Jan Lavertu sits with some of the board games that Westcoast Games of Port Alberni have created. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

PROGRESS 2018: It’s game on with Westcoast Games

Residual wood, technology, social interaction play into new Port Alberni-based enterprise


Special to the News

When it comes to Alberni Valley-based manufacturing, Jan Lavertu is more than playing around with the concept.

The owner of Westcoast Home Hardware in Port Alberni has in the last couple of years also become the owner of an entrepreneurial start-up called Westcoast Games. A small manufacturing operation in Port Alberni produces board games that are wholesaled to about 100 retailers across Canada.

Lavertu gives credit to his son, Jordan, for helping him come up with the game concept. The manufacturing aspect stems from Lavertu’s role as vice-president of the McLean Mill Society. The historic site had a lot of mixed timbers going to waste.

“We thought, is there a way to use them in the store,” he recalled.

The store purchased an industrial-scale computer-numerical cutting (CNC) machine and began making furniture and signs.

Jordan, attending university at the time, told his dad that he would get together with friends over a board game in the evening to pass the time. That gave Jan the idea of manufacturing table games. Jordan went to a craft fair in Nanaimo and sold all he had: four cribbage boards.

“I think we might be onto something here,” Jan said. “We have a CNC machine. Let’s take our idea and the technology and merge them to make something substantial.”

Initially the venture turned out to be too labour-intensive and time consuming. They investigated other materials that might be more practical and came across an engineered coloured wood called Valchromat, manufactured in Portugal and South Africa.

Made from residual pine that is organically dyed, Valchromat offers uniform colour and is easier to craft. Lavertu bought his first feedstock from a Calgary businessman and began testing it. While the material isn’t cheap, the numbers work when factored into value-added manufacturing.

At the outset, the Lavertus were producing the board games at the Johnston Road hardware store but ran out of space. They relocated to the old Klitsa school facility on Tebo Avenue before outgrowing that. Now, they are relocating the plant to a former cabling station near Canal Waterfront Park. As well, they’re opening a retail showroom at the Port Alberni Visitors Centre, marketing directly to tourists. Jordan has joined the enterprise and designed one of the products, a unique football board game.

“We’d love to grow the business,” said Jan, who sees potential in the combination of wood with Valchromat. “There are many requests we’ve turned down. We are looking at customization of other products.”

Port Alberni offers distinct advantages with its affordability and ease of access to transportation and larger markets, he said.

“The long-term goal is to eventually work our way down to the U.S. market. We’re expanding all over and opportunities are always arising.”

As for the future of traditional board games in a world alight with dazzling technology?

“It’s funny,” Jan said. “Sometimes the simplest concept is the best concept. And we’ve put a little bit of a twist into it.”

Often board games are out of sight, stored in cardboard boxes in closets. Westcoast games are suitable for hanging and decorative, keeping them front of mind. In an entrepreneurial sense, they are continually selling themselves.

The Lavertus are only just getting started: “It’s like anything, we’re always looking for other opportunities.” They’re working on ideas for smaller, portable versions of the board games.

In sense, the same generation that gravitated to electronic games is open to finding alternatives that bring people together.

“When you look at millennials, they’ve become more social. It’s the sharing of ideas.”


Jan and Jordan Lavertu of Westcoast Games have put a new spin on traditional board games—they can also hang as artwork—and people across Canada are catching on. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Just Posted

ARTS AROUND: Join watercolour workshops in Port Alberni

Victoria artist Joanne Thomas will provide beginner and advanced classes

‘Beauty amongst such tragedy:’ B.C. photographer captures nature’s trifecta

David Luggi’s photo from a beach in Fraser Lake shows Shovel Lake wildfire, Big Dipper and an aurora

Bullhead derby returns to Port Alberni with new date, location

Lions Club partners with Maritime Discovery Centre

Vancouver Island woman to attempt historic swim across Juan de Fuca Strait today

Ultra-marathon swimmer Susan Simmons to attempt to swim from Victoria to Port Angeles and back

Port Alberni RCMP honour fallen officers from New Brunswick

Moment of silence, prayers held for Fredericton officers killed last week

‘We will not forget:’ Thousands attend funeral fallen Fredericton officers

Hundreds of officials marched in the parade, which included massed band, several police motorcycles

RCMP looking for missing Duncan teen

Dallas Macleod, 18, was last seen on Aug. 10

Evacuation order issued in Island village due to “risk of falling debris”

Fire continues to threaten town’s only access road

B.C. man designer behind Canucks’ retro jersey

Jeremie White was 20 years old when he told Canucks assistant GM Brian Burke he had a design

Lions give up late TD in 24-23 loss to Argos

B.C. falls to 3-5, fumbling away last-minute chance in Toronto

Eagle tree cut down legally a 1st for B.C. city

Planned eagle preserve ‘a first for City of Surrey’

Smoky skies like a disappearing act for sights, monuments around B.C.

Haze expected to last the next several days, Environment Canada said

Canadians react to death of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan at age 80

Nobel Peace Prize-winning former UN leader died early Saturday following a short illness

Most Read