Port Alberni’s waterfront shines under the sun and the shadow of Mount Arrowsmith in this iconic photo from August 2018. SUSAN QUINN/Black Press

Port Alberni’s waterfront shines under the sun and the shadow of Mount Arrowsmith in this iconic photo from August 2018. SUSAN QUINN/Black Press

Port Alberni fights bad reputation in international media amid manhunt for wanted teens

The Canada-wide manhunt for two Port Alberni teens suspected in three deaths in northern British Columbia has thrust the small city located in the heart of Vancouver Island into an unwanted limelight.

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky have been charged with second degree murder in the death of Leonard Dyck of Vancouver, whose body was found at a rest area on Highway 37 a couple of kilometres away from where the Port Alberni teens’ truck was found on fire last week. They are also implicated in the shooting deaths of international tourists Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese near Liard Hot Springs on July 15.

READ: ‘Struggling to understand’: Family, UBC pay tribute to lecturer killed in northern B.C.

Barry Shep of Calgary was already down on Port Alberni after his truck was broken into while he was helping a fellow fisher, whose truck and boat trailer were stolen while he was fishing down the Alberni Inlet. “Wow, seems this town has its share of murders as well,” he said.

Tom Shanahan from Pickering, Ontario wrote to the Alberni Valley News with his thoughts regarding the manhunt for two Port Alberni teens. “This sad story disproves the idiotic theory that raising kids in a small town is better than raising kids in a big city,” he said.

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said her city is not unique in the negative attention it has been receiving.

“We do get big media attention when it’s for something negative; I don’t think we’re unique in that,” she said.

Minions said she reached out to Gillam, Manitoba mayor Dwayne Forman, whose community has been inundated with SWAT team members, law enforcement members and international media because it was the last place McLeod and Schmegelsky were spotted.

“Their community is struggling with the same thing,” she said.

City Councillor Cindy Solda, who has been a politician in Port Alberni for well over a decade, said the press attention has been difficult to take. “I love press, but only for the right reasons,” she said. “This whole situation has affected a lot of communities and so many families, the relatives, the friends.

“People are judging. What happened in our society to innocent until proven guilty? Of course, everyone’s talking about it. People are being judge and jury before these young adults even had a chance. We don’t know; we’ve just heard bits and pieces and we’re judging.”

READ: B.C. fugitives believed to still be in northern Manitoba

Port Alberni has been labeled one of the worst places to live in Canada by Moneysense magazine for several years. The label spawned a spoof Facebook campaign called The Worst Place to Live, then a social media campaign called Heart of Vancouver Island to try and combat the bad reputation by highlighting positive things about the community.

“I do feel that Port Alberni unfortunately only gets international media attention when something bad happens,” said Kama Jones, one of Vancouver’s top mom bloggers of 2018 who is from Port Alberni. Jones was part of the team that operated Heart of Vancouver Island blog from 2016–2017.

“We started Heart of Vancouver Island as a direct response to Port Alberni’s notoriety as ‘The Worst Place to Live in Canada’ by Moneysense Magazine,” Jones said.

“We didn’t agree with this label, and wanted to create a grassroots campaign to increase local pride about living in the community, which would ripple forward to all of our social networks.

“Even though the city stopped funding it and the page now lays stagnant, I’ve been told it helped to change the story about why people love living in Port Alberni.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The new council for Hupacasath First Nation. From left to right: Councillor Ricky-Lee Watts, Chief Councillor Brandy Lauder, Councillor Jolleen Dick and Councillor Warren Lauder. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Hupacasath First Nation chooses new chief councillor, council

First change of leadership in a decade for Vancouver Island nation

A trailer with fire damage is taped off by the Port Alberni Fire Department at the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Fire knocked down at Wintergreen Apartments trailer

City is concerned about zoning, building code and fire code infractions surrounding the trailers

File photo of Gord Johns during World Oceans Day.
Courtenay-Alberni MP outlines priorities for federal budget

Universal pharmacare, affordable housing and Pacific wild salmon are some of the… Continue reading

Alberni Valley Bulldogs forward Lukas Jirousek pokes the puck away from Grizzlies forward Henri Schreifels during a game at the Alberni Valley Multiplex on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BCHL: Career night for Castagna can’t lift Alberni Valley Bulldogs past Victoria

Back-and-forth affair between Bulldogs and Grizzlies ends 7-5 for visiting team

Logging Camp Nine on Great Central Lake overlooks a large forest fire across the lake in this historical photo from May 1943. Camp Nine was bustling, with residences for logging camp staff, a rail line and rail cars visible. This is one of 24,000 photos contained in the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives, available for public viewing at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN12220 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)
LOOK BACK: Great Central Lake’s sawmill

Take a peek at Alberni Valley history with the Alberni Vally Museum

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Most Canadians plan to get COVID-19 vaccine, but safety fears drive hesitancy: poll

This comes as confidence in governments is plummeting in provinces being hit hardest by the pandemic

Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox is shown in a 1981. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/CP)
Terry Fox’s legacy of resilience resonates during COVID-19 crisis, says brother

Fred Fox said his brother’s legacy of resilience has taken on renewed resonance as COVID-19 rages on

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
Vancouver Island team helps make $368 million three-tonne cocaine seizure

12 members from 19 Wing Comox involved in Op Caribbe

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read