Volunteers with Port Alberni Abashiri Sister Society gather at Alberni Elementary for their annual meeting. (MIKE YOUDS PHOTO)

Volunteers with Port Alberni Abashiri Sister Society gather at Alberni Elementary for their annual meeting. (MIKE YOUDS PHOTO)

Port Alberni’s twin city exchange society seeks students

Cultural trips to Abashiri, Japan originated more than 30 years ago



Student exchanges with Port Alberni’s Japanese sister city continue to provide invaluable experiences, yet they fall short on one count: the number of kids participating.

“Nothing replaces real life experience,” said Erin Watkins, a district teacher who accompanied a group of four students to Abashiri in July.

“Just seeing these kids in this situation. They had an amazing time.”

Watkins and Tia Watts, 12, shared their trip highlights with volunteers behind the Port Alberni Abashiri Sister City Society. The two coastal communities on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean have been sister cities since 1986. Every other year for the last 32, a group of local students has visited Abashiri on northern Hokkaido. Abashiri students reciprocate on alternating years.

“I saved everything,” said Watts, who collected souvenirs of favourite experiences.

Helped by financial support from her Tseshaht First Nation community, Watts had her first flight in an aircraft as the youngest participant this year.

READ MORE: Abashiri students visit Port Alberni

Dave Grant, a retired district principal, recalled early exchanges on which there were more than 60 students and a dozen adult chaperones.

“Now it’s hard to find four children,” Grant said.

Back in the 1980s, Port Alberni had a robust economy and more families were able to afford the expense and the community helped out through fundraising activities. Companies auctioned logs to chip in while both the Port Alberni Port Authority and school district were involved, Grant said. Now, the five- to 10-day midsummer exchanges cost $3,500 with airfare as the greatest expense, although community fundraising remains a possibility in order to offer some financial assistance.

Nonetheless, the society is determined to carry on, its members firmly convinced that cultural exchanges provide worthwhile experiences.

“We were really touched by how important this was to them,” Watkins said of their attentive hosts. “How much energy and love goes into the exchange.”

“They treat you like royalty,” Grant said.

Home stays with Japanese families tend to be a highlight, reflecting the cultural value of the experience.

Laurie Morphet, a teacher who has long organized the trips, said they hope to find more people to go in 2021, particularly young people between the age of 11 and 18. It would be sad for Port Alberni to lose the opportunity after so many years, she said.

Anyone interested can contact Morphet at 250-735-0917.

A group from Abashiri is scheduled to visit in January 2020.

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


Teacher Erin Watkins and student Tia Watts, 12, were part of a Port Alberni exchange group that visited Abashiri, Japan, in July. (MIKE YOUDS PHOTO)

Teacher Erin Watkins and student Tia Watts, 12, were part of a Port Alberni exchange group that visited Abashiri, Japan, in July. (MIKE YOUDS PHOTO)

Just Posted

This photo shows Franklin River Camp "B" circa 1940. Logging was started in the Franklin River area by Bloedel, Stewart & Welch in 1934. This is one of 42 photos of the Franklin River area, donated together in an album put together by the donor's husband, Stanley Young. Young worked as a highrigger in the Franklin River area from 1939-46. 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 PN10830 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)
LOOK BACK: Logging along Franklin River

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

Getting enough Vitamin D can be challenging for Canadians, especially during winter months. (CONTRIBUTED)
ACTIVE LIVING: The ‘sunshine vitamin’ plays a vital role in our health

Port Alberni registered dietitian Sandra Gentleman writes about health issues

Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns gives a thumbs up to active transportation during a presentation of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce's Bike SEAT program at McLean Mill National Historic site in Port Alberni on April 16, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
QUINN’S QUIPS: MP Gord Johns takes victory ride for cycling strategy

Johns gained a reputation as the bicycle-riding MP during his first year

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

Volunteers from the Alberni Valley Enhancement Society release a bucket filled with 5,000 coho fry into Kitsuksis Creek on the bridge at Batty Road, Saturday, April 24, 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY DAVID HOOPER)
Volunteers release thousands of coho fry into Port Alberni creeks

Fry come from small hatchery on McLean Mill National Historic Site

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

(Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Former University of British Columbia student Stephanie Hale, 22. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett
Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaint against UBC Okanagan for ‘mishandling’ sexual assault report

Stephanie Hale did not return to campus after the student she alleges attacked her was cleared of wrongdoing

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

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

NEW CUTLINE Payphone use is declining dramatically. (Black Press Files)

This payphone sits just east of TD Bank in Parksville, on Harrison Avenue. (Emily Vance photo)
Last call approaches for Vancouver Island payphones?

Some payphones don’t get used for days as mobile phones diminishing need

Most Read