On Monday, July 18, Mayor Mike Ruttan and Abashiri, Japan’s vice mayor, Kawata Masahiro, officially signed a reaffirmation of the two sister cities, marking the 30th anniversary of the relationship.
Since 1986, exchange trips for all ages have been building bridges between cultural differences, creating lasting friendships and providing life-long learning opportunities in both cities. The signing was a symbolic commitment for its continuation.
A group of 13 adults from Abashiri arrived in Port Alberni early evening on Saturday for a brief, but action-packed stay. Community volunteers and members of the Port Alberni International Twinning Society opened their homes for accommodations and gave the visitors an overview of local sites.
“It has been wonderful,” said Dave Grant on the final full day of the trip. “On Sunday we went to the Tseshaht Market where they provided a salmon lunch and we visited Gordon Dick’s Ahtsik Native Art Gallery.”
Grant was on the first exchange trip in 1986. All 80-plus children and adult chaperones on that trip had matching red jackets with a design on the back incorporating a maple leaf and the circle from the Japanese flag. Grant still has his and wore it on every outing with the group.
Sunday’s activities also included a tour of the Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre, a train ride to McLean Mill and a barbecue at Grant’s Sproat Lake residence.
Consul General Okai arrived with her husband from Vancouver and toured city hall and the council chambers. Last year was Ruttan’s first experience with a delegation from Abashiri and he said he hopes to reciprocate next year.
“(Thirty years) shows an incredible dedication,” Ruttan said. “I get photos and have seen the Port Alberni garden in Abashiri that is a result of the Port Alberni Fan Club there. I have seen the dedication on the part of Abashiri to maintain the relationship and it is amazing. People want to preserve this relationship.”
Consul General Okai said this has been one of the most active sister city relationships she has come across in her jurisdiction. Within BC and the Yukon, there are 35 sister city relationships and Port Alberni and Abashiri comes in 13th in longevity.
“There are many young ones from Abashiri who have been a part of the global community thanks to the Port Alberni population and the people who have given them a homestay experience,” Okai said. “So from the bottom of my heart I commend everyone involved in this wonderful venture.”
Councillor Denis Sauve represents the city on the Port Alberni International Twinning Society and said the relationship helps bring the two countries closer together.
“We have an international community and we are able to share cultures and ideas with another country,” he said.
Sherri McKinnon, president of the society, has noticed an increased interest in the twinning with Abashiri and hopes the anniversary encourages students to sign up for the next exchange trip.
“It has been wonderful having the group here and it makes me even more passionate to continue,” McKinnon said. “We have a new Facebook page that has been getting a lot of interest.”
Recruiting is now underway for Grades 6–11 students wishing to go to Abashiri in July 2017, as well as an adult chaperone. An adult-only delegation is also in the works for next July. If anyone is interested in hosting Japanese students in January 2017 or travelling on any of the trips, contact Laurie Morphet at email@example.com.