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.
In 1787, Captain Charles William Barkley of the Imperial Eagle explored the Sound that now bears his name. Barkley traveled with his 17-year-old bride, Frances, the first European woman to visit British Columbia. Frances Barkley is today the name of a vessel that plies the waters of Alberni Inlet between Port Alberni, 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. 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.
In 1860, the Anderson company from London, England set up a sawmill operation. 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 of 1861. The first mill in BC 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.
In 1862, small-scale placer gold mining took place on China Creek. It developed along the Alberni Inlet and Mineral Creek. 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.
The forest industry was the dominant economic force, with western red cedar and Douglas-fir forests surrounding the valley. 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 started. For the next forty years, the forest industry reigned supreme. MacMillan Bloedel Limited became the large lumber player in the valley. Then came industry modernization, business mergers, over-cutting, and nearby logging protests.
Once an industrial resource-dependent town, 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.
Port Alberni is located 85 km (53 mi) northeast of Nanaimo via the Island Highway 19 north and Highway 4 east. Tofino and Ucluelet lie 126 km (78 mi) and 101 km (62 mi) respectively to the west of Port Alberni.
Explore Port Alberni's heritage and discover what makes the city tick. Discover collections that tell the story of community history, Nuu Chah Nulth art and culture and the city's industrial roots from logging to fishing and farming - and see the unique folk art. The Alberni Valley Museum presents the cultural heritage of this unique Island community through its collections of artifacts and historic photographs.
The McLean Mill is the only commercial steam-operated sawmill in Canada. You can experience the excitement of live steam, as the sawmill cuts wood for demonstration and sale. The "Tin Pants Theatre" troupe will entertain you with stage shows at the Nikkei Theatre and show you around the site as if you were just starting work at the mill. You'll see the old original buildings and lots of restored logging equipment around the site, including a steam donkey, logging trucks, graders, and lumber carriers.
Experience the rich maritime history of the Alberni Valley, Alberni Inlet, Barkley Sound and Vancouver Island's rugged west coast. Port Alberni's Maritime Discovery Centre is a unique maritime museum, situated on the waterfront adjacent to the city's deep-sea harbour. Constructed from an actual coastal lighthouse, the museum is dedicated to exhibiting and interpreting our fascinating cultural, environmental and industrial maritime history. This attraction is a must see for all who visit the Alberni Valley. It is both an educational experience and a fun, hands-on experience for all ages. Sense the raw adventure, tales of heroism and moments of mystique, grandeur, and romance that tell the story of the intriguing west coast.
Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the Rollin Art Centre features work by local & regional artists. During the summer months, afternoon Tea is served on the summer terrace. The Gardens are a show piece and include a traditional Japanese garden, a replica of Port Alberni's first bandstand and a classical fountain.
Ride the Alberni Pacific Railway, a restored 1929 Baldwin ex-logging locomotive that winds through the City of Alberni and surrounding forests. The train boards at the 1912 CPR Station in downtown Port Alberni, and goes to McLean Mill.
Take a day trip on the M.V. Frances Barkley. Bring your binoculars and camera and take a ride on this working freighter, with plenty of time to watch wildlife and share experiences with the ship's crew.
Victoria Quay sits at the foot of Johnston Road (Highway #4) and runs parallel to the Somass River. It is flanked by two towering Welcome Figures created by local Hupacasath First Nations carvers. At the Quay you will also see the Nuu-Chah-Nulth canoe sculpture that used to be housed in the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria - an impressive life-sized sculpture of a whaling canoe. The Welcome Centre features prominent First Nation's artwork and is the the perfect place to learn about the rich history of the First Nation people in this region. During the summer at low tide you can safely watch black bears having their salmon dinner.
If you love the water, Sproat Lake is one of BC's finest freshwater lakes for water sports such as waterskiing, tubing, canoing, kayaking, swimming, and windsurfing. The lake is also home to the gigantic Martin Mars water bombers. A variety of short access trails lead visitors around this park, including a trail to the eastern end of Sproat Lake, which is home to one of the finest panels of prehistoric petroglyphs in British Columbia. Sproat Lake is located 15 minutes west of Port Alberni.
Relax by the waterfall at this peaceful riverside park or explore the area by foot on hiking trails that weave their way through the lush forest, past waterfalls and river rapids. One of the park's main attractions is the annual run of thousands of Pacific salmon circling in the pool below Stamp Falls before ascending the fish ladders on their way to spawning beds. Lookout points along the river offer excellent views of the salmon fighting their way up the falls and fish ladders. This natural phenomenon occurs every year, starting in late August with sockeye and continuing with coho and Chinook right into December.
The Alberni Valley is host to an amazing network of trails for those that love to take on the outdoors. The Log Train Trail is a flat and scenic 25 km 15 mi) trail for hiking, cycling and horseback riding that follows an abandoned 1920s-era railway branch line at the foot of the Beaufort Range. Stamp River Long Trail is a magnificent 7.5km trail follows the east bank of the Stamp River, and is marked by stretches of moss-covered old-growth firs and cedars. Rogers Creek Nature Trail is great for beginning hikers, this 3 km (2 mi) riverside path is five minutes south of the Visitor Centre off the Port Alberni Highway. Mount Arrowsmith is one of the most popular mountains on Vancouver Island to climb. Although it is a challenging hike, it is not technical - that is, you don't need ropes and climbing gear. The mountain has a variety of routes for serious hikers, including the historic 1912 Canadian Pacific Railways trail, a challenging, eight-hour hike. Other routes are shorter and take you higher. The Visitor Centre has maps to many of these trails.
The Alberni Golf Club is an 18-hole par-70 PGA course, nestled at the foot of the Beaufort Mountains amongst towering trees and following the contours of Cherry Creek. For a shorter course try the 9-hole Hollies Executive Golf Course, located next to the Alberni Highway. Hollies is a popular choice among new golfers and retirees.
Port Alberni is known as the Salmon Capital of the World. Anglers come to Port Alberni for both river and ocean fishing but in particular for salmon and halibut. There are plenty of guided charters or boat rentals available for fishing expeditions of all durations. Go in June or July for Sockeye, August for Chinook, and anytime in the spring or fall for Halibut. During the Winter, anglers the world over head to the Stamp River system to experience some of the best Steelhead fishing in Western Canada. Professional guides and outfitters are always available to help locate the fish and keep fishers safe.
Port Alberni is the gateway for kayaking trips into Barkley Sound. Kayak/canoe rentals and tours are available. If you prefer freshwater paddling try out the warm waters of Sproat Lake.
The Barkley Sound is world-renowned for its incredible diving conditions. In fact, National Geographic Magazine recognized Vancouver Island as one of the best cold-water diving destinations in the world. The Alberni Valley has two amazing shore dives near Port Alberni: China Creek Wall Dive and Ship Wreck.
Regular, strong afternoon breezes up the Alberni Inlet in the summer provides a haven for some excellent windsurfing.
Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce
2533 Port Alberni Hwy
Port Alberni, BC V9Y 8P2
Alberni Valley Tourism
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia