Harbour Quay under construction in March 1984. (PHOTO COURTESY JERRY FEVENS)

Harbour Quay under construction in March 1984. (PHOTO COURTESY JERRY FEVENS)

PROGRESS 2022: Port Alberni’s Harbour Quay marks new era

City of Port Alberni and Tseshaht First Nation to celebrate Re-awakening of Tlukwatkwuu7is

On August 11, 1984, Harbour Quay officially opened at the foot of Argyle Street in Port Alberni. More than 3,000 people attended the day of celebration, including federal, provincial and municipal dignitaries and representatives.

At the time, Mike Ketteringham, chairman of the Harbour Quay commission, described the quay as, “A place for people and a place for commerce and trade.”

Later this month, the City of Port Alberni and Tseshaht First Nation will be celebrating a new era of Harbour Quay, as they unveil the newly renovated Story Tower just in time for National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Prior to European contact in Port Alberni, a winter village and ceremonial site for Tseshaht First Nation lay at the foot of Argyle Street and along the waterfront. Each winter, the Tlookwaana, or Wolf Ritual, was performed there.

Upon the arrival of English schooner Meg Merrilies and Edward Stamp in 1860, the Tseshaht people were displaced from their village so that Port Alberni’s first sawmill could be built in its place. The Tseshaht people have not been able to perform the Wolf Ritual there for more than 100 years.

The Re-awakening of Tlukwatkwuu7is (Wolf Ritual Beach) will take place from dawn to dusk on Tuesday, June 21, which is also National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada. Tseshaht says in a press release that they expect to welcome upwards of 1,000 people to Harbour Quay for the celebration. Neighbouring nations and other dignitaries will paddle their chiefs to the ceremonial grounds from their own territory, or launch from Clutesi Haven Marina and be escorted to shore by Tseshaht Beach Keepers for a traditional welcoming protocol.

Breakfast, lunch and snacks will be served throughout the day, as well as a traditional feast of salmon and seafood for dinner. There will be crafters, artisans and Indigenous-focused small businesses selling their wares. Tseshaht will be performing songs and dances, and Tseshaht has invited other Nations and cultures to take the floor and share theirs as well.

Everyone is welcome to attend the Re-awakening of Tlukwatkwuu7is.

The main event on June 21 will be the unveiling of the Wolf Tower, or Story Tower, which was formerly the clock tower at Harbour Quay. It springs from a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was signed between the city and Tseshaht back in 2018. The clock on the tower will be replaced with artwork designed by Tseshaht artist Willard Gallic Jr. and manufactured by Electron Metalworks. The artwork depicts the Tseshaht wolf ritual.

“It’s really a reconciliation initiative, to talk about what happened and to showcase that art,” explained Port Alberni’s economic development manager Pat Deakin.

The clock tower was donated in part to the city from the estate of former Alberni Valley Times owner and publisher Fred Duncan. The city reached out to the relatives of Duncan in 2018 and received their blessings to change the look of the tower.

Since the 1890s, the harbour area has been a commercial and industrial centre for Port Alberni. In the 1980s, the city had a vision for a “hub” for tourists and the local community, and construction of Harbour Quay began. It was funded by federal and provincial grants, along with financial contributions from the city and the Port Alberni Harbour Commission (a precursor to the Port Alberni Port Authority). The total cost of the project was more than $2 million.

Over the years, Harbour Quay has undergone many changes. A fountain and sculpture by Babe Gunn was commissioned by the city and unveiled in 1992. Shipwreck Park was built in 1991, although it was removed in the early 2000s after the wood began to rot. A boardwalk was added in 2010, and Spirit Square was also constructed around the same time. Centennial Pier—originally constructed as a breakwater to protect vessels docked at Fisherman’s Harbour from damage—opened in 2012.

An aquarium was opened in 2016, although it was forced to close earlier this year due to a lack of funding and complications from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Various businesses and merchants have come and gone, moved and expanded over the past three decades. Just this year, two new businesses—Witchy Woman Supply Co. and Wesco Foods—opened in Spirit Square.

But the city does not yet have a long-term plan for the area, although it budgets annual maintenance of Harbour Quay.

Deakin says there has been talk throughout the years about how to make the Quay more attractive and pedestrian-friendly, but the budget has not been in place to implement this. It will most likely have to wait until after October’s municipal election, he said.

“It really does need a broader vision,” said Deakin.

Tseshaht First Nation will be one of the Quay’s newest residents, as the Nation plans to open a kiosk in Spirit Square next to Grassroots Fresh Food and Drinks.

Darrell Ross, Tseshaht’s natural resource manager, says the kiosk will be used as a “mini museum,” touching on key Tseshaht history and showing off some historic artifacts from past archeological digs.

“We hope to canvas Tseshaht so that we will have a good mixture of artisans, knowledge keepers and authors hosting at the kiosk, creatively integrating Tseshaht history in all Tseshaht arts,” said Ross.


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A photo from the grand opening of Harbour Quay on August 11, 1984. The newly-constructed clock tower can be seen in the background. (PHOTO COURTESY JERRY FEVENS)

A photo from the grand opening of Harbour Quay on August 11, 1984. The newly-constructed clock tower can be seen in the background. (PHOTO COURTESY JERRY FEVENS)