Port Alberni

Discover Port Alberni, British Columbia: A City of History and Natural Beauty

Port Alberni, British Columbia, is a city nestled on Vancouver Island, Canada. It lies within the Alberni Valley at the head of the Alberni Inlet, the longest inlet on Vancouver Island. The city is home to the head offices of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District and has a population of 18,259. It is well-connected with the Island Highway system, the Island Rail Corridor, and a local airport.

The Rich History of Port Alberni, British Columbia

Port Alberni was named after Captain Don Pedro de Alberní, a Spanish officer who commanded Fort San Miguel at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island's west coast from 1790 to 1792. The city and the West Coast of Vancouver Island are the traditional territories of the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council. Many place names in Port Alberni have a Nuu-chah-nulth origin, such as Somass (washing), Kitsuksis (log across mouth of creek), Pacheena (foamy), and Nootka (go around). Ancient petroglyph carvings can be found at Sproat Lake.

In 1787, Captain Charles William Barkley of the Imperial Eagle explored Barkley Sound, which now bears his name. Barkley traveled with his 17-year-old bride, Frances Barkley, the first European woman to visit what is now British Columbia. Frances Barkley is also the name of one of the two vessels that make trips down the Alberni Inlet from Port Alberni to Bamfield and Ucluelet.

In 1856, Adam Horne, a Scottish fur trader employed by the Hudson's Bay Company, was directed to locate a land route across Vancouver Island. He found a trail leading to the Alberni Valley, which became known as the Horne Lake Trail. Many settlers used this trail to get to the Alberni Valley.

In 1860, the Anderson company, a sawmilling company from London, England, set up a sawmill operation in the area. Gilbert Sproat and Edward Stamp transported men and machinery to Alberni, and they started running the Anderson sawmill at the mouth of the Somass River in August 1861. The first mill in B.C. was built to export lumber.

In 1862, small-scale placer gold mining took place on China Creek; in the 1890s more gold mining took place along the Alberni Inlet at China Creek and Mineral Creek. Several gold veins were found. Exploration for gold continued over the years with peaks in the 1930s and 1960s.

Port Alberni Mill opened as a kraft pulp mill in 1946, followed by two paper machines in 1957. Today, the town is a hub for local, regional, and provincial government, and its West Coast General Hospital provides services to west coast communities like Bamfield, Tofino, and Ucluelet. Currently, the natural resources of the area are taking center stage again, but in a different way. Port Alberni is in the process of "re-developing" itself as a tourism destination.

The Geography of Port Alberni, British Columbia

Located at the head of the Alberni Inlet, Port Alberni lies adjacent to this natural harbor as well as the Somass River. The other end of the inlet is located on Barkley Sound, which includes the Broken Group Islands, considered to be one of the best areas for kayaking in the world. Sproat Lake is located 10 km (6.2 mi) west of the city, and the valley is guarded by the snow-covered peaks of the Beaufort range, Mount Arrowsmith and Mount Klitsa, and surrounded by mountains on all sides. Kuth-kah-chulth, is the Nuu-Chah-Nulth name for Mount Arrowsmith.

The city itself owes its unique layout to its former "twin city" status, due to its two official city centers, as well as the numerous creeks and ravines that bisect the townsite. The former city of Alberni is now dubbed "North Port", and is centered at Highway 4 and Gertrude Street. The former City of Port Alberni (now referred to as "South Port" or "Uptown") can be found about 3 km (1.9 mi) South on 3rd and Argyle street.

The Climate of Port Alberni, British Columbia

Port Alberni's dry July gives it a warm-summer Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csb), although it is much wetter than most such places. Although the summer months do see a relatively small amount of precipitation, the vast majority of it comes during the winter months as cool, moist air flows from the Pacific Ocean over the much colder B.C. coast. Despite its location on the relatively drier east side of Vancouver Island, the resulting weak rain shadow is not enough to keep the city dry. Despite its generally wet climate, in summer, afternoon shade temperatures quite often exceed 30 °C (86.0 °F) on average 15–30 days a year, making it one of the warmest places on Vancouver Island in the summer months.

The Demographics of Port Alberni, British Columbia

In the 2021 Census of Population conducted by Statistics Canada, Port Alberni had a population of 18,259 living in 8,451 of its 8,919 total private dwellings, a change of 3.3% from its 2016 population of 17,678. With a land area of 19.66 km2 (7.59 sq mi), it had a population density of 928.7/km2 (2,405.4/sq mi) in 2021. The median household income in 2005 for Port Alberni was $43,624. One major characteristic known is the twin city demographic, where previously there were the distinct Port Alberni and Alberni municipalities, the remnants remain with two distinct city centers.

Health and Education in Port Alberni, British Columbia

Public education is offered by School District 70 Alberni, which operates 11 schools in Port Alberni. A new multimillion-dollar state of the art high school opened in 2012–2013. The Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique operates one Francophone primary school: école des Grands-cèdres. It also provides a French-English school. Health services are provided in town by Westcoast General Hospital, operated by the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA).

The Salmon of Port Alberni, British Columbia

A team of salmon enhancement volunteers and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have worked to improve salmon habitats throughout the Alberni Valley, adding a Coho hatchery at the McLean Mill National Historic Site, in addition to the successful Robertson Creek Hatchery on the Stamp River. Port Alberni was awarded the World Fishing Network's “Ultimate Fishing Town” designation in 2010.

Attractions in Port Alberni, British Columbia

Port Alberni sits beneath Mount Arrowsmith and is almost completely surrounded by mountains. These mountains provide hiking, walking, and mountain biking trails. It also provides an opportunity to view wildlife, including deer and black bears. The city is also known for its fishing. Its waters contain five different species of salmon and yearly runs of steelhead. Halibut can also be found in the saltwater inlets near the city.

The state-of-the-art Robertson Creek Fish Hatchery is the most successful hatchery on Vancouver Island, producing chinook salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead smolts. It is located a short drive west of Port Alberni. and is open to the public. Port Alberni is home to the McLean Mill National Historic Site which incorporates a steam railway from the downtown harbor to the saw mill up the valley. The historic mill offers demonstrations, including operating the old mill.

The world's largest aerial firefighting flying boats, the Martin Mars Water Bombers, once made their home on nearby Sproat Lake. This lake is also a summer destination for local residents and cottagers from surrounding areas. The sole remaining Water Bomber is now owned by The Coulson Group, and has been renamed from the Martin Mars Water Bombers to the Coulson Flying Tankers. The provincial lake also provided petroglyphs carved First Nations many years ago.

Besides the offers from nature, the city has two quays, Harbour Quay and Victoria Quay include shops, restaurants, and art galleries along the inlet. On some autumn evenings, when the inlet's tide is low, black bears can be spotted looking for fish on the other side of Victoria Quay. The Alberni Valley Multiplex in Port Alberni is home to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, a Junior-A hockey team in the BCHL.

Della Falls, the 16th tallest waterfall in Canada (442 m (1,450 ft)), is accessible by boat from Great Central Lake or by helicopter. Helicopters are not allowed to land in Strathcona Provincial Park.

Hiking Trails Around Port Alberni, British Columbia

The Port Alberni area has several hiking trails. There are over 100 trails in and around the Alberni Valley, including mountain bike trails. There is also access to the alpine areas, including Mount Arrowsmith.

Transportation in Port Alberni, British Columbia

Port Alberni Airport (CBS8) is located 11 km (6.8 mi) north west of the city. The airport has a 4,000 ft (1,200 m) runway with another additional 2,500 ft (760 m) of taxiways and apron. The airport is home to a number of key tenants, including Coulson Aircrane, Canadian Aero Technologies, Alberni Valley Flying Club and Vancouver Island Helicopters.

The main highway to Port Alberni is Highway 4, known locally as the Alberni Highway and the Pacific Rim Highway. It is the longest east–west main vehicle route on Vancouver Island, with a total length of 163 km (101 mi). The highway to Port Alberni was completed in 1942, and has been designated as Highway 4 since 1953. The highway starts at Qualicum Beach, then reaches Port Alberni from which it continues on to Tofino and Ucluelet. Port Alberni is served by the Island Rail Corridor branch line from Parksville known as the Port Alberni Subdivision.

Port Operations in Port Alberni, British Columbia

The Port of Port Alberni regularly receives large oceangoing cargo vessels, such as the Hong Kong-based OYSTER BAY and the Bergen-based STAR LINDESNES, as well as tugs, fishing boats, and search and rescue vessels. The Port Alberni Port Authority was created in 1999. Under the Canada Marine Act, the Port Alberni Port Authority is responsible for the Alberni Inlet from the Somass River to Tzartus Island.

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