Maxine Munsil can trace her family tree in Port Alberni back to her great-grandparents, Kenneth and Alexandrina McKenzie, who arrived in 1884 aboard the schooner Grace.
Her grandmother, Ivy Richmond, came with her mother and sisters by rail in 1912 to join her father Albert, who operated a mill cutting ties for the railway.
Fascinated with this family history, when Munsil retired in 1999 she visited the archives at the Alberni Valley Museum to look for more information on her family. She has since translated that visit into an ambitious project to track the descendants of Port Alberni’s pioneer families as a personal centennial project.
“It was in researching this family that I realized how important all pioneers and the natives were to life in this remote area in the early days,” she said. “I was overwhelmed at the amount of information the archives volunteers had carefully preserved and stored.”
So far, Munsil has tracked 300 descendants from 39 families who are still living in Port Alberni. The largest familial group so far includes the Mahers and Plaunts, with 45 descendants. The Nicholases, Swansons and Stricts have 38 and the Howitts 29. Viven Thomson, a volunteer at the archives, is one of 15 descendants of the Thomson family still living in the Valley, Munsil said.
“It’s interesting to see that they have remained a presence in the Alberni Valley,” Munsil said.
If you are a descendant of a pioneer family in Port Alberni prior to 1913 and you have not yet spoken with Maxine Munsil, please call her at 250-724-2604 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Councillor Cindy Solda brought up the fact that much of the centennial media coverage to date is of men. She wants to know where the women are. Well, I can tell you that they weren’t in many newspaper clippings from 1912, and if they were, they were referred to as “Mrs.” and rarely by their first names.
I put the question to Maxine Munsil and to Gareth Flostrand from the centennial committee, and they were helpful with some names. So pioneer women will be represented in future columns in the Alberni Valley News.