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Port Alberni ~ "The Community with a Heart"

There is a romantic nostalgia abound in the Alberni Valley these days. Yet, it is more than a whimsical recollection of yesteryear; it is the modern revitalization of a town on the edge of a wilderness, a town that celebrates its past and looks toward its future. Port Alberni, at the head of the Alberni Inlet and in the crook of the Alberni Valley, was built by hardworking pioneers who had come to mine the soil, fish the waters, and harvest the massive timber. This is a Valley of giants, an idyllic location distinct from anywhere else on the Island.

The towering 800 year old Douglas Fir of Cathedral Grove (or MacMillan Provincial Park) frames the eastern entrance to the coveted west coast and its flagship town of Port Alberni. Yet, this supernatural threshold is only the beginning. Port Alberni is a pleasant 30 minute drive from Parksville or Qualicum Beach, only an hour from Nanaimo, and just over an hour's drive to Long Beach; it is home to 30,000 residents. Plenty of senior-focused activities are readily available; including an Elder College at North Island College's satellite campus. The town proudly houses the lush gardens of the new, state-of-the-art West Coast General Hospital and offers unique boutiques as well as a variety of big box stores. Port Alberni is part of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District and has recorded an increase in employment rates for a decade. This is largely due to the growth in tourism across the west coast. It also indicates a growing trend to meet the needs of retirees and recreation enthusiasts. Port Alberni is not only special for its variety of housing opportunities; acreage, cottages, condos, houses, and high-end homes . . . but the fact that housing is still affordable in this picturesque corner of the Island.

Sport fishing for halibut, sockeye, and chinook has long been a tourist attraction in Port Alberni and the town rivals Campbell River as the "Salmon Capital of the World". The Alberni Valley charms residents and visitors with natural beauty that is second to none. Della Falls, the tallest waterfall in Canada, is a healthy 16 km hike along lakes, suspension bridges, and through forests . . . one of dozens of hiking trails in the area. Stamp Falls is laden with spawning salmon each year; its fish hatchery is the most successful on Vancouver Island. Just on the outskirts of town Sproat Lake provides a recreational oasis for residents, cottagers, boaters/house-boaters, and campers. It is also home to the world-famous, firefighting Martin Mars Water Bombers (or Coulson Flying Tankers).

Board the Frances Barkley and follow the wake of a decades-old tradition of mail ship delivery to secluded homesteaders in communities down the 48 km Alberni Inlet (the longest Inlet on the Island) to the Broken Group Islands and Barkley Sound. Also the start of the century-old West Coast Trail, once a route to save shipwrecked sailors is now a challenging 75 km shoreline hiking trail. Ride the rails aboard the restored 1929 Baldwin Locomotive #7 through town and up to McLean Mill, first built in 1926 it is the only working steam-operated sawmill in Canada. In the summertime, Locomotive #7 stops for wine tasting at a local vineyard, but beware of the Beaufort Gang - train robbers on horseback planning a heist.

Today, Port Alberni is undergoing an exciting transformation, once reliant on natural resources - culture, recreation, and eco-tourism are on the rise. In addition, it is a service and shopping centre for Ucluelet, Tofino, Bamfield, and other west coast communities. The Harbour Quay is a local meeting place with eateries and shops, the Farmers' Market, the marina, and the 1912 train depot. The 1950s styled Capitol Theatre has been lovingly restored and now hosts live performances. Free ear plugs are available at Thunder in the Valley, a drag racing extravaganza attracting 10,000 fans every year. Nearly 1,000 bikers roar in to town every September for the annual Port Alberni Toy Drive, an incredible event raising thousands of dollars for local kids and providing more than enough fun for adults with beer gardens, Saturday night dancing, and Sunday pancake breakfast. Festivals celebrate the town's history and natural surroundings: the Alberni ForestFest welcomes logger sports, folk and gospel music, and spoken-word poets; on Labour Day weekend the Salmon Festival rewards the biggest fish; and the Tall Ship Festival is a spectacle you will not soon forget. The west coast is home to the 14 First Nations of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Council; communities that have thrived along the coast for thousands of years by fishing, whaling, basket weaving (one of the largest collections of First Nations woven baskets is found in Port Alberni), and celebrating at Potlatches. This wonderland of nature, suburban convenience, and community spirit is accessible through Coast Realty Group (Port Alberni) where real estate professionals put People. Above all.

 

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