My first day working at the Alberni Valley News, I delivered the paper.
It was Aug. 25, 2006, and I spent several hours on that stinking hot summer day walking door-to-door around the neighbourhood of Third and Fourth Avenues. I made the mistake of starting at the bottom of Fourth toward Strathern—a hill I still despise 15 years later.
Our office was located at Sixth Avenue and Roger Street at the time, and the company’s Island president and vice-president were among the team that came to celebrate the delivery of that first edition.
My former editor at the Nanaimo News Bulletin, Kevin Laird, put the inaugural issue of the paper together while I assumed his role in Nanaimo for two weeks, before we swapped seats again—this time for good.
People assumed I was a “big city” reporter flown into the community to start up the competition to the AV Times, which had already been here for decades. (In fact, a reporter from the competitor, who shall remain nameless, referred to me as “Big City” once because of the unorthodox way I took a photo on mutual assignment.)
In reality, the community had for years asked our owner David Black to open a paper here and he finally relented. I already had a relationship with Port Alberni, which is why I agreed to come here.
Port Alberni was more than a pit stop on the way to Tofino for me. I have family in Port Alberni, a cousin who has been here far longer than I have. I had been visiting the city since the late 1980s, when the old cavalcade between Cumberland and Port Alberni happened annually along the back roads in the hopes a second route would be built between the communities. I used to contribute to a regular freelance writing project all about Port Alberni businesses.
I spent more than a decade working as a journalist in the Comox Valley before I came here. My husband and I chose Port Alberni.
It’s a decision we’ve never regretted.
Coming from a seaside community, there were certain things we had to get used to. Like bears. One night I came out of the office around 10 p.m. and encountered a bear around the corner of a cafe where Pizza Factory is now located. I don’t know who was more scared, me or the bear, but I waited breathlessly behind the front door for 10 or 15 minutes, wondering how the heck I was going to get out of the office and into my car so I could go home.
I’m pretty sure that bear hightailed it out of there long before I found the courage to open the door again.
The first night I spent alone in our new house I learned about garbage bears. I had heard a racket near the back door, where we had placed our plastic garbage can. Something had gotten into it a couple of nights previously, and we thought it was a raccoon, so we put a bungy cord across the top of the lid. I was too chicken to open the back door, as my husband suggested, and chase away whatever creature was there.
The next morning the doorbell at the back door rang, bright and early. It was a neighbour from across the alley, informing me that a bear got into our garbage can. I had to use a shovel to clean up our trash, which was strewn halfway up the alley. Our garbage is now safely ensconced in our shed until garbage day. The can still has tooth marks where the bear pried the lid off.
In 15 years covering the news in the Alberni Valley, we’ve had a handful of award-winning journalists grace our newsroom. They are now working in places such as our provincial bureau, CBC and New Zealand. We’ve covered some pretty big stories that belie the reputation Port Alberni has of being a “small mill town.” Our print publication and website have been honoured provincially, nationally and locally, and we have a growing collection of journalism and sales awards that reflect the relationship we have with our community. We are part of the larger Black Press family of publications in B.C., Alberta, Yukon and Washington State: reporter Elena Rardon and I are part of a team of approximately 130 writers and editors bringing news from the region and our respective communities to tens of thousands of readers every day.
We have never run out of things to write about: the region is rich with people’s stories, whether bad or good.
The size of our staff has ebbed and flowed along with economic times, and right now we have six people working in the office and a team of about 75 drivers and carriers making sure the AV News hits your doorstep or rural box by 6 p.m. every Wednesday. Between the six of us working in the office—all women, which is unusual in the news industry—we have 118 years of experience in newspapers.
Two of us are part of the original crew who have worked here since day one: myself and Myrna Clark, who designs classified pages for many of our print publications. She now works for our head office remotely from the AV News office.
As we celebrate our 15th anniversary in the Alberni Valley with this week’s print edition, my office is now located in a building on Fourth Avenue at Napier Street —the former AV Times building—within throwing distance of the bottom of that dastardly hill.
How’s that for irony?
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.