The Alberni Valley Tyee Club’s fishing derbies used to take place at the foot of Argyle Street, where Harbour Quay is today. PHOTO COURTESY AV TYEE CLUB

SALMON FEST: Alberni Valley Tyee Club held first salmon derbies

First fishing derbies were held off dock at foot of Argyle Street

  • Fri Sep 1st, 2017 6:30am
  • Life

BY CAROLYN JASKEN

Special to the News

No one has had as much impact on the early establishment of sport fishing in Port Alberni than the Alberni Valley Tyee Club.

A sports fishing club for adults and kids, the oldest active club in the valley is currently based out of Clutesi Haven Marina along the Somass River. The club has a long and illustrious history, with early beginnings established in 1939 when a small group of enthusiastic businessmen met at the Good Eats Cafe. They were ardent sportsmen, interested in sports fishing and the development of the salmon fishery in the Alberni Canal (now known as the Alberni Inlet). Their goal was to promote sports fishing in Port Alberni as a tourist industry and guard against encroachment of commercial fishing in those areas of Alberni District.

The establishment of this fishing club fulfilled a desire to prove to the world that the best tyee fishing in Canada was right here. The club operated at the foot of Argyle Street off a long dock where Harbour Quay now resides. People could rent row boats for 25 cents, fishing gear and rods. During the season the top 50 heaviest fish caught by a local sports fisher qualified on the board for their main derby where prizes were awarded and given celebrity bragging rights for their angling. Locals of all ages were drawn to the docks, enabled by the club to try their luck at catching a Tyee salmon.

The senior club members at the time would not permit kids to join the club, nor would they recognize their tyees being caught, much to the dismay of junior fishers renting row boats and catching tyees. It was when 12-year-old Cliff McLean actually caught a 56-pound Tyee all by himself that the older club members relented, and McLean became the youngest member of the Tyee Club.

A junior category was created to satisfy junior anglers and was sponsored by the late Bud Carter, Ted Vooman and Reece Riley.

The club adapted to change after the Great Depression, going from hand lines to rod and reels, from wooden rowboats to boats with motors and larger areas of boundaries beyond the harbour overseen by the department of Fisheries and Oceans fishing regulations. One of Port Alberni’s largest attractions was the Tyee Club, introducing locals and guests to the joys of fishing in this area. Members and non-members alike participated in the club’s annual three-day open derby starting on the Labour Day weekend in 1949. This weekend derby was the club’s largest funding source of the year as it brought many visiting anglers to Port Alberni to try their hand at catching the heaviest salmon and win prizes.

The Tyee Club brought people from all over the Pacific Northwest and as far as Scotland to try their luck catching a Tyee.

Over the years, the Tyee club relocated from the waterfront on Argyle Street and operated out of a marina run by Gordon Murphy, located on Harbour Road next to the Alberni Pacific Division (APD) and Plywood mills. The club continued to be a social hub for anglers and boaters at Murphy’s marina.

After the tsunami came ashore in March 1964, the harbour commission and city council in 1969 worked out an agreement for the use and development of land at the Kitsuksis Creek site. This was to take the form of an enlargement of present floats at this site. During the time of planning for this marina development there was co-operation between the harbour commission and city council that involved the provincial government, federal departments of transportation and public works, the Kinsmen club, Tyee Club, Power Squadron and Yacht Club as well as the many boaters of the Port Alberni area.

The first phase of the construction of the marina started with the dredging and breakwater in 1972 and installation of 200 berths and one of the finest float setups on the Pacific Coast.

Phase 2 was for the renovation of the old Arrowsmith machine shop to become the marina headquarters. The new look taken on gave the area a facelift and provided the necessary services of washrooms, showers, septic hookups, offices and housing on the grounds including a weigh station, fish cleaning trough and boat launch. For the boater, berths provided fresh water, electricity, firefighting, garbage and oil collection. The Clutesi Haven Marina complex will long be remembered by the Tyee Club, citizens and visitors to Port Alberni who received benefits and enjoyment of the services it provided.

In 1971, AV Times editor Fred Duncan approached Tyee Club executives about creating a festival atmosphere and building a tourism draw around the popular three-day Labour Day weekend fishing derby, with larger sponsored prizes. A deal was struck and in return the Tyee Club provided the rules and ran the weigh station, policing and patrols. The Port Alberni Kiwanis Salmon festival was born and has continued to draw a significant number of anglers and tourists to the waterfront for Labour Day.

This year, 2017, the salmon festival will move to Tyee Landing—near where the Tyee Club got its start—with support from the club.

Some of the highlights of the Tyee Club over the years include the largest Tyee recorded by members. To date Ann Crossland (now Osterberg) still holds the recordwith her 64-pound-seven-ounce chinook caught during Tyee Club season on Oct. 4, 1959. Crossland won the annual derby for that year.

Patsy Wallman still has the junior record with her 57-lb Tyee and Gary McIntosh (caught out of season) with his 64.9-pounder. The senior and junior categories were unique to fishing clubs competing for top weekly sponsored prizes and recognition of the largest Tyee caught by a senior or junior member during the Tyee Club season. Seniors received a bronze, silver, gold or diamond club pin and presentation of prizes at their annual banquets.

The fishing season was a social hub on the waterfront for daily dock runs to see fish being brought in to the docks, to see who was leading on the leader boards and who qualified for their senior main derby. People flocked to the club to see who got bumped and read the club’s log books to find out where fish were being caught, what lure was used and for fishers to gather and swap tall tales. The tradition carries on, nearly 70 years later.

Port Alberni has always had a friendly rivalry with Campbell River for Salmon Capital of the World bragging rights. Port Alberni’s reputation as the Ultimate Fishing Town was solidified in 2010 when the entire community came together and won the World Fishing Network’s Ultimate Fishing Town In Canada challenge.

The club is proud of its deep roots and heritage and respect as a key stakeholder over the years, helping to shape the community’s cultural lifestyle and identity while providing input for infrastructure needs in the community. The club helps protect salmon enhancement and donates monies rehabilitation initiatives in order to be good stewards of a local resource to ensure future generations of fishing will continue.

The Tyee Club’s next generation executive is revitalizing the club with a new, season-long ladder derby underway while anglers enjoy time on the water. The club is currently involved in conceptual talks with the Port Alberni Port Authority about future infrastructure needs. These talks will set the tone for long-term planning of Tyee Landing and Tyee Pier to fill a void in the community and help create a vision of a tourist-focused development in a central location.

The executive feels centring such a development will inspire people to explore all that the waterfront has to offer in the downtown core.

A social point and central gathering space right on the water would bring the club full circle—celebrating its illustrious roots while bringing its history back to life on the waterfront.

 

A newspaper article shows Cliff McLean, who weighed 62 pounds, with his 56-pound salmon. McLean became the youngest member of the Tyee Club with his catch. PHOTO COURTESY AV TYEE CLUB