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Get Outta Town: Port Alberni

Words By Kama Money
Photos By Sarah Etoile

Port Alberni is no stranger to overcoming adversity. In 1964, a powerful tsunami flooded homes, flipped over cars, and shook up the people who called this area home. Port Alberni and Alberni were twin cities, which became so intertwined that they amalgamated in 1967. Now singularly known as Port Alberni, the community was a booming mill town that was among the wealthiest in Canada. Many mourn the drought of our resource-based wealth and are paralyzed by memories of ‘the good old days’. A progressive grassroots movement is reflecting on the past to create ripples for the future. We are challenging our underdog status as ‘the place tourists stop to get beer and gas on the way to Tofino, and capturing the attention of the 10,000 cars that drive through every day.

Port Alberni hasn’t lost its core values of heritage, history, and working hard to make a living. There’s an emerging group of young entrepreneurs who are passionate about creating products that are not only made well, but also made here. The uptown boasts a collection of small businesses that showcase this DIY culture: handmade organic skincare from Haven Living (Fall 2016), locally designed clothing from Cloud City Apparel, barber services at Hone and Strop, local art and gifts from Blue Fish Gallery, homemade drinks and snacks at Steampunk Coffee House and Gaiga Square, featuring a sculpture by Gordon Dick.

The locally sourced, handcrafted movement is also reflected in the delicious homemade Moroccan dinners on a floating 1944 tug boat at Swept Away Inn, artisanal pizza and handcrafted beer at Twin City Brewery’s 1946 former BC Liquor store building (Winter 2017) and mouth-watering lakeside meals at Drinkwaters, named after explorer Joe Drinkwater, who discovered Della Falls in 1899.

Celebrate our rich history and stunning scenery by participating in the Tri-Conic Challenge. Participants of all levels will run against the 1929 No.7 Baldwin Steam Train to McLean’s Mill National Historic Site, bike against the 1958 Frances Barkley boat to Bamfield and swim in Sproat Lake, home of the 1945 Martin Mars Water Bomber. Test your true mettle Canada Day Long Weekend 2017.

Innovative partnerships with local Nuu-chah-nulth nations are resulting in exciting new developments. The Tri-Conic Challenge features a salmon dinner hosted by Huu-ay-aht First Nation on their Pachena Bay Campground. Tseshaht First Nation’s sacred wolf ceremony was held on the site of Port Alberni Port Authority’s Tyee Landing. Tseshaht Market is a great place to get gas, gifts, and snacks. Hupacasath First Nation co-hosts the Sunset Market at Clutesi Haven Marina with Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce and is also harvesting maple syrup. Uchuklesaht First Nation’s Thunderbird Building will be home to offices, condos, and cafés. Reflect on the past through a lens of reconciliation at a sculpture by Connie Watts on the former site of Alberni Indian Residential School.

Opportunities to explore and play are endless, as Port Alberni is the gateway to the Pacific West Coast. See your reflection on the water as you choose between windsurfing lessons from Girlonaboard, SUP rentals at Three Dogs Paddle Co., or SUP, canoe, and kayak rentals at Sproat Lake Landing Adventure Centre. Reflect on our unique past at the jaw-dropping Hole in the Wall, which served as a water supply shortcut between the twin cities. A more challenging option is the scenic Alberni Inlet Trail, scattered with logging and mining artifacts, including an abandoned miner’s cabin.

Port Alberni is known as the World Fishing Network’s ‘Ultimate Fishing Town’. Early autumn includes a celebration of salmon with our annual Salmon Festival and the stunning scene of salmon thrusting themselves against the rugged rock faces and rushing waters of Stamp Falls. Alberni Aquarium at Harbour Quay provides the opportunity for curious minds of all ages to stand in an underwater bubble, surrounded by swimming salmon.

Port Alberni is undergoing a sea of change as it reflects on the past and creates ripple effects that will build momentum to new waves of development. We banded together in the aftermath of the tsunami, and will continue to commit ourselves to the belief that, as John F Kennedy once said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Today’s generation has just as much grit, commitment to hard work, and resilience as our predecessors. We are actively changing the stories we are telling about ourselves: The Heart of Vancouver Island is fueled by a grassroots collective of local photographers, filmmakers, writers, designers, and social media managers who collaborate to renew pride of place for locals and promote Port Alberni to tourists and investors.

For more information, visit hovi.ca and triconic.ca.