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Sitka, Alaska as a Port Stop


The last time I was on a cruise to Alaska, Sitka was not on the itinerary. Normally, I write about a port AFTER I have been to that location, and I provide my opinion and post pictures. In this case I am going to post information I have obtained in advance of my trip and then following my visit in June of 2024, I will follow up with my thoughts, activities and photos.


This small town has a population of just under 9,000 which can swell to over 11,000 when a cruise ship arrives. Since approximately 250,000 cruise ship passengers arrive every year, this location sees a fair amount of tourism.


Located on Baranof Island, this place started as an indigenous village, peopled by the Tlingit tribe. The name of the tribe, when translated into English, means 'People of the Tides' and they are part of the west coast tribes located in British Columbia and Alaska.


History

Russians seized control of the area in 1804 following a battle with the Tlingit. The site of that battle forms part of Sitka National Historical Park.


As many know, Alaska, and the area of Sitka remained under Russian control until Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867 (which is also the year of Canada’s confederation). Sitka had grown while under the control of the Russians, so the sale to the United States was finalized in Sitka and this town served as the capital of the state until 1906.


During the Second World War, it served as a Naval Air Station with military personnel stationed there. The base was subsequently closed and is now a National Historic Landmark.


Today, tourism, fishing and pulp and paper play a role in the town’s industry. Although gold mining did play a role in the town’s growth, it is not considered a current flourishing business.

The town expanded onto Japonski Island when the O’Connell Bridge was built and currently, the town occupies areas of the two islands.


Things to Do

I have talked to people who have recently visited this town and I was told that this is a walkable port with most of the attractions fairly close to the docks.

 

There is reportedly a free shuttle bus service that leaves the cruise ship area and goes to downtown Sitka every 10 minutes. It drops people off at the Harrigan Centennial Hall which is where some of the shore excursion operators want to meet people (and where a free walking tour starts). The bus ride takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

 

Some of the sights to see are:

 

  • St. Michael's Cathedral which is a Russian Orthodox church. Please note that this is a replacement church as the original burnt down. However, some of the interior items are historic originals that were saved from the burning building.

 

  • The Sheldon Jackson Museum (he was a missionary in the late 1800s), holds a lot of regional and ancestral artifacts.

 

  • The Alaska Raptor Center rehabilitates injured birds such as bald eagles, falcons and owls. For bird lovers, there are a huge number of bald eagles in the area for those who may wish to capture photos of these magnificent creatures and I have posted a few pictures taken by my brother.

 

  • Sitka Historical Museum which is located within the Harrigan Centennial Hall. I am told it is small but well worth a visit.

 

  • The Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall is also reported to be an interesting visit and it has a show featuring indigenous dancing highlighting three different area peoples (Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian). It should be noted that the Tlingit and the Haida Nations are two separate and distinct groups who are often confused as one. Southeast Alaska is the ancestral home of both these peoples who share common customs. Their art is similar as are some of their traditions such as the holding of potlaches to celebrate births, marriages, naming ceremonies and special event commemorations. 

 

There are shops to be found in the main area of town and it is reported that many sell items bearing traditional Tlingit designs; items such as hand-made silver pieces, carvings, masks and woven baskets.

 

For those looking for items based on the historical Russian influence, there are lacquer boxes, nesting dolls, icons and paintings.

 

Tourists can also find contemporary artwork and sculptures and, if you don't mind paying for shipping, you can have a totem pole designed and shipped to your home.

 

As mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog, I will be posting further information and pictures in the not-too-distant future.

 

If anyone has any comments or questions, please feel free to comment here or contact me at: gailgauvreau@gailgauvreau.com

 

 


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