A Harbour Quay monument commemorating the 1964 tsunami that washed through Alberni will also serve to remind people that such events are very real.
Museum director Jamie Morton unveiled a mockup of the monument during an open house Friday at the Maritime Discovery Centre’s Hutcheson Gallery.
“It was a life-changing event for people here in Port Alberni,” Morton said to the packed gallery, where the city’s permanent display on the tsunami is housed. “It was not expected, how hard it was going to hit.”
The tsunami actually came in three waves, he said, the first one hitting at 12:20 a.m. on March 28, 1964 and the final wave hitting at 3:30 a.m., after the high tide had crested. “It was the second wave that caused most of the damage.”
Tsunami survivor Jan Jansma put on a slide show of his photos taken in the days following the tidal wave.
Jean (Cutforth) Beck, who was living in the inundation zone at the time, was also on hand to share her stories as were other survivors.
Tseshaht First Nation councillor Luke George related stories passed down through his family’s generations of great floods of the past, and how the oral history is similar in different regions, including the Musqueam in the Lower Mainland and as far east as the Sto:lo Nation in the Fraser Valley.
Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser talked of how Port Alberni “shone 50 years ago in how we came through this event.”
The tsunami monument will be installed this summer at the quay near the Starboard Grill restaurant. “We don’t have a specific date yet. It’s going to depend on getting the form and on coordinating work schedules,” Morton said.
The monument will be similar in shape and composition to the one honouring merchant marines that sits at Harbour Quay. There will be text on it as well as a picture.
“The monument is important because it’s a reminder that this kind of thing can happen, and it did happen here in 1964,” Morton said. “It was a three-and-a-half metre tsunami then and we’ve been told to expect a 20-metre one today.”
The cost of the monument is being paid for out of money left in the 2012 Centennial fund which is administered by the Alberni Valley Museum and Heritage Commission, Morton said.
Morton spent part of the day on Tuesday at Somass Mill looking for a frame of reference for the tsunami high water mark. He would like to mount a permanent sign depicting the high water mark at the Harbour Quay clock tower, but there is some debate as to how high the water was at that point, he said.
The 50th anniversary of the tsunami that washed through Alberni in 1964 created several conversations about a monument. “A lot of people asked us why there wasn’t a monument or a high water mark to commemorate the tsunami,” Morton said. “It just felt like there was something missing.”
Port Alberni didn’t exist as we know it when the tsunami struck in 1964. “People forget that Port Alberni was still two separate communities then and the emergency response wasn’t as well coordinated as it would be today,” Morton said. “The tsunami contributed to the two communities amalgamating.”
With files from Wawmeesh G. Hamilton