Last year I went to Port Alice for the first time. This year, I am returning for a long stay during the summer of 2017 and will be welcoming guests. Anyone interested in staying can contact me through this blog or through the Airbnb listing.
All I knew about Port Alice before I went was that it had been a mill town located in North Vancouver Island on the west coast. I found out upon arrival, that the Port Alice you would visit today was not the site of the mill town. The original townsite that surrounded the operating pulp mill was vacated by most of the population in 1965, and Port Alice residents were moved over to a brand new town a few kilometres to the north, but still on the Neurotsos Inlet. The big difference was, they were out of sight of the mill. Being out of sight of the mill also meant they were away from its ill effects.
The Port Alice of today is a pretty place that has scenic views whether you are up the mountain or right on the coast, and the drinking water is excellent, coming from a freshwater spring. The air too, is fresh. I had the fortune to stay right on the water, facing west; a five bedroom house with three bathrooms and big surprise, a Turkish bath! I tried it out and it was great! Because just my mother and I occupied the house, she took the upstairs and I took the downstairs.
Port Alice boasts magnificent sunsets, which we didn’t witness while there, but nonetheless, the sky was everchanging and lovely. My purpose in being there was to find peace and quiet, and Port Alice offers both in abundance. It is a pleasant place for taking short walks and even has a library. It has the requisite liquor store, grocery store and post office, but unfortunately no restaurant apart from the occasional meals available on weekends at the Quatsino Chalet and breakfast at the Legion.
I was told that if I wished to meet the locals, I should head down to the golf course around 4pm. I did go, but a little early. Still it was interesting to chat with Gail, the woman who works at the golf course as she could tell you anything you wanted to know about the place. She said that she enjoyed growing up in the intimate community that was the old townsite adjacent to the mill, where you knew everyone and made your own fun.
My timing was off for another reason: I missed shopping at the local thrift shop, which is only open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 2pm. Too bad I didn’t read over all the visitor information I picked up at the municipal office the day before! However, my real interest was in the history.
My friend Blair suggested that I read a publication he had at the house entitled ‘Why Port Alice?’ that covers its history from 1917 to 1965. Like many local histories, it gets bogged down in details about early settlers, but at least does provide all the pertinent facts about how and why Port Alice was built where is was, and how people survived there. A reference in the beginning to an earthquake somehow related to atomic testing in Alaska had me puzzled, but I found out later that indeed in the early 1960s atomic testing in Alaska did ‘shake up’ BC and particularly affected Port Alice since much of the original townsite was reduced to rubble, resulting in the rebuilding of the village a short distance away.
Another puzzle brought up by reading the book was, what happened to the Quatsino people? They clearly interacted with the early settlers, but no mention was made of what became of them. The females were distinguished by their elongated heads, that are wrapped tightly while the girls are babies, although today there are no more Quatsino women with this feature. I found out later after a chance meeting with the chief of the Quatsino, Tom Nelson, that several reserve sites had been set aside for the Quatsino in the inlet, but that only one remains in nearby Quatsino Sound. Chief Nelson, unfortunately, is the last of his people to speak his language. He also told me that he was one of the last people to work in the whaling station near Port Alice that was in operation right up until the late 1960s.
This time around, I plan to get out on a boat to explore nearby Quatsino Sound and the village of Quatsino. If I’m lucky I might even get out fishing! Port Alice is a good getaway place withing driving distance of Campbell River – just two and a half hours away. The road from Highway 19 heading west to Port Alice is an excellent paved road with some roller coaster hills, lovely curves and great views over Lake Victoria. Well worth the visit!