Wind enthusiast Sandra Gentleman is happy to see the changes City of Port Alberni workers are making at Canal Beach

LIfe’s a beach in Port Alberni

Wind enthusiasts are happy to see some big changes to the former Alberni Plywood site, which they've renamed Canal Beach.

Port Alberni will soon be getting a public beach, its first one in more than 50 years.

The city has been busy cleaning up the former Alberni Plywood site, near the Alberni Pacific Division Sawmill, for the last few months. The beach has been used for the last few years for kite boarders and windsurfers to access the Alberni Inlet, but access was limited to specific user groups. However, the city is busy cleaning up and preparing the property with the goal of publicly opening up the area by next spring.

“We’re bringing the beach back to Port Alberni,” said Mayor John Douglas. “It was 1952 when Port Alberni last had a beach.”

Douglas explained public access to the inlet was eliminated in the 1950s as industry expanded along the water. The mayor said he would like to see Canal Beach become a new Harbour Quay, with concession stands and rental facilities for non-motorized water equipment.

“I am very much in favour of opening up the waterfront so people can use it,” Douglas added. “I would like to see people being able to go down there to have a picnic, fly a kite or go for a walk.”

Parks and recreation director Scott Kenny said the $50,000 budgeted to remove the existing pier, was spent on cleaning the site and removing the pier deck instead. Kenny said they are going to save the pier and eventually re-deck it.

“Initially it started off with the removal of the pier but as we got working on it, we found that the structure was quite sound,” Kenny said. “So, it’s going to stay.”

Kenny said he isn’t sure how much it will cost to re-deck the pier but he expects it to be more than the $50,000 already spent and he won’t be looking at doing that until next year at the earliest. He said he will be approaching city council for another $50,000 to further clean up the former industrial site.

The city purchased the site a number of years ago from MacMillian Bloedel for $1.

Self-proclaimed wind and watersport enthusiasts Sandra and Rob Gentleman could be considered the driving force behind Canal Beach. Sandra and her husband moved to Port Alberni to open up a kiteboarding business, Wild West Watersports, which has since been renamed Canal Beach.

The Gentlemans had been introduced to Douglas on a kiteboarding website.

“When mayor John Douglas was a city councillor, he talked to a local kiteboarder asking ‘why aren’t there more of you here?’,” Gentleman explained.

“He told him to check out Big Wave Dave’s website so John went on and posted on the forum there asking where are all the kite boarders and windsurfers as there are great winds here.”

The post caught Gentleman’s attention and eventually she and Rob came to Port Alberni and met with Douglas and economic development manager Pat Deakin.

“We moved our life here from Victoria,” Gentleman said.

Her family was attracted to the wind and watersport potential.

“We love Port Alberni and we are so glad we made the move.”

Since moving here, Gentleman has been working hard at making Port Alberni a wind and watersport destination, and spent countless of hours cleaning and creating Canal Beach, which is a name she created.

“We couldn’t call it the ‘Old Plywood Mill Site Beach,’” Gentleman laughed. “I just picked the name because it’s the Alberni canal and it’s a beach on the canal.”

Gentleman envisions that the area will become a popular spot for non-motorized watersports with rentals for stand-up paddleboarding, wind and kitesurfing, canoeing, kayaking and for swimmers.

“This is just a tip of the iceberg of what can happen here in the future,” Gentleman said, adding that she has heard from a lot of people from Squamish who love the warm water here.

“The mayor said he would like to see this become a hub, kind of like Jericho [beach in Vancouver].”

Canal Beach is currently closed to the public as the city continues working on the site. The road into the area is also shared with neighbouring industry.

However, Port Alberni’s parks and recreation department will be hosting the Mobile Optimist Sailing School for children at Canal Beach in August and Gentleman hopes the public will be able to see what her group and the city have been doing for the last few years.

A movie night is also being planned, which will be screened on a wall that was painted white by the windsurfing community.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com