The friendship between Gwyer Webber and Detlef Rudolph is long, deep, and interwoven with Port Alberni.
Webber, from Nanaimo, and Rudolph, from Fredericton, New Brunswick, were in Port Alberni last Wednesday for the only drive-in burgers on Vancouver Island worth the road trip: from J & L Drive-In. They then headed to Harbour Quay to walk around the waterfront.
Both met while they were living and working in Squamish. While Webber moved further west, to Vancouver Island in 2006-07, Rudolph and his wife moved east to the Maritimes, to be closer to family.
Webber said he lived in Port Alberni in the late 1950s when he was five years old; his father did a teaching practicum at Beaver Creek School. Webber returned as an adult in 1986 when he was working for BC Tel (now Telus), living here for six months while upgrading telecommunication equipment.
“I remember the year because Expo was on that year (in Vancouver),” he said. “We stayed at the old Maples Motel at the time. That’s not here anymore.”
Rudolph’s only connection to Port Alberni was when his wife came to town to take the MV Lady Rose to go kayaking in the Broken Group. It was a trip he was supposed to take, but he fell ill and his wife went instead.
It wasn’t long before the conversation turned toward trains—both men are passionate about railways. “What do you think of the E&N,” Webber asked.
Rudolph was interested to hear about the No. 7 steam train that once ran to McLean Mill National Historic Site. “I took the train to cross the country,” he explained. “I’m embracing slow travel.”
Both men would like to see passenger rail revived on Vancouver Island. Webber has even assembled a “Vancouver Island Rail Transit” report and submitted it to various organizations and governmental departments in hopes someone will see the sense in having a rail transportation alternative for the Island.
Webber has submitted his thoughts on inter-city rail on Vancouver Island and how it would connect communities from Courtenay to Victoria once again. In his plan, he also included a second phase for the 64-kilometre run between Parksville and Port Alberni. The cost to repair and upgrade Vancouver Island’s rail system, he said, would be much less than what the City of Montreal has paid for its new Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM) light rail public transit system.
The Island Corridor Foundation estimates it would cost $431 million to revive rail on Vancouver Island.
The E&N railway is top of mind for west coast train enthusiasts these days: the federal government has a deadline of March 14 to decide whether it will fund infrastructure on one particular segment of rail that runs through Nanoose. The future of Island rail is resting on this decision.
For Webber and Rudolph, the subject was a pleasant interruption to their walk around Harbour Quay on a warmish winter day, reminiscing and walking off their lunch.
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.
Alberni ValleyFood & DiningNanaimonew brunswickPort Albernirailway