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100 YEARS: First Port Alberni election was a horse race

The first Port Alberni city council, which was elected on March 27, 1912. - Photo courtesy of Alberni Valley Museum/ PN00741
The first Port Alberni city council, which was elected on March 27, 1912.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Alberni Valley Museum/ PN00741

The race to incorporate a city in the Alberni Valley began in 1907, and you can blame it all on a newspaperman.

While there were already two communities–Alberni and New Alberni–Richard John (Dick) Burde was the first to suggest they would be better off if they joined together and incorporated. The publisher of the Alberni Pioneer News in an August 1907 editorial said the two communities were essential to each other and that a board of trade should be created “without delay”.

A “Citizens Committee of 11” was struck to examine the process of becoming a municipality and to create a board of trade. The Alberni Board of Trade officially met for the first time in May 1908, and it looked like the process was moving smoothly.

Plans backfired less than a year later. In February 1909 New Alberni formed its own board of trade, upset with the Alberni board over land issues.

By 1910, the idea of incorporation truly defined the rivalry between Alberni and New Alberni and their respective boards.

In 1911, Port Alberni effectively won the race for incorporation. They published a notice of incorporation in the Alberni Pioneer News on Sept. 9, 1911.

The Alberni board of trade toyed with the idea of making its own motion to incorporate, but rejected the idea for the moment. They did, however, decide to complain to the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The Alberni board had hoped to be included within the boundaries of Port Alberni, but were met with indifference.

Port Alberni, meanwhile, pressed ahead. On March 12, 1912, the lieutenant governor of B.C. signed the official papers and Port Alberni became the fifth city incorporated on Vancouver Island.

The Victoria Colonist wrote that “Great developments in the way of railway enterprise, lumbering and mining are now taking place in the district.”

People celebrated by raising flags throughout the new city, as well as holding a public meeting in Watson’s Hall, in the basement of the Port Alberni Hotel, author and historian Jan Peterson wrote in The Albernis: 1860–1922. The meeting featured official speeches and concert entertainment.

A week after the official incorporation several business people met to nominate a mayor and six aldermen. On March 27 returning officer Robert Blandy declared the inaugural council elected by acclamation: Somass Hotel owner Arthur Edward Waterhouse as mayor, and mill owner George Hubert Bird, Alberni Land. Co. owner Frank Herbert Swayne, brothers Alexander and Joseph MacIntyre (a hardware store owner and postmaster, respectively), carpenter Robert McGinley Ellis and realtor and brick maker Alexander Duff Cooper as aldermen.

Eventually that year a ward system was created for the new city and each alderman represented one ward each. But the first order of business was to hold an inaugural meeting. This took place during the first week of April 1912, in a hall called “Permanent Exhibit”.

The first motion made by the inaugural council was to obtain an official seal for the city. Photographer Leonard Frank, whose work is featured prominently in the early 1900s, snapped the official first portrait of the council.

Blandy was hired as the first city clerk, earning $75 a month.

(For more reading on the incorporation of Port Alberni in 1912, I recommend The Albernis: 1860–1922 by Jan Peterson, published by Oolichan Books. Her book was the primary reference for this column).

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