________________ CM . . . . Volume I Number VIII . . . . August 4, 1995

Twin Cities: Alberni -- Port Alberni

Jan Peterson
Lantzville, BC: Oolichan Books, 1994. 389pp.
Paper $12.95 ISBN 088982-139-9.
Cloth $34.95. ISBN 088982-140-2.

Subject Headings:
Alberni (B.C.)-History.
Port Alberni (B.C.)-History.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Joan Payzant.


The pilchard run, which began in 1917, created changes in the management and operation of the canneries. Why pilchards began crowding the waters of the west coast and Barkley Sound is still unknown. . . . Before long there was a big demand for canned pilchard. The cannery began selling them as fast as it processed them. . . . Local Indians told of catching pilchards many years before when the fish appeared periodically on the west coast, but they usually stayed for only four years. . . .(In 1933) a flotilla of seine boats and tenders from reduction plants returned empty after an extensive search of the Pacific Coast territory for pilchards. There was no sign of the mysterious fish.

Jan Peterson, author of this second volume of the history of the Alberni twin cities, has done a masterful job of chronicling the many facets of life in the two towns between 1922 and 1967, when they were amalgamated into the new City of Port Alberni. Mrs. Peterson is well-qualified for the task she has undertaken, having been a journalist, a volunteer on the Alberni Valley Museum Advisory Board, a Director of the Alberni District Historical Society, and a life member of the Community Arts Council. She has done enormous research, making use of books, periodicals, diaries, and theses, melding all the material she gleaned into a highly readable account of life in these Vancouver Island communities.

Included in this book are two sections of black and white photographs, a comprehensive index, extensive notes for each of the nine chapters, appendices, and a bibliography.

Peterson's style moves through events rapidly, in chronological sequence. She covers all aspects of life in the two communities, from fishing and lumbering to industrial growth, from the native Indians to the first white settlers, and the influx of Japanese and the European immigrants at the end of World War II. Politics -- local, provincial, and federal -- play important parts in the story. Sports are given good coverage, and so is cultural history. Tragedies -- fires, murders, drownings, and air crashes -- are mentioned. The most spectacular account is of the Alaskan earthquake of 1946 and the resulting tidal wave which devastated both cities. Amazingly, despite the tremendous damage, there were no fatalities.

Citizens with historic roles are presented to the reader in an interesting way throughout, including the colourful first woman mayor of Alberni, Mabel S. Anderson; and M.P. A.W. Neill, who was one of those responsible for instituting old age pensions, establishing emergency telegraph services, installing wireless phones at lighthouses and lifeboat stations, and instigating hydrographic surveys. Neill also established the November 11 Remembrance Day. Two other notable people from the Albernis were Wing Hay, noted boxer and athlete, and the first Canadian-born Chinese to volunteer in the Canadian Army, and native Indian artist George Clutesi. Clutesi eventually received the Order of Canada, and after his 1944 exhibit in Victoria's provincial museum, he met Emily Carr, who willed him her canvasses, brushes, and paints.

Many others made the pages of this book, and readers will find a wealth of material about prominent industrialists, educators, and politicians. Despite the rivalry between Port Alberni and Alberni, talks about amalgamation surfaced over and over again during the forty-five-year period covered, but it did not come to pass until the 1967 national centennial.

As a native of eastern Canada, I visited Vancouver Island for the first time in the spring of 1995, and Twin Cities has heightened my desire to see much more of the Island. While reading the book I was struck not only by the differences, but by the similarities between the histories of Canada's west and east coasts. Fish and lumber are important to both regions, and of course they shared notable occasions such as royal visits, the two world wars, and Canada's Centennial in 1967. There are even individuals shared between the coasts: easterners William Duff, MP for Lunenburg, and Angus L. MacDonald, MP and former Premier of Nova Scotia were both involved with fishing and naval concerns on the west coast. And with ships of the young Canadian navy moving freely between west and east coasts it wasn't surprising to find names familiar to me from Royal Canadian Navy circles in Halifax during World War II appear in this book.

Now that amalgamation of east-coast communities of Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford and Sackville is imminent, it will be interesting to see if this union can be accomplished as successfully that of the two Albernis on Vancouver Island.


Joan Payzant is a retired teacher/librarian from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364