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.