A city in the Alberni Valley, on the east side of Vancouver Island, Port Alberni is known for its fishing and tourism. In 2010, the World Fishing Network awarded the city its “Ultimate Fishing Town” designation.
Notable Aberni-ites include Kim Campbell, the 19th Prime Minister of Canada, and the first woman to hold the office; Rick Hansen, Canadian paraplegic athlete and activist; and assorted hockey players (Laurent Brossoit, Paul Cyr, David Dziurzynski, Harry Zolnierczyk), Olympians (Travis Cross, Eric Jespersen), and broadcasters (Dakota Morton, youngest Canadian radio host; Paul Boyd, Canadian and American television journalist).
Port Alberni is in the traditional territory of the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations. European settlement began in 1856 with Adam Horne, a Scottish fur trader employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Horne followed a First Nations land route across Vancouver Island that led him to the Alberni Valley. In 1860, an English saw-milling company set up an operation there. Beginning in 1862 and for decades later, the gold discoveries brought influxes of prospectors.
In 1912, with the arrival of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway, Port Alberni was incorporated. The city was the base of operations for miners, lumberjacks, and fishermen. By the Second World War, a pulp industry had taken root. For the next forty years, the forest industry reigned supreme.
In 1946, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck. The epicenter occurred in the Forbidden Plateau area north of Port Alberni and could be felt from Portland to Prince Rupert. It’s regarded as one of the most damaging earthquakes in the history of British Columbia.
Port Alberni’s dry July gives it a warm-summer Mediterranean climate. The vast majority of precipitation comes during the winter months.
The city is named for Captain Don Pedro de Alberni, a Spanish officer who commanded Fort San Miguel at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island’s west coast from 1790 to 1792.
Much of Port Alberni’s residential growth has occurred in the city’s West End, and the district of Westporte. The average sale price of a home in 2020 was $402,000.
Port Alberni has a total population of 17,678. The total population including surrounding suburbs is 26,569 (as of the 2004 Census). In 2005, the median household income was $43,624.
One of the chief sources of employment in Port Alberni is the forest industry. Farming is also practised in the valley. Eco-tourism companies in the Alberni Valley take advantage of the city's location near wilderness yet proximate location to Vancouver and Victoria.
Port Alberni has leveraged its proximity to nature to become a tourist destination. Opportunities for fishing (both marine and freshwater) as well as hiking, kayaking, and mountain-biking bring outdoor enthusiasts year-round.
The other end of Alberni Inlet is in Barkley Sound, which includes the Broken Group Islands, considered to be one of the best areas for kayaking in the world.
Sproat Lake is a summer destination for local residents and cottagers from surrounding areas.
The Alberni Valley Multiplex in Port Alberni is home to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, a Junior-A hockey team in the BCHL.
Port Alberni has some of the best hiking on Vancouver Island. There are over 100 trails in and around the Alberni Valley, including mountain bike trails for all abilities.
In 2004, the Capitol Theatre underwent extensive renovations. It now hosts live performances.
South Port, the city’s largest neighbourhood, is anchored by the Harbour Quay, a waterfront collection of shops, art galleries, restaurants, and parks. The Maritime Discovery Centre can be found here. Victoria Quay also features shops, restaurants, and art galleries along the inlet.
Port Alberni is home to the McLean Mill National Historic Site which incorporates a steam railway from the downtown harbour to the saw mill up the valley. The historic mill offers demonstrations, including operating the old mill.
The city centre is home to the Rotary Arts District, which features art displayed on the street in sculptures, banners, murals and doors.
Alberni Brewing Company, Dog Mountain Brewing, and Twin City Brewing are the places to go for fresh beer brewed in-house.
The Clam Bucket is a well-known local favourite. Starboard Grill is the city’s only on-the-water restaurant with a patio overlooking the harbour and down the canal. Donut Shop offers fresh donuts made in-store.
The original city centre is being revitalized with boutique shops and art galleries. There are a number of shopping centres in the city, including Pacific Rim Shopping Centre and NorthPort Plaza. Harbour Quay Farmers Market, Cherry Creek Farmers Market, and Naesgaard’s Farm Market all offer fresh produce and local delicacies.