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Return to Juneau


The author and his sister Mary on a fishing expedition in Alaska, circa 1950. (They didnít catch anything; thatís the bait.) © Virginia Cobb, M.D. As my wife and I stood on the residential Juneau street corner, obviously looking like tourists, a kind Alaskan gentleman stopped his car in front of us. "Can I help you find something?" he asked.

 

"I think we’ve found it," I replied with a smile, and headed up the hill toward my old home.

We were on a mini-quest to find the house I’d lived in with my parents from 1949-51. I’d dug through my father’s old military records (He served in World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, and as a civilian in Vietnam.) in an effort to locate the Juneau address, only to discover he had used a Post Office Box number on all his correspondence. I did find a black-and-white Brownie snapshot of the house, probably taken in 1950, and it was in my pocket as we arrived at Sixth Street. I was following a 50-year-old memory and we were nearly there.

* * *

A month after my twelfth birthday, in August 1949, my parents, my little sister and I steamed up the Inside Passage from Seattle, Washington, to Juneau, Alaska. For the next two years we lived in the territorial capital as my parents, both physicians, worked for the federal government and I attended seventh and eighth grades.

Since then, I’d always wondered what it would be like to return and revisit my remote childhood home. The 50th anniversary of that summer was too significant to pass up, so to recreate that voyage I booked a cabin on the Holland America Line for a cruise up the Inside Passage and back.

On August 23, 1999, my wife, Soma, and I boarded the ms Veendam, towering 12 stories above the surface of the water at Vancouver’s downtown Canada Place Pier. Brilliant summer sunshine bathed the city, the harbor, and the surrounding mountains as we cast off and steamed northward. Our British captain, Jonathan Peter Harris, threaded the giant ship between the 10,000 islands that shelter the Canadian and Alaskan coastline from the open Pacific.

The Inside Passage from Vancouver, B.C. north to the Panhandle of Alaska is a series of channels carved by glaciers over the millennia. Some 10,000 heavily forested islands protect the sea-lane from the open Pacific.© John Stickler. Our 720-foot ocean liner boasted 633 cabins, a casino, nightclub, movie theater, a spa/fitness center, two luxurious dining rooms, two swimming pools, numerous shops, bars, lounges and comfortable areas (inside and on deck) for just sitting and marveling as the wild, unspoiled scenery unfolds on both sides of the ship. There were 1,299 other passengers on board our giant, water-borne resort.

At mid-day on August 25, we glided through Gastineau Channel an hour ahead of schedule and docked at Juneau under overcast skies. We’d covered 788 nautical miles in 44 hours.

Soma and I walked down the gangplank, raincoats at the ready, and started up the hill toward my old neighborhood. In 1949 Juneau had a population of 13,000, which has boomed over the intervening years to some 30,000 – still the smallest U.S. state capital. The steep faces of Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau crowd the city into the channel, leaving only a narrow strip of land for the city. The historic part of town is only three or four blocks wide. Seventh Street, my street, is at the top.

St. Anne’s hospital, where my mother had an office, still stands at Sixth Street, though it looks much smaller than I remembered. Just after I took a photo of the building, the helpful gentleman stopped his car for us. I knew we had only one more block to go.

It was easy to find. The entire block holds only six residences, three facing uphill and three down. Ours was the upper middle one and it looked much as I remembered when we left the territory in 1951. The number, 411 Seventh St., rang a faint bell as I said it aloud.

For a brief moment, time folded backward and 50 years faded away. I was a kid again. Thick, wet snow covered everything and I was in a snowball fight – right on this street, long, long ago. Returning to the present, I noticed that the once-white exterior of the house I had lived in had been painted a sad, faded green. The 1949 front hedge had grown into five odd, red-berry-bearing trees, now taller than the two-story home.

The memory confronted and confirmed, we turned from the past to the future and strode off to see more of Juneau. The light mist now became a light rain.

I photographed the nearby St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (1894), the nearby 35-room Governor’s House (1912), and the nearby Capital Building (1931) with its majestic Alaskan marble columns. (In Juneau everything is nearby, except the Mendenhall Glacier, 13 miles out of town.)

One of the oldest buildings in Juneau is the Russian Orthodox church, St. Nicholas, erected in 1894. It is only a few blocks from my parentsí former home. © John Stickler. Juneau enjoys 80 inches of rain per year. Locals call it "liquid sunshine." Its insistent presence suggested that we should be back aboard the warm, dry ship. We soon were.

 

Employment in the capital is split roughly 50/50: half its residents work for federal, state and local governments, and half work in the seasonal tourism industry. "Industry" may be too strong a term for such a friendly business, but in Alaska, where the season runs from mid-May to mid-September, it is appropriate. The Alaska-Juneau gold mine, once a major employer, closed in 1944.

The giant cruise ships play musical chairs, hopping from one coastal town to the next overnight. When the ms Veendam slid into Juneau, we took the third and final dock space. A Norwegian ship, arriving just behind us, had to anchor in the harbor and shuttle its passengers to shore in little motorboats.

John Manzor, president of the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau, cites 1997 statistics that show each cruise passenger spends an average of $117, and during the summer season they pour in at a rate of 5,000 every day. Total arrivals continue to increase steadily each year, hitting 591,000 in 1999.

Many passengers use the daylong stops to enjoy sightseeing excursions, boarding float planes, helicopters and tour buses. There are extraordinary opportunities to observe nature in the raw: whales, glaciers, birds and pristine forests. Agents at dockside booths sign up disembarking passengers who haven’t pre-booked a tour. Less adventurous voyagers stroll through town, easily identified by their tote bags emblazoned with cruise line logos.

When I was a kid, the waterfront area was rough, lined with bars and brothels. (On Sunday mornings I used to peddle papers down there.) Since then it has morphed into a busy tourist haven filled with fine art galleries, jewelry shops, furriers, clothing boutiques and arcades full of postcards and T-shirts. Under the premise "build it and they will spend," all the merchants are competing for the vital visitor dollars. Some of the stores are recent extensions of Caribbean businesses – if they were successful in Barbados or the Bahamas during the winter, why not follow the ships to Alaska to catch the summer passengers?

For me, the rest of the weeklong cruise was a delightful bonus. The next morning we were moored in Skagway, the jumping off point for the Klondike gold rush in 1898. From there we took a side trip by catamaran ferry to see Haines and the 1903 Army post, Fort William H. Seward. The following day we spent in Glacier Bay, the spectacular network of fiords where huge rivers of ice congregate to celebrate global warming.

The ms Veendam spends the better part of a day cruising the spectacular fiords of Glacier Bay, north of Juneau. Photo courtesy of Image Photo Services.The last and only stop on the way back was Ketchikan, "The Salmon Capital of the World." By dawn on the eighth day we were gliding smoothly back into Vancouver’s sheltered harbor.

A cruise up the Inside Passage is an exhilarating combination of luxury, relaxation, fine dining, adventure and entertainment. I can recommend it, even if you aren’t searching for your childhood home.

* * *

When you go:

The Convention & Visitors Bureau (at 134 Third Street, Juneau, AK 99801) naturally encourages longer stays. Call the toll-free number, (888) 581-2201 and ask for their colorful 2000 Travel Planner. It is packed with a surprising amount of information on what to see and do in the capital.

The INNside Passage Chapter of the Bed & Breakfast Association of Alaska includes 16 of the finer B&Bs in the area, from historic Juneau homes to modern accommodations. (The CVB has more than 50 B&Bs in its membership, including bunks on a sailing boat.) Contact the B&B Association at: P.O. Box 22800, Juneau, AK 99802; Tel: (907) 789-8822.

For reservations on Holland America Line cruises, contact your travel agent or call Holland America toll-free (800) 426-0327. Ask for the four-color catalog, 2000 Cruises & CruiseTours. They can also book your connecting flight to Vancouver, British Columbia on a Fly Cruise Plan.

Alternatively, Alaska Airlines has 11 daily flights into Vancouver and up to 15 daily flights to Juneau from seven West Coast cities. Contact Alaska Airlines at (800) 252-7522. The Web site is www.alaskaair.com

John Stickler has been writing about travel since 1963 when he covered the opening of the Walker Hill Resort in Seoul, Korea.

One of the oldest buildings in Juneau is the Russian Orthodox church, St. Nicholas, erected in 1894. It is only a few blocks from my parentsí former home. © John Stickler. Juneau enjoys 80 inches of rain per year. Locals call it "liquid sunshine." Its insistent presence suggested that we should be back aboard the warm, dry ship. We soon were.

Employment in the capital is split roughly 50/50: half its residents work for federal, state and local governments, and half work in the seasonal tourism industry. "Industry" may be too strong a term for such a friendly business, but in Alaska, where the season runs from mid-May to mid-September, it is appropriate. The Alaska-Juneau gold mine, once a major employer, closed in 1944.

The giant cruise ships play musical chairs, hopping from one coastal town to the next overnight. When the ms Veendam slid into Juneau, we took the third and final dock space. A Norwegian ship, arriving just behind us, had to anchor in the harbor and shuttle its passengers to shore in little motorboats.

John Manzor, president of the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau, cites 1997 statistics that show each cruise passenger spends an average of $117, and during the summer season they pour in at a rate of 5,000 every day. Total arrivals continue to increase steadily each year, hitting 591,000 in 1999.

Many passengers use the daylong stops to enjoy sightseeing excursions, boarding float planes, helicopters and tour buses. There are extraordinary opportunities to observe nature in the raw: whales, glaciers, birds and pristine forests. Agents at dockside booths sign up disembarking passengers who havenít pre-booked a tour. Less adventurous voyagers stroll through town, easily identified by their tote bags emblazoned with cruise line logos.

When I was a kid, the waterfront area was rough, lined with bars and brothels. (On Sunday mornings I used to peddle papers down there.) Since then it has morphed into a busy tourist haven filled with fine art galleries, jewelry shops, furriers, clothing boutiques and arcades full of postcards and T-shirts. Under the premise "build it and they will spend," all the merchants are competing for the vital visitor dollars. Some of the stores are recent extensions of Caribbean businesses Ė if they were successful in Barbados or the Bahamas during the winter, why not follow the ships to Alaska to catch the summer passengers?

For me, the rest of the weeklong cruise was a delightful bonus. The next morning we were moored in Skagway, the jumping off point for the Klondike gold rush in 1898. From there we took a side trip by catamaran ferry to see Haines and the 1903 Army post, Fort William H. Seward. The following day we spent in Glacier Bay, the spectacular network of fiords where huge rivers of ice congregate to celebrate global warming.

The ms Veendam spends the better part of a day cruising the spectacular fiords of Glacier Bay, north of Juneau. Photo courtesy of Image Photo Services.The last and only stop on the way back was Ketchikan, "The Salmon Capital of the World." By dawn on the eighth day we were gliding smoothly back into Vancouverís sheltered harbor.

A cruise up the Inside Passage is an exhilarating combination of luxury, relaxation, fine dining, adventure and entertainment. I can recommend it, even if you arenít searching for your childhood home.

* * *

When you go:

The Convention & Visitors Bureau (at 134 Third Street, Juneau, AK 99801) naturally encourages longer stays. Call the toll-free number, (888) 581-2201 and ask for their colorful 2000 Travel Planner. It is packed with a surprising amount of information on what to see and do in the capital.

The INNside Passage Chapter of the Bed & Breakfast Association of Alaska includes 16 of the finer B&Bs in the area, from historic Juneau homes to modern accommodations. (The CVB has more than 50 B&Bs in its membership, including bunks on a sailing boat.) Contact the B&B Association at: P.O. Box 22800, Juneau, AK 99802; Tel: (907) 789-8822.

For reservations on Holland America Line cruises, contact your travel agent or call Holland America toll-free (800) 426-0327. Ask for the four-color catalog, 2000 Cruises & CruiseTours. They can also book your connecting flight to Vancouver, British Columbia on a Fly Cruise Plan.

Alternatively, Alaska Airlines has 11 daily flights into Vancouver and up to 15 daily flights to Juneau from seven West Coast cities. Contact Alaska Airlines at (800) 252-7522. The Web site is www.alaskaair.com

John Stickler has been writing about travel since 1963 when he covered the opening of the Walker Hill Resort in Seoul, Korea.