Port Alberni is a city located in the province of British Columbia in Canada. It is the location of the head offices of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. The city has a total population of 17,743, and the census agglomeration area a total of 25,396.
Before Europeans came, Alberni and the West Coast of Vancouver Island was the traditional territory of the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council. The Nuu-chah-nulth were previously called the Nootka. 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 March 1787, Captain Charles William Barkley of the Imperial Eagle, explored Barkley Sound, which now bears his name. Barkley travelled 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 makes trips down the Alberni Inlet from Port Alberni to Bamfield and Ucluelet. The other is the MV Lady Rose.
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. There were stories that the natives used a trail starting at Qualicum. Adam Horne found this trail leading to the Alberni Valley and it became known as the Horne Lake Trail. Many other settlers used this trail to get to the Alberni Valley.
In 1860, the Anderson company (a sawmilling company) from London England, took the advice of their Victoria agent Captain Edward Stamp and set up a sawmill operation. At the time, the American Civil War prevented the importation of timber from the southern United States. Gilbert Sproat and Edward Stamp transported men and machinery to Alberni. They received land grants from Governor James Douglas and 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. The original mill failed, but several others were established in the 1880s. Sproat Lake was named after Gilbert Sproat and Stamp Falls and Stamp River were named after Edward Stamp.
Rogers Creek, which flows through the centre of Port Alberni, was named after A.B. Rogers,the discoverer of Rogers Pass, when he surveyed in the Alberni Valley for the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century.
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 1930s and 1960s.
In 1912, Port Alberni was incorporated with the arrival of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway, and planned arrival of the Canadian National Railway, and the trans-Pacific telegraph cable at Bamfield. Mining took place on the Alberni Inlet and, as with many fish camps and outports, depended on Port Alberni as a base.
With ample western red cedar and Douglas fir forests surrounding the valley, the forest industry became the dominant economic force. Large logging operators moved in, namely Bloedel, Stewart and Welch. Sawmills were built at Alberni, Great Central Lake, and the McLean Mill. By the Second World War, plywood mills and a nascent pulp industry had started. For the next forty years, the forest industry reigned supreme. MacMillan Bloedel Limited became the dominant lumber player in the valley. Then came industry modernization, business mergers, over-cutting, and nearby logging protests.
Port Alberni was once an industrial resource-dependent town, with logging and mining being the main economic drivers. Today, the town is a major service centre for local, regional, and provincial governments, and a supply centre and hospital for west coast communities like Bamfield, Tofino, and Ucluelet. Currently, the natural resources of the area are taking centre stage again, but in a different way. Port Alberni is in the process of "re-developing" itself as a tourism destination. The area's amenities, such as the natural beauty of the area, the opportunities for fishing (both marine and freshwater), its convenience as a jumping-off point for new outdoor recreation and ecotourism activities such as hiking, kayaking, and mountain-biking, lend themselves to these activities very well.
The 1946 Vancouver Island earthquake was a 7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck Vancouver Island, on the Coast of British Columbia, Canada, at 10:15 a.m. on Sunday, June 23, 1946. The main shock epicenter occurred in the Forbidden Plateau area north of Port Alberni. While most of the large earthquakes in the Vancouver area occur at tectonic plate boundaries, the 1946 Vancouver Island earthquake was a crustal event. Shaking was felt from Portland, Oregon to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The earthquake is remembered as one of the most damaging earthquakes in the history of British Columbia.
From 1920 to 1973 Alberni Residential School was in operation. The Canadian Federal government now says that this was a big blot on race relations in Canada. The residential school system run by the United Church forcibly separated children from their families and communities and in some cases children were raped and murdered. The residential school was closed in the late 1970s and in 2009 was demolished.
In 1955, the Alberni Athletics Senior-A Men's Basketball Team had an outstanding year. The Alberni Athletics won the Canadian Senior Basketball Championships at home. A young Jim Robson honed his sports reporting skills doing the play-by-play on radio station CJAV. The Alberni Athletics were inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
In 1964, Port Alberni was hit by two tsunamis (called tidal waves in 1964) during the Good Friday Earthquake. The water rose about one foot in a minute reaching ten feet above the high water mark. About 375 homes were damaged and 55 were washed away, however there were no injuries or fatalities.
In 1967, the neighbouring towns of Alberni (on the north) and Port Alberni (on the south) amalgamated to form the city of Port Alberni.
The Alberni Valley has a museum and many ancillary attractions. Sproat Lake, located just outside of Port Alberni is the present home of Martin Mars water bombers.