Biography::John West (captain)


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Biography Born in 1809, John West immigrated to Quebec, Canada where he married and started a family while apprenticing as a millwright. In 1849, he left his family and job to search for gold in California. A year later, with little gold to show for his efforts, he arrived in Astoria, Oregon and went to work using his knowledge as a millwright.<ref name="Aalberg & Aalberg, 2005">Aalberg & Aalberg, 2005</ref>

In 1853, West and his wife Margaret took up a {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} Donation Land Claim along the lower Columbia River upon which he soon began construction of a water-powered sawmill. West built a steam-powered sawmill in the early 1860s, and by 1868, he was exporting lumber to Australia.<ref name="Andrews, 1994">Andrews, 1994</ref> During these years, the community of Westport grew up around John West's sawmill on his Donation Land Claim.

The West family sold the mill in the early 1900s. The Westport Lumber Company continued production there until February 1956, when it became uneconomical to operate the mill because of a scarcity of logs sufficient in size.<ref name="Andrews, 1994"/>

John West also exported salmon from as early as 1857. The first fish West processed were salted, packed in barrels, then shipped to California, where they were loaded on sailing ships and sent around Cape Horn to East Coast ports, and then on to Great Britain.<ref>Fuller & Ayre, 2009</ref> In 1868, West, in partnership with others, found the Westport Cannery, the first on the Oregon shore of the Columbia River.<ref name="Smith, 1979">Smith, 1979</ref> The cannery packed 22,000 cases of salmon during the 1873 season and in October of that year won a gold medal from the Oregon Agricultural Society, in a competition that was the genesis for the Oregon State Fair.<ref name="Cunningham, 1953">Cunningham, 1953,</ref> Salmon canning peaked in the 1880s with 39 canneries in 1883, supported by 1,700 commercial fishing boats along the Columbia River.<ref name="Smith, 1979"/>

West invented an automated can-filing machine and was the first on the lower Columbia River to make use of salmon waste for oil and fishmeal by-products. He also experimented with canning beef, mutton, and blackberries to keep the machinery and workers busy during the salmon off season.<ref name="Aalberg & Aalberg, 2005"/> West's brand label for canned foods lives on today as John West Foods of Liverpool, England, which markets canned fish, fruit, vegetables, and meat all over the world.<ref>Miller, 1958</ref>

"Captain" John West died in 1888 at the age of 78 and is buried in the West family plot at the Westport Cemetery.

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