Mystery remains over Alberni sporting trophy
A silver trophy denoting a bygone era in the Alberni Valley has been rescued from a garage sale in Keremeos and repatriated back to Port Alberni.
Alberni Athletic Association president Larry Spencer gave a glimpse of the trophy on Tuesday.
The trophy stands approximately one foot high. Scrawled in ornate letters are the words “Challenge Trophy. The gift of the Alberni Land Company to the Port Alberni Athletic Association. July 1912”.
“It’s a good feeling knowing that we were able to return a bit of the Valley’s history back here,” Spencer said. “And it’s 100 years old and in mint condition.”
The mystery of the trophy began on Valentine’s Day this year. Spencer was on vacation when he received an e-mail from Port Alberni City Manager Ken Watson about the matter.
“He said that someone had been in touch with the mayor about it, saying that they bought this trophy at a garage sale in Keremeos,” Spencer said. “It was on the verge of being sold and melted down.”
When Spencer returned to Port Alberni he raised the matter at the annual general meeting of the Alberni Athletic Association. “No one knew that it existed or even knew what it was,” he said. “We all thought it was important though so we gave the go-ahead to try and get it.”
Spencer contacted an intermediary for the seller and told him the association was willing to pay the $850 price tag and bring the trophy back to Port Alberni. “Then they upped the price by $500,” he said. An anonymous donor helped the society buy the trophy.
Athletic association member Bill Andrews volunteered to drive to Penticton to repatriate the piece of history from a precious metal dealer.
“I thought about it all the way up there and it was quite something when I first saw it and read the inscription,” Andrews, 75, said. “Every once in awhile on the way back I’d take it out of the box then just look at it in wonder.”
The cup is back in Port Alberni physically, but little is known about it. “I showed it around to some old timers in town and they don’t even know much about it,” Spencer said. “A lot of them weren’t even around yet when the cup was made (1912).”
A few clues about the trophy’s provenance can be found on the cup itself. The cup was a “challenge trophy” gifted to the Port Alberni Athletic Association by the Alberni Land Company in July 1912.
Alex Spencer, 80, doesn’t remember the cup itself and never saw it while growing up in Port Alberni.
But he does remember the association and the era it came from.
“It comes from the time when Port Alberni used to be two different towns,” Alex Spencer said. “The Port Alberni Athletic Association was the association for the guys over in Port Alberni. The Alberni Athletic Association was for the Alberni guys.”
There used to be a clear social distinction between people from the two towns, Andrews said. “The dividing line was Roger Creek. It was like a demilitarized zone,” he said. “I’m kidding. There was a rivalry but it was a friendly one.”
The Port Alberni Athletic Association used to be located at what is now the city hall property on Argyle Street, Alex Spencer said. The trophy likely had to do with competitions between the two associations in basketball, soccer or badminton.
“We had the Athletics and they had their own team—the Port Alberni Cubs,” Alex Spencer said. “We had a rivalry with the Cubs and used to beat them, pretty regularly too.”
The Port Alberni Athletic Association Hall burned down sometime in the late 1930s or 1940s. It was never rebuilt, and its members and joined the Alberni Athletic Association, Alex Spencer said.
The Alberni Valley Museum wanted to acquiring the piece but couldn’t because it has no acquisition budget, director Jamie Morton said.
Morton didn’t know about the trophy or its history, but he did know about the agency that bequeathed it to the Port Alberni Athletic Association.
After the establishment of Indian reserves, the Alberni Land Company owned title to land in the city under the provincial land system of the time, Morton said.
The company evolved out of the Anderson Company which owned a mill that closed in 1865. “The company held onto the land afterward, speculating that the Valley would grow,” Morton said.
The company subdivided the town into Alberni first in 1880 then Port Alberni later in the early 1900s. Alberni was an agricultural area and service centre.
When Port Alberni was established it had the waterfront, mills, and railway. “The talk then was that it was better and there was more going on there but it never really worked,” he said.
The trophy was likely a booster tool for the Alberni Land Company as a way to enmesh themselves with the population, but also to foster a sense of competitiveness between the two communities, Morton said. “The ironic thing is that they owned the lands in both communities,” he added.
Back at the new Alberni Athletic Hall, the cup will remain tucked away for now but there are future plans for it, Larry Spencer said.
“We hope to have it enshrined at the athletic hall at some point.”