A blast from the past – Alberni Pacific Railway offers steam train rides into history

Steam Engine #7, ready to go

Thirty years ago I was visiting with my old friend Mark Mosher in Port Alberni, who was working on one of the most ambitious volunteer projects I have had the pleasure of seeing come to fruition. Mark and five other steam enthusiasts were in the process of rehabilitating old ‘Two Spot’, a retired steam locomotive that had spent her entire working

Mark Mosher, one of the original engineers on Two Spot

 life in the logging industry on Vancouver Island. Built in 1912, the Two Spot was heading back on to the rails after more than 30 years in retirement. Her new working life, though, was destined to be less strenuous – she would be hauling passengers instead of logs, and her run would just be along the Alberni waterfront.
Thus began the story of the Alberni Pacific Railway and a remarkable saga that now takes enthusiastic passengers back to yesteryear. During the hundreds of shared volunteer hours restoring Two Spot, the founders of the APR had developed an ambitious long-range dream. They had their sights set on running a steam train out to the McLean lumber mill and logging camp (see the story of the McLean Mill National Heritage Site also in this section), which they envisioned ultimately as a co-ordinated local attraction. Finally in 2001, the idea became reality.
Mark is gone now and Two Spot is in retirement for the moment, needing repairs. But the
dream of those pioneers of the Alberni Pacific Railway endures (as do several of the original dreamers!). Alberni Pacific Railway Engine No. 7, another steam locomotive built in 1929, runs a full slate of scheduled runs out to the McLean Mill through the summer months as well as special steam train rides throughout much of the rest of the year. You can take your pick of everything from trips with a stop at Port Alberni’s Chase and Warren Estate winery, to a staged train robbery featuring mounted ‘robbers’, to a Teddy Bear Picnic to Santa runs along the waterfront in December.
The train ride to the mill offers all sorts of unexpected great highlights, starting with the

Hugh Grist, volunteer conductor and an APR founder

 restored train station in downtown Port Alberni. Built in 1911, the station had fallen into disrepair following its closure in 1957. But Port has always been a town with a big heart and plenty of energy, and a concerted community volunteer effort over the course of a single long weekend in 1990 restored it to its original stature. The charming interior features all of the accoutrements of an early-1900s station, along with some of the history of the Alberni Pacific Railway.
Part way through the 35-minute ride to the McLean Mill passengers are delighted by the appearance of The Flag Lady, who waves Canadian and B.C. flags from her patriotically flag-draped back yard (you want to sit on the right-hand side of the train on the way out in order to get the best view). Local folks stop at the railway crossings to wave as the train passes, and the haunting echo of the train’s whistle is an experience in itself.
The APR owes its existence and its survival almost entirely to the efforts of volunteers. They deserve a great pat on the back for their thousands of hours of effort in preserving and presenting to us an intriguing glance back in time.
The starting point for a trip on the Alberni Pacific Railway is the rehabilitated train station located just off the waterfront in downtown Port Alberni, at 3100 Kingsway.

GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 49.23516641064178 Long. -124.81227815151214    

N 49 14.110  W 124 48.737

Further information on the Alberni Pacific Railway can be obtained by visiting the web site at:

www.alberniheritage.com/alberni-pacific-railway/welcome-alberni-pacific-steam-railway

Shirley

About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers. In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.
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