This weekend is all about history. Port Alberni celebrates its centenary with a homecoming block party that runs from Friday, Aug. 3 until Monday, Aug. 6 and includes so many activities we created a special historical “newspaper” with today’s issue for our readers to keep track of it all.
I had the privilege of spending several months steeped in the Alberni Valley’s history when I worked on the centennial book project. The book, The Albernis Then and Now: 1912-2012, was unveiled Tuesday night at the Capitol Theatre. I owe a debt of gratitude to Ken Rutherford and Frank Holm for their guidance, and for including me in the writing of this tome.
History has always been a love of mine; knowing a bit of background of wherever I am makes that place come alive for me, and learning more about the Alberni Valley has been no different. I cannot drive up a street in town anymore without seeing little pieces of history around: Bobby de Beaux’s store on Argyle Street, Huff’s Wharf (now essentially Victoria Quay), Waterhouse’s Wharf (near present-day Harbour Quay), even the church that is now Char’s Landing. They were all here 100 years ago.
Ken McRae, who was the last mayor at the end of Port Alberni’s first century, called the last 100 years “a significant achievement” for our community. Think for a moment what has changed: horse and buggy to horsepower and now electric cars. Fountain pens and paper, cable stations and now e-mail for communication. Hand saws to helicopter logging.
I made a promise to write a centennial series this year based on stories from 1912. There are so many. While I had good intentions of writing the column every week, the reality of space and time constrictions set in. I have a bank of stories saved, though, and you’ll see them in the weeks leading up to the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of Alberni, which happened in 1913.
Our cover story this week profiles Soup Campbell, one of the dedicated volunteers with the WesternVancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society, which is charged with looking after Port Alberni’s industrial history. Its members keep the impressive fleet of logging, mill and rail machinery working; they run the steam train, the steam donkey and the steam mill at McLean Mill National Historic Site.
This volunteer organization represents a staggering amount of local knowledge in the history of our natural resource economies. Our community is fortunate to have these people who are so willing to invest their time to keeping our history alive.
An overarching theme at the book launch Tuesday night was that we must remember the past and learn from it in order to move on. This is something the IHS struggles with; when its aging members are gone, so too will their knowledge.
They are searching for ways to record what they know, so they may leave a legacy for those who will follow. They are seeking ways of enticing younger members of the community to join them, so they may pass on their knowledge.
Some may see them as grown men tinkering with toys. I see them as keepers of our past, and gatekeepers to our future.
Susan Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.