An Alberni entertainment luminary who sailed the world on cruise ships has found a home and dropped anchor in the Valley.
Inside the stillness of Char’s Landing and with the chime of baroque music in the background, owner Charlene Patterson chatted about her life and what brought her to Port Alberni.
Patterson was born in Kelowna, and is the fifth of six siblings. She has four brothers and one sister.
Her earliest memory is of a winter in Winfield, a community just outside of Kelowna. “A man named Mister Ogilvie used to take us sleigh riding on his ranch,” she said.
Patterson went to elementary school in Kelowna before graduating from George Elliot Secondary School in 1979.
Patterson’s overriding memory of her school years is being involved in band. “I played tenor sax in stage band, clarinet in concert band,” Patterson said. “And one time I was in five choirs. We sang harmony on the way to church.”
Patterson’s favourite teachers were Mister Gfeller, who taught chemistry, and David Bingham, both of who made learning fun, she said. But the former band student’s favourite subjects were math and science.
Patterson attended UBC and took science and molecular biology but the workload was daunting. “In one term I took biology, micro biology, chemistry, bio chemistry and algebra — I thought I was going to die,” she said
She admits that she was young, from a small town, in a big city with other young people. Throw some alcohol in the mix and a few parties and what you have is a potent cocktail. “It was a real culture shock,” Patterson said.
She took a year out in 1981 to work at a job involving mainframe computers. She immediately understood the programming language FORTRAN and found her first calling.
She went on her own and worked as a computer consultant, packing her computer in a backpack and riding her bicycle between clients.
Patterson took two vacations in 1997, both on cruise ships, and assessed where she was in life. “I had no life, just computers. I lived and breathed computers.”
The ship’s maître d on one cruise encouraged her to work in the cruise ship industry, and after a long first interview Patterson had a decision to make.
“I made a decision to do it in November of 1997, packed it all in and started on my first ship in March 1997,” Patterson said. “The captain of my ship was the captain from my first cruise.”
Patterson continued to work with computers but this time aboard several cruise ships in the liner’s fleet. “I was responsible for 250 PCs and 14 servers and a point of sale system,” she said.
Her ports of call over 11 years included England, Croatia and Italy, as well as return stops to St. Lucia, Aruba, Barbados, and the Cayman Islands.
Patterson retired but worked on contract with the same firm before finally leaving the industry in 2009. She amassed enough savings to invest, but changes in the industry after 9-11 nudged her departure.
“Everything was regulated. You couldn’t drink and could be blood tested at any time and depending on the results be sent home,” Patterson said. “It wasn’t like the old days anymore.”
Patterson backpacked across the Atlantic provinces and spent some time in Kelowna with her brother, all the while pondering her next move. “I wanted to be near the ocean,” she said.
She looked into buying property on the Sunshine Coast and in Bowser, but earlier contract work with a local firm brought her to the Alberni Valley.
She studied Port Alberni and found that a lot was happening: the uptown revitalization plan was lifting off; the concept of an arts district was being bandied about; and a deep sea port meant a possible port-of-call for cruise ships.
She looked at one other location for an entertainment venue but was taken aback when she viewed the inside of the former Salvation Army church on Argyle. “This is it. This is the place,” Patterson said. “This is my last cruise ship. This is my dry dock.”
The fledgling entertainment venue is home to everything from spoken word performances to bands. She envisions a tapas bar for the post movie/play crowd.
The best advice Patterson ever received was from her grandparents. “They taught me to just be the best person I can be and the rest will fall into place,” she said.
Her favourite movie was Under A Tuscan Sun and her favourite author is Nora Roberts.
And if she could have dinner with anyone past or present it would be the Alberni’s late Terry Whyte. “He was my biggest supporter and inspiration,” Patterson said. “He was the first one to walk in here and see what this place could be.”