Steam into Port Alberni
Port Alberni sits at the end of the ruggedly beautiful Alberni Inlet tucked away from the sometimes harsh West Coast weather. Explorers found the sheltered waters of the Inlet in the late 1700’s and it was deemed the perfect spot for a settlement. Surrounded by an abundance of natural resources, it wasn’t long before England sent The Anderson Co. to build the first ever sawmill in BC.
With the logging industry taking off, fishing, mining and farming industries followed and they thrived. Originally made up of two distinct settlements it wasn’t until the 1964 Tsunami that they started working together to rebuild Port Alberni and the surrounding low land areas. This show of community spearheaded the 1967 amalgamation and Port, as Islanders call it, was born.
Once a bustling resource based economy, the days of plenty which garnered Port Alberni the highest per-capita income in Canada, came to an end. After the decline of forestry jobs and slowdowns in the other sectors, the city went through tough times as many in the community left to secure jobs elsewhere.
The local government and the community realized they were at a crossroads and they had to work together to breathe new life into Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley. Given the natural beauty of the area, the proximity to open water and alpine adventure, outstanding fishing, and a new attitude, The Alberni Valley government and community started to promote Tourism. It hasn’t been easy, but Port Alberni has been quietly undergoing a change that has helped it become a prime destination.
The unique SteamPunk Café & Coffee House has been a welcome addition to Third Street in the Uptown Area of Port Alberni . Decorated in steampunk industrial art, the décor is part of the experience. You’ll be tantalized by the fresh menu, the in-house bakery and of course, the barista bar.
Kevin Wright, owner of SteamPunk Café is also an artist who had a desire to create art installations around town. His plan revolved around Catalyst Paper donating items from their scrap pile, nirvana for Kevin as industrial scrap was integral to his vision. Working together, City Hall, Catalyst and Kevin came to an agreement. Kevin is now hard at work with both his business and artistic endeavours to the great benefit of his community. We truly respect people who have the courage to stand up, make a plan, and execute it!
The city offers a myriad of attractions that would be suitable for the entire family. The McLean Mill National Historic Site operates the only remaining commercial steam operated sawmill in Canada. Take a Mill Tour or a self-guided one, and you’ll meet up with costumed interpreters around the site making the Mill's history come to life. Don’t miss the daily stage show, restaurant and gift shop. Oh and why not take the train there?
Now that I have your attention, how would you like to ride there in the style of the day? The Alberni Pacific Railway operates a 1929 Steam (and Diesel) train taking passengers on several different routes. You can chose from scenic routes through forests and past farms to Mclean Mill, Chase & Warren Estate Winery or take it along the City’s industrial waterway. The restored 1912 CPR Station at Argyle and Kingsway is where you’ll purchase tickets and embark on your adventure. Check the Schedule and Rates for seasonal information here.
The Maritime Discovery Centre is a unique museum constructed from materials from an old coastal lighthouse right on the waterfront. Here preserved documents, temporary and permanent exhibits and displays let the visitor learn about the maritime history, triumphs and tragedies. Kids will love the lighthouse and its quirky look.
The Alberni Valley Museum brings the history and the heritage of the area into view for young and old alike. Their unique display system allows for the visitor to have the best possible viewing experience while learning about the First Nations and their role in the history and culture of this diverse region. Find out just how devastated the inlet and Port Alberni was after the Tsunami of 1964. This is considered by many to be one of the best community museums in the Province.
Next time I’m there, I’ll definitely stop at SteamPunk to start my discovery of the New Port Alberni. I hope you’ll take some time in 2014 to explore and discover this beautiful region.
Note: photo of Kevin Wright by Scott McKenzie