The Alberni Valley Senior Citizens Homes Society is one of the oldest non-profit societies in the Valley. Founded in 1945, its mission has been to provide affordable housing for independent seniors.
The original volunteer members of the board were led by President Bill Buckingham and Secretary John Squire. They and their board made possible the construction and availability of “the Cottages,” as they were known in those days, thus becoming the first non-profit housing units for seniors. It was also the society’s board that later built the well-known “Pioneer Towers” in the 1960’s.
Several generations of members have volunteered to serve in the various society boards throughout the years, including representatives of other local organizations. One of them was Ernie Bigelow, long-time Valley resident who served the society as its Vice-President and President.
“I retired from the Board in 2015 after 38 years, a volunteer job I enjoyed doing and helping our organization fulfill its mandate by providing low cost housing to seniors,” he said.
Born in Saskatchewan almost 84 years ago, Bigelow moved to Port Alberni in 1951.
“When I was 16, I started coming to work in the Valley during the winter months,” he said. “My dad had died in a farm accident back home, so at that age I had to take over the farm we owned.”
Once he moved to Port Alberni permanently, he worked at the Somass Mill, MacMillan and Bloedel, and as a part-timer for the Woodward’s Store, in deliveries. He was an active union member for several years, representing his IWA union as a shop steward.
A father of three, he has been married for almost 60 years to his wife Margaret.
It is also interesting to point out that Ernie’s mother, Alice Dillon, lived at Fir Park Village for several years, becoming a well-known and popular resident at the seniors’ home. She passed away at the age of 104.
In 1992, Bigelow retired from his job with MacMillan and Bloedel and dedicated his time to volunteering. He is no stranger when it comes to giving his time to the community.
“I have volunteered practically all my adult life here, trying to assist organizations in our community,” he said. “I don’t want to boost my profile, but at one point I served in 13 community boards.”
Today he continues his volunteer activities by giving his time to the Sunshine Club, as well as taking part in leisure programs, such as floor curling.
Before this interview reached the press, Bigelow was presented with a certificate by the Sunshine Club members for 25 years of service to that organization at the “Special Events” held at Echo Centre.
Bigelow and the Senior Citizens Society have accomplished major changes throughout the years, especially with the construction of the newly built “Pioneer Cottages.”
“The old cottages were run-down and in need of many physical repairs, so new, safe and comfortable units had to be built,” said Bigelow. “I spent many months working along with Bill Goorts, the contractor, in the planning stages in order to make this project a reality.”
The society owned the land, but still funding was needed for the construction of the residential units.
“We then approached the Credit Union in search of funding, which luckily we got soon after we applied for, and the loan was granted, thus allowing us to carry out the project. Well, we did it!”
He added proudly, “And by the way, this big undertaking did not get any funding at all from other sources, including the goverrnment.”
It was in 2011 when seniors of the Valley, thanks to Bigelow and the A.V. Senior Citizens Homes Society, saw the opening of the “New Cottages” units on 10th Ave. and Wallace St.