An entertainer plays to the crowd lined up to greet visitors from the cruise ship Amadea at the Saguenay River cruise ship terminal in La Baie, QC, in September 2018. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

EDITORIAL: What will it take to cruise to success on Port Alberni’s waterfront?

Port Alberni is already a popular place with cruise ship visitors…

Eight months from now, Port Alberni will play host to a trio of cruise ship visits, and several people attending the recent all-candidates’ meetings for city council and mayors have ensured the issue gets attention during the election.

READ MORE: Port Alberni to host cruise ships again in 2019

Port Alberni is already a popular place with cruise ship visitors: a steam train ride and visit to McLean Mill National Historic Site has regularly been a No. 1 out trip with cruisers arriving on ships in Nanaimo’s harbour. Sheena Falconer, acting chairperson for the McLean Mill Society, recognizes the importance of getting both the steam train and the steam mill back in operation before Port Alberni hosts its own trio of cruise ships.

With steam no longer an attraction we can count on at the moment, we must look elsewhere for ways to showcase the Alberni Valley.

A small town called La Baie, located in the Saguenay region of northern Quebec, is a cruise ship stop on the St. Lawrence River. They have cruise visits down to a science, including an annual theme for greeting ships that changes from year to year.

One year it was voyageurs from the Hudson’s Bay era; this past year the theme was ‘carnival’, with clowns, entertainers on stilts, jugglers and the like.

They also have wooden booths made up like log cabins where vendors sell maple syrup and blueberry products from the local area. Buses, taxis and tour guides are all in position by the time each ship docks.

There’s no reason Port Alberni couldn’t do something similar, with Harbour Quay and Tyee Landing natural gathering areas right near the port authority dock. Those who were here during the Tall Ships festivals know how big of a draw vendors and other activities to the waterfront have been in the past.

While the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce will take point on the tourism part of the cruise ship visits next year, they shouldn’t have to shoulder the task by themselves. They will be needing volunteers to step up, people with ideas, people with pride in the city who want to share that pride with visitors.

Denis Sauve said during the mayoral all-candidates’ meeting that he has been in touch with a classic car group and discussed First Nations involvement in the visit.

Gary Robertson said the city should mandate that all businesses in the Harbour Quay area must stay open during cruise ship visits.

Mike Ruttan was more blunt, calling businesses past First Avenue ‘a bit of an embarrassment’, which underlines the need to take a hard look at what we offer tourists—and how we can do better.

Sharie Minions and John Douglas agreed the city must clean up the Uptown area, with Minions saying first impressions of the visitors are vital—all three cruise ships accommodate more than 1,200 visitors, so that’s thousands who will see our waterfront as their first impression of Port Alberni.

We have eight months to get it right.

Alberni Valley News

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