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April 1, 2010

A history of the Stinson Canning Company

by Sandra Dinsmore

E. T. Russell & Co. built the Prospect Harbor cannery in 1906, according to Ronald Peabody, owner and director of Jonesport's Maine Coast Sardine History Museum, and operated it until 1921. Calvin Stinson worked in this cannery as a teenager. He and Wass bought the cannery it in 1927.

Then in 1931 they bought their second: Addison Packing Co. in Southwest Harbor.

Stinson and Glenn Lawrence built Bath Canning in 1946 and turned it into a sardine factory. Lawrence owned the Belfast Canning Company until Stinson bought him out in 1953. A year later, Stinson bought Seaboard Packing Company and the American Sardine Company. "Seaboard had a plant in Lubec, which he never operated," said Stinson's son, Calvin, Jr., 80, of Prospect Harbor. Seaboard also had a plant in South Portland, and

American Sardine Cannery had a plant in Machiasport.

"All the packers in Maine bought their cans from American Can Company,"

Stinson, Jr. said; then in 1959, the Stinsons started making their own.

In 1960, they built a can shop and in 1965 they started making aluminum cans. "American can made a tab-opening cover," Stinson, Jr. recalled, and said, "Everyone was using a tab-opening cover. We wanted a ring, so they [American Can] said they were going to come up with one, but they didn't for quite a while, so we bought a ring-making machine and we had that set up and were making our own easy-open ring tabs in 1971."

By 1966, Stinson, Jr. said their company was freezing and packaging and shrimp, which they called IQF, or individually quick-frozen Maine shrimp. "We froze them in a tunnel," he said, explaining that a stainless steel belt ran through the freezer. By the time the belt reached the end, it would freeze each shrimp to the belt. When the belt turned the corner of the freezer, each frozen shrimp would pop off the belt.

Stinson, Jr. attended Codex meetings in Norway between 1966 and 1977, and while there, he started purchasing smaller, fancier fish, which he then had packed in Stinson plants in Maine under the Neptune brand. In

1968, he went to Denmark where he found larger fish, which Stinson's packed four or five to a can, under the Beach Cliff brand. This became immortalized in 2001 on the iconic fisherman-shaped billboard in front of the Prospect Harbor factory of a Paul Bunyonesque fisherman in yellow oilskins holding a can of Beach Cliff Sardines.

The plant burned in May 1968 due to an electrical malfunction. The

Stinsons started to rebuild immediately, and by December, Stinson, Jr. said, "We packed a few fish in the plant. We had it going full speed in

'69. We didn't waste any time."

Finally, in 1975, the Stinsons brought all their plants under the umbrella of the family name and they became, Stinson Canning Company.

Peabody said Connor's Brothers, of Black's Harbor, Canada, purchased the plant in 2000 and operated it as Stinson 2000. When Bumble Bee purchased the plant, the name changed to Stinson Seafood, period. Today, the words Stinson Seafood in brushed stainless steel are set in the brick walls of the cannery.

—Sandra Dinsmore



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