was an economic driver for the city from the 1912 through the 1940s. It closed for good in 1977. When it was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1997, the Keku Cannery was the best-preserved Alaska salmon cannery in Southeast, with original worker housing, boardwalks between buildings, period machinery and a strong connection with the Tlingit Native community, many of whom had fished and worked at the cannery. It was heralded as an illustrative example of how the industry worked at the time, using foreign contract workers. The Kake Cannery complex included bunkhouses for Native, Caucasian, Filipino, Chinese and Japanese workers. The cannery was physically separated from the city for many years, since it was built before the bridge over Gunnuk Creek was constructed. Workers who lived in Kake has to use rowboats as part of their daily commute!
Since its designation as a National Historic Landmark, some of the buildings in the cannery complex have deteriorated and fallen down. In 2013, the cannery was identified by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the most endangered historic sites in the country.
The tribe owns the cannery in trust for the purpose of stimulating the local economy, and in recent years, a development plan has taken shape. The Historic Cannery Restoration and Dock Project will fully restore the cannery and construct a multi-purpose dock to provide moorings for larger boats and ships.
Project leaders envision a building that will serve as a gateway to Kake, with space for artists, vendors, historic displays, a community meeting area, and local groups, such as the Keex’ Kwaan Dancers.