Like many towns that have in the past been heavily dependent on natural resources for their existence, Port Alberni has struggled over the past few decades to survive the downturns that have knocked the stuffing out of local economies. But, true to form, Port’s big heart and determination are making progress in that department thanks to a number of initiatives designed to attract tourism dollars to the Alberni Valley.
To my mind one of the best projects has been the conversion of a portion of the heavily-industrialized downtown waterfront to the Alberni Harbour Quay, an eclectic grouping of small businesses centred around a working waterfront setting. The quay has been in existence for some years now and plays host to weekly farmers and craft markets on the weekends as well as serving as a permanent home to galleries, shops and an interesting mix of food-related vendors. You can find everything from fresh-made doughnuts to casual meals to fine dining at the quay, and if you just want to share a coffee and visit with friends there are places where you can do that, too.
One of the most striking things about the Alberni Harbour Quay is the obvious ongoing respect for the creatures, industry and history that have contributed to the town’s prosperity over the years. The quay is centred by an attractive fountain featuring salmon – one of the big economic drivers in the ‘good old days.’ (And not so long ago they were, either). There are great views in all directions of fishboats and other marine-oriented businesses, and a little further up the inlet you can still see the pulp mill at work. The installation of new equipment at the mill in recent years has all but eliminated the stench that used to emanate from its stacks and spew fly ash all over town – which means the usual tourist excuse for bypassing Port Alberni as a destination has all but disappeared too. Even the children’s playground features nautically-themed equipment – a further tip of the hat to the marine orientation of the city.
The recently opened Centennial Pier has added a new dimension to the quay over the past year. Stretching out in to the inlet it affords great views of wildlife, water, mountains and city, as well as serving as a valuable breakwater for Fishermens’ Harbour. And, if you want some really spectacular views, climb the clock tower.
Harbour Quay is a little out of the way and takes a bit of finding, but it is worth the trouble. It offers a refreshing look at a town that is working hard to re-invent itself, and a great break from everyday cares. What can be better than a fresh breeze off the water, beautiful scenery and a decadent treat or great gallery find? Not much, we think.
Alberni Harbour Quay is located at the foot of Argyle Street in downtown Port Alberni.
GPS co-ordinates are:
N 49 14.066 W 124 48.902