Port Alberni | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Port Alberni

​Port Alberni, BC, incorporated as a city in 1967, population 17,678 (2016 c), 17,743 (2011 c). The present-day City of Port Alberni is the result of the 1967 amalgamation of two cities, Port Alberni (incorporated in 1912) and Alberni (incorporated in 1913). Port Alberni is located on central Vancouver Island, 195 km north of Victoria, at the head of Alberni Inlet, a deep fjord-like inlet that almost divides the island in two. The inlet was named after Don Pedro de Alberni, the Spanish officer in command of the Nootka garrison in 1791 during the Spanish occupation. In 1964, a tsunami caused by the Good Friday earthquake in Alaska moved up the inlet and hit the twin cities. About 375 houses were damaged, 55 of which were washed away, but there were no casualties.


Hudson's Bay Company employees, led by Adam Horne, started fur trading with the Coast Salish and Nuu-Chah-Nulth (Nootka) in the 1850s. The English shipping firm Anderson and Company erected a sawmill in 1860. Pioneers came to the area to farm and mine, and many eventually turned to logging.


Port Alberni
Port Alberni is located at the head of a deep inlet on Vancouver Island (courtesy Colour Library Books).

Fishing and forestry have long been important to the economy of Port Alberni. The area became a major forestry centre after the Second World War. In the 1970s, Port Alberni had one of the highest per capita incomes in Canada, based largely on forestry and fishing. The city was formerly the largest integrated wood-products site outside of Vancouver. In the 1980s and 1990s, a general downturn in the forestry industry resulted in massive layoffs and a decline in the local economy. MacMillian Bloedel’s plywood mill was shut down in 1991, after more than 50 years of operation.


Since the 1990s, sawmills have been modernized and there has been a shift to specialized products. The paper mill, operational since 1947, is also producing specialty products. The city's ice-free port mainly handles locally produced forestry products destined for foreign markets. The commercial fishing industry has also suffered in recent years, but sport fishing is a major part of the growing tourism industry.

Cultural Life

Port Alberni has a marina in the heart of the city, the Echo '67 Centre (library, museum, pool and meeting complex) and the Rollin Arts Centre. Attractions include McLean Mill National Historic Site — a restored steam sawmill — as well as a steam train and museums. Looming over the city is Mount Arrowsmith, the highest peak on southern Vancouver Island, popular for skiing and hiking. Canada's highest waterfall, Della Falls, 60 km from Port Alberni, is accessed via Great Central Lake. Another large lake in the area, Sproat Lake, is famous for its petroglyphs.

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