In 1948, seventeen-year-old Albert Tarkanen was in the market for a new boat. Albert had started out fishing with his dad when he was ten and a few years later got his own little boat, the Starfish, but now he was ready for something more suitable for a serious fisherman.
The hull for Albert's new acquisition would be built at Toivo Aro's boat shed in Sointula, and the wheelhouse/cabin just down the street at Tarkanen Marine Ways, his own family's boatbuilding business, started by Albert's dad Jack in the early 1940s. When the boat was ready, young Albert handed over $1500.00 of his hard-earned money and took possession of the new vessel, a 34-foot double-ended gillnetter named Sturgeon I,
Over the next forty years the Sturgeon I passed through the hands of five different owners, all of them Sointula fishermen. The last of these was Nancy Poulton, who purchased the boat in 1989 and fished it with her partner, Davie Lanqvist, and son Roger until 1998-99. After that, the boat was officially retired, its working life at an end, and took up residence at the Sointula breakwater.
In 2010 the Sturgeon I came to the attention of Shane Field, then a resident of Sointula. Field was concerned that changes in the traditional economic base of the community—no more commercial boatbuilding coupled with reduced opportunities for fishing— would lead to a loss of awareness of how important a role these activities had played in Sointula's history. Someone suggested to him that the Sturgeon I, with its deep connections to both boatbuilding and fishing, and its impeccable local roots, would be a good candidate for preservation. The following year, Field and Sue Ness, then Chair of the Sointula Museum committee, purchased the boat for the value of the outstanding moorage fees, and its new life as historical artefact began.
Right from the beginning, Ness was very clear about the museum's goal: "The Sointula Museum is committed to the restoration of the Sturgeon I because it represents so well the two industries that defined our community." But restoration was only half of the job ahead, because once that work was completed, a new home would have to be found for the boat, a permanent location accessible by the public. As it turned out, the museum's commitment to the Sturgeon I project set in motion a process that would involve the entire community of Sointula for almost ten years.
As well as sustaining all the expected wear and tear that comes with being a working boat, the Sturgeon I had also undergone various modifications over the years, and returning it to its original state required not only a skilled craftsman but someone with knowledge of local boatbuilding traditions. Enter Andy Anderson, a lifelong Sointula resident who ran his own marine repair-and-maintenance business, Anderson Ways, for many years, and whose grandfather had established the community's first shipyard in 1918. Definitely the man for the job.
The restoration project began in the spring of 2012. In addition to donating his own shop space, equipment and labour, Anderson also volunteered to supervise the process, which started at the bottom: the boat went first to Tarkanen Marine Ways to have its hull cleaned, all work done free of charge.
By the way, if the name 'Tarkanen' sounds familiar, that's no coincidence; Albert, the eager young fisherman who originally commissioned the building of the Sturgeon I, took over the boat business from his father, and it's still in the family. And despite being in his eighties, Albert was still able to contribute to the restoration of his old boat. After the hull cleaning, the Sturgeon I was moved down the street to Anderson's boat shed. Anderson Ways was no longer in operation, but the building still stood —and still stands in 2020, but with different owners—on 1st Street, just across from the Coop hardware store.
In 2014, the restoration was complete, and the focus of the project changed: time to get the Sturgeon I settled in a permanent home. In a small community, finding a suitable site on land to display a 34-foot boat to its best advantage presents a challenge. The location must be accessible to the public for viewing, but at the same time not present any dangers to that public. Enter the Malcolm Island Lions Club Harbour Authority, the federal government's designated managers of the Sointula harbour. Would the Sointula Museum (now officially the Sointula Museum and Historical Society) be interested in a nice spot at the harbour, a busy location frequented by locals and visitors alike? Yes, indeed it would. An agreement was drawn up, covering everything from site preparation to future maintenance, bringing the Sturgeon I one step closer to reaching its final resting place.
It's never difficult, in a story like this, to pick out the stars of the show: the Sointula Museum, which started the ball rolling by acquiring an ideal candidate for preservation; Andy Anderson, for his expertise and guidance; The Malcolm Island Lions Club for its contribution of not only the site, but construction labour and materials; Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) for funding that provided a substantial portion of the financing needed. But behind the front-page appearances were many other key players: people who donated storage space when it was needed, who fundraised for months (years!) to make sure there would be enough money, who prepared the interpretive signage; in short, who did whatever was asked of them to make this project a success.
Thanks to COVID-19, the official launch party for the Sturgeon I Pavilion had to be postponed, but in the meantime, the community of Sointula is inviting its neighbours to make a trip to the harbour and see this fine tribute to the two industries that shaped and defined one little village. It is a memorial not just to past achievements but also an expression of the current generation's commitment to preserve the spirit of a time that is gone and will never come again.