In almost all of the stories about emigration it seems that the people leave their homelands because of hard times. But have you noticed that rarely are the hard times explained. It's like it doesn't matter, its just hard times. I thought perhaps a short explanation of what those hard times were in Croatia were when so many of our settlers left their homeland and came to America and eventually settling in Gig Harbor. I'll try not to bore you though.
Napoleon conquered Venice and Dalmatia in 1797 but ceded the terrorizes to Austria. He then defeated Austria in 1805 and annexed Dalmatia. in 1814, and until 1914, after the fall of Napoleon, Dalmatia once again became a part of Austria. Once Austria gain control they forced Italianization upon the people, introducing the Italian language in schools and public administration. Suddenly there was a reawakening of Croatian national consciousness. The population on Brac resisted long and hard and its struggle lasted into the 20th century.
In 1914 the vineyards were being destroyed due to philloxera and sailing ships deserting the seas around the island mass emigration began. This period was followed by the rumbling of World War I when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in July 1914.. Croatia suffered the loss of lives of the many young men who fought in the Austrian armies on the fronts of Soca and in Galicia.
As a result, in 1899 Andrew Gilich sensing the dismal times to come left Sumartin on the Island of Brac and immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia and went to work on a fishing boat named "Rainier". When he took over the helm of a seiner "Traveler" a short time later he moved to Gig Harbor, and later owned "Saint Mary". Eventually he owned or was a partner in nine fishing boats but he was also a successful businessman. Andrew was one of the founders of the Gig Harbor National Bank as well as a founder of the Friday Harbor Canning Company, and with his partner Justin Richardson built the Peninsula Hotel.
Don's father, Tony Gilich came to Gig Harbor in 1915 at age 20 he had a couple contacts in Gig Harbor: John Novak because his father (Don's grandfather) had gone to school in Brac with John, and his cousin Andrew. With his brother's tutelage Tony rapidly took to fishing and the sea. Two years later Tony was able to use his earnings to buy an interest in the "Commander", a 62-foot seiner built by the Skansie Boat Building Company. As skipper Tony and his crew did very well fishing the salmon banks in the San Juan Islands waters. Tony also fished with John Novak and Samuel Jerisich.
Tony was neither literate nor a citizen, but when World War I started he volunteered to serve in the US Army and was accepted. After he came out of the service from Camp Fort Lewis in 1919 he had Petrich (Western Boat) in Old Town (Tacoma) build his own boat, "Victory". That year, because the run of salmon in the Puget Sound was small, Tony made a risky decision to take his boat to Kodiak Alaska in hopes of a better catch. The waters and the weather were something he had not seen before - exceptionally high waves, strong winds, and very rough weather. But the season was very successful and he was able to pay the balance owed on "Victory". However, Tony never returned to the Alaskan waters to fish.
Tony married one of John's daughters, Angeline. Tony's cousin Andrew Gilich had also married one of John Novak's daughters, Antoinette. Both the daughters were 1/8 members of the Puyallup Tribe. In July 1920 Don was born at home the midwife that delivered him was his Grandmother. Josephine Novak, his grandmother, registered Don in the Puyallup tribal records and he was, after the Boldt Decision in 1974 Don was offered a fishing card but Judge Jack Tanner in the US District Court located Tacoma refused to allow him to receive it.
One of the more intriguing tricks Tony used when fishing for herring was a wooden salmon. He had carved a wooden salmon, inserted lead weights in it so that it would dive down under the water. Then one of the crew members would operate the salmon with strings. It was placed right by the bolt which operated the purse and kept the herring from swimming out of the net. Don said that he believes they used air pressure now rather than the more romantic wooden salmon puppet.
Don went to Lincoln School and Union High School. He indicated that all his young life he was taunted by the kids and called "a dirty Indian" and most of the tormentors had Yugoslavian names. It certainly didn't make for an enjoyable childhood.
Don started fishing with his father in 1936 when he turned 16. They fished all summer and fall that year. When he got back he made up his sophomore year and started his junior year. However he flunked one subject and instead of making it up, he quit school and when fishing full time.
But when the US entered WWII, the Navy and the Coast Guard needed boats to patrol the Washington coastline. Don was 21 and while he was docked in Friday Harbor while fishing the Coast Guard came aboard and explained their need. The Gilich family volunteered their boat but the Coast Guard didn't have anyone to operate the "Victory". Don volunteered to service like his father, Tony had done during WWI, but Don could not pass the physical. The Coast Guard accepted him anyway as Temprary Reserve. At first he patrolled from Seattle but later was transferred to Port Angeles. While there Don was able to pass the Coast Guard exam in 1942 and became the head of the Northwest vessels serving the Coast Guard in its war effort. The "Victory" was a crash recovery boat for aircraft while used on behalf the Coast Guard.
After the war, Don went back to fishing; and he would operate the boat during the fall season and Tony, his dad, would operate during the summer season. Then in 1971 Tony retired and Don operated the "Victory" full-time.
In 1972 the "Victory" added yet another adventure to its career. Paramount Studios leased the "Victory" for a feature role in the movie "Hit" starring Richard Pryor and Billie Dee Williams. The movie was shot in Gig Harbor, Port Townsend and Hadlock --- just another event in a long hardworking life, dedication and accomplishments the Gilichs made in the fishing industry and community.
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