Of Slate And Sardines
Parallels between Wales' long-lost slate industry and Monterey's bygone sardines.
Thursday, August 19, 1999
Both sardine fishing and slate mining were important industries in their time. Sardines were a staple of many households until the sardines disappeared. Slate roofed the world until cheaper alternatives arrived.
Both industries employed thousands of workers in assembly-line jobs. Both made some very wealthy. There were books written about each industry, but today each is just a ghost from the past.
Today in Lanberis, Wales, a thriving business has been developed that breathes life back into the ghost of slate mining. There they have restored and partially reactivated the slate mine workshops--a water-powered Victorian era industrial complex--to provide a vivid history of the industry and have opened the slate quarry for recreational opportunities.
Now, for a fee, one can visit the chief engineer''s residence to see how a plant manager lived, the hall where laborers met to eat, drink and organize, and the doctor''s office where laborers were treated (this was a dangerous business). See the saw mill, machine shops and the water wheel that powered it all. View a 20-minute, 3-D film that traces the history of the industry and provides a glimpse of the miners and mechanics in action. Then watch a skilled old-timer split slate for shingles and tell stories about his craft and times past.
Fascinating and awe-inspiring, the ghost is alive. Meanwhile, hikers and climbers are busy outside scaling the old quarry.
Today on Cannery Row, one can only see sardines swirling about in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Historic cannery facades are filled with T-shirts and trinkets and wine tasting. But visitors yearning to learn about or experience the canneries and their hard-working, industrious people are greeted by barbed wire.
Monterey is at a crossroads. When the City Council meets Aug. 25 to vote on the Cannery Row Marketplace project, it can choose to erase the history of sardines and replace it with a mall and condos, or it can move to preserve and capitalize on its connection with the past. The Marketplace developer has proposed a museum as a part of the complex, but the theme or content has not been described and it will occupy a portion of the required bay-view corridor. There''s a likelihood the developer will also destroy Stohan''s, the last remaining Cannery Row-era building and its historic equipment.
The waterfront portion of the Cannery Row Marketplace property holds the potential for becoming an educational and historical center about the sardine industry. Imagine viewing a movie and seeing the sardines overflowing the decks of the small fishing boats, the cannery production lines in action, and the workers and their homes. Walk around a scale model of the Row when 20 canneries were in operation. See the inside of a fish reduction plant (Stohan''s) with all its plumbing, boilers, and machinery. Listen to an old-timer describe the purpose of the plant and its products.
Imagine a revenue-producing, visitor-attracting center where one can see, hear and experience the industry that powered Monterey for 50 years. The center can also provide access to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and support facilities for recreational activities. Such a center will bring new visitors and add value to the Row and to Monterey. And once again there will be a parallel between sardine fishing and slate mining.
Robert Evans visited Lanberis, Wales in June. He is a member of the Save Our Waterfront Committee and lives in Monterey