More than 100 people gathered in front of the Port Alberni Friendship Center on March 29 to honour the memory of Clifton Johnston. The 20-year-old man from Port Alberni and Ahousaht had been found suffering from stab wounds on the front steps of the centre two days earlier; he succumbed to his injuries.
Johnston’s mother, Iris Clarke, invited friends and family to a candlelight vigil to remember her son. She had arrived from Abbotsford the previous Wednesday and dropped her son off for a visit, she said.
She thanked everyone who gathered at the centre on Fourth Avenue and lit candles in Johnston’s memory. “You all give me strength,” she acknowledged.
Clarke held a stuffed bee in her hands and told the crowd how Johnston, a graduate from Alberni District Secondary School, had dreams of becoming a beekeeper. She lay the bee and some flowers on the rocks near the place where her son passed away.
Nuu-chah-nulth elder Wally Samuel Sr. spoke to the crowd, talking about family. “I ask everybody to look out for each other,” he said. “We all have family.”
Samuel asked the community’s youth to “check in with your family…Please be safe.”
Elder Tim Sutherland Sr. led a brief blanketing ceremony, offering some of Johnston’s friends blankets from the family for comfort and support. Both Samuel and Sutherland had attended the centre Saturday evening and performed a cleansing, not realizing at that time that the young man for whom they grieved was actually related to them. They found out later, once the family was notified.
Wednesday afternoon the Port Alberni RCMP announced that a suspect had been arrested, but since charges had not been laid they were not going to release the suspect’s name. Detachment commander Insp. Eric Rochette said the incident appeared to be isolated, where the suspect and victim were known to one another.
The incident was not brought up directly at Monday night’s vigil—only memories of Johnston and messages of condolence and support to family members who attended.