The 1909 Fairhaven Empress Tree
2019 Photo by John Koenig
Former PAF office, built in 1935, behind tree.
The gnarled remnant of a once-elegant flowering tree remains standing on the grounds of the Amtrak station at the foot of Harris Avenue. Its presence memorializes the former site of Pacific American Fisheries, a once thriving anchor to the economy of the Fairhaven district of Bellingham.
Paulownia tomentosa, or Empress tree, is native to western and central China. It is named for Anna Pavlovna of Russia who reigned as queen consort to King William II of the Netherlands in the nineteenth century.
A plaque with newly discovered information will be installed by the Port.
With a normal lifespan of 70 years, this is one of the oldest Empress trees (Paulownia tomentosa) in the United States.
The tree was presented to E.B. Deming, president of Pacific American Fisheries, on August 24, 1909; a gift from Goon Dip, the new Chinese Consul and labor contractor.
Once the largest salmon canning company in the world, Pacific American Fisheries provided thousands of jobs for local residents and hundreds of seasonal Chinese laborers.
Why was the Empress Tree planted on Harris Avenue? It's location on Harris Avenue and 4th Street is the former Pacific American Fisheries salmon processing facility. The PAF was heavily reliant on the cheap labor of their Chinese workers, as were many such industries up and down the West Coast.
Fire early morning on September 21, 1934
at PAF offices at 4th and Harris.
Empress Tree is the larger tree on left.
Photo by J.W. Sandison
Whatcom Museum #1996.10.12993 from the Gordon Tweit Collection
Goon Dip in 1905
Courtesy Wing Luke Museum
The tree was a gift from Goon Dip, a highly successful Chinese entrepreneur and diplomat who managed the labor contract for this cannery and many of the others in the Northwest. On January 9, 1909 he became the Chinese Consul of Seattle.
A few months later, Goon Dip arrived with the Consul General of San Francisco Hsin Ping to visit E.B. Deming and the facilities of the P.A.F. A large entourage arrived in a special compartment on the Great Northern train from Seattle, during the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition -- Seattle's World Fair from June to October of that year.
Bellingham Headlines on August 25, 1909: "CELESTIALS OF HIGH DEGREE IN CITY" and "Most Influential Chinese On Pacific Coast, Including Consular Agent of San Francisco and Goon Dip, the Portland Millionaire, Visits Show Places of Bellingham"
The tree was presented to E.B. Deming, president of Pacific American Fisheries, who contracted with Goon Dip to provide the labor necessary for the profitable operation of this facility. Their association began around 1900 and evolved from strictly business into a personal friendship of mutual respect. Deming was a pallbearer at Goon Dip's Seattle funeral in 1933.
BELLINGHAM HERALD, May 21, 1931:
"Down at the PAF there is a tree a-bloom with purple.”
The Empress tree is a living symbol of the Chinese labor contribution to Fairhaven's history.
In 1968, a small group of citizens created an informal "Save Our Empress Tree Committee” over fear that the Port of Bellingham, the new owners of the PAF property, would remove the tree. Local garden clubs got involved in taking care of the tree. The effort worked, and the tree continues to bloom every year.
(Excellent essay, although Goon Dip and E.B. Deming met around 1900, not 1909.)
"We already have the Worlds Most Efficient Carbon Capture Technology: Empress Trees
Bellingham Herald; August 25, 1909 Page 1
Bellingham Herald, May 21, 1931
Bellingham Herald, May 4, 1941
Bellingham Herald, May 23, 1962
Bellingham Herald, September 22, 1968
Koert, Dorothy, and Galen Biery. Looking Back: the collectors’ edition: Memories of Whatcom County/Bellingham. Bellingham, Wash.: Grandpa’s Attic, 2003.
Radke, August C. Pacific American Fisheries, Inc.: history of a Washington state salmon packing company, 1890-1966. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2002.
Shiels, Archie W. Brief chronological history of Pacific American Fisheries. Bellingham, Wash.: [A.W. Shiels], [197-?]