Thursday, August 23, 2012

Port Alberni 100 this year



Port Alberni is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. The main attraction of the city’s centennial celebrations was a homecoming held on the August long weekend. The event brought together residents of the Valley and those no longer living in the community. Although my wife Pat and I moved to Nanaimo from Port Alberni ten years ago, we still feel deBinitely attached to the Alberni Valley. We take pleasure in our summer home at Sproat Lake and Pat continues to direct the community choir Timbre! who this year will celebrate their 40th anniversary season. And of course ourtwo grandchildren live in Port Alberni, which warrants scores of drives over the hump year round.

For those readers interested in the history of the Alberni Valley a new publication titled The Albernis – Then and Now (1912 to 2012) was unveiled as part of the celebrations by the Port Alberni Centennial Committee. The book compares photo images of the city of a century ago with the city of today and can be ordered from the Alberni Valley Museum, 4255 Wallace St., Port Alberni, B.C. V9Y 3Y6. The B&W photos I scanned from the book for this blog are part of the Alberni Valley Museum’s photography collection. With so much of my life being tied to the Alberni Valley I could probably write my own tome about my 60-­‐plus years living there. However, these particular photos triggered a few memories of my childhood.

As a youngster, the Birst time I ventured out on the waters of the Alberni Inlet I was about 12 years old. A school chum and myself had spiked together a raft made from railway ties that we’d found laying alongside the logging railway tracks at the log dump just west of Polly’s Point. Our plan was to see if we could paddle our way across the inlet to explore the west shore. The day we attempted our venture we were fortunate not to have been run down by a deep-­‐sea freighter that was groping its way at a snail's pace through the morning mist to berth at the harbour’s assembly wharf.

Over 6 decades later, the memories of that event came Blowing back as I sailed on the Alberni Inlet with our grandchildren Nathan and Matthew in the Puddle Duck boat races that were being held as part of the Port Alberni Centennial Celebrations. The racing was far from swift due to a lack of a steady breeze.

However, we did pretty well and maintain bragging rights for the next year by winning Birst place. What is a Puddle Duck you might ask? Put simply, it’s a one design-­‐racing sailboat that is basically a plywood box with a curved bottom. The straightforward hull can be made from 3 sheets of plywood, a can of glue, and a bit of house paint. The sail is made from a common plastic tarp cover.

Although I skippered the boat in the race at Harbour Quay, building the Puddle Duck was a family project by our son Cory, daughter-­‐in-­‐law Dorianne and our grandchildren Nathan and Matthew. Grandma Pat also contributed, driving over the hump from Nanaimo to help paint the hull. I was asked to skipper in the races when Cory was unable to do so.

Local sailing enthusiasts David and Pam Whitworth were the driving force behind the event in which 18 boats took part. The race drew a huge crowd to the Port Alberni waterfront and the organizers are hopeful that others will consider building the small inexpensive boats over the winter months, making for an expanded Bleet for next summer’s race. Will I be back next year to defend our victory? Absolutely, if I’m asked to be the skipper. 


Kind of Blue launches into H2O for the first time at Sproat Lake. 



There was just enough breeze for a maiden shakedown sail. The Mars Blying tanker can be seen in the distance.



Ken Crowshaw presents the trophy he dedicated to his parents and donated for the winner of the annual Puddle Duck race. Members of the Crowshaw family have lived in the Alberni Valley for more than 100 years.



L to R – Yours truly, Nathan, Pam Whitworth and Dave Whitworth with Matthew in front pose with the crystal trophy called the Crowshaw Cup.

How the Millers came to live in the Albernis

My parents, Dr. AP Miller and Evelyn Jones met in the City of Victoria. My father, who grew up in Winnipeg, was Binishing his internship at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in BC’s capital city where my mother was a nurse. Married on November 8, 1934 in Penticton where my mother’s family lived, they came immediately without a honeymoon to Port Alberni. Dad had been told the growing west coast twin communities of Alberni & Port Alberni had much potential and would be a prime place to open a medical practice. His Birst doctor’s ofBice was on the second Bloor of the Carmoor Block at Argyle and Kingsway streets, moving later to the Croll Block at Argyle St. and Third Ave. After an extended rental above MacDonald’s Pharmacy across 3rd Ave from the Croll Block, his Binal ofBice space before retirement was the Credit Union Building at 4th Ave and Angus Street.

The newlywed’s Birst home was located on Mar Street, a block east of 3rd Ave where Woodward’s Store would eventually be built. The property Woodward’s built on had been occupied by the home and park-­‐like gardens of Dr. Hilton, a pioneer valley doctor. Before I was born, my parents built a beautiful large family home at South Crescent and 7th Ave which my younger brother Terry and I would eventually grow up in. I even remember our telephone number -­‐ 530. You didn’t dial out in those days -­‐ one picked up the phone receiver and asked the operator (who was located in the BC Telephone exchange building on Argyle Street across from the Capital Theatre) to place the call to the person you wanted to talk to. 


Photo above: My father’s Birst doctor’s ofBice was on the second Bloor of the Carmoor Block across the street from the E&N Train Station.



Photos abov: The Miller family home on South Crescent – The property included a second lot bordering Montrose Street which was cleared and worked up as a gorgeous garden of rose trellises and a kidney shaped Bish pond with a tumbling waterfall. Years later Pat & I had master builder Lothar Haack build our Birst home on the property.




Photo above: In early April of 1938 my mother boarded the morning train from Port Alberni’s E&N station to travel to Victoria to have me. I was born later that month at the Royal Jubilee, the same hospital where my parents had met. In letters to my father, who had remained in Port Alberni to look after his patients, my mother describes the bumping and lurching train ride to Victoria. I believe this must be where my interest in trains originated. 



I attended 8th Ave Elementary School in South Port Alberni. In my Grade 6 year I recall getting the strap almost on a weekly basis for speaking out of turn. One winter I received several strappings from Principal Murray for throwing snowballs too close to the main entrance of the school. For generations, whacking a child on the hand with a leather strap for violating certain school rules was considered an acceptable form of discipline in the B.C. public school system. The practice was still going on when I became a teacher in the mid-­‐1960’s at EJ Dunn, although parents andeducators were beginning to question whether using physical violence to get students to "behave" was appropriate. The barbaric practice was Binally abolished by the BC legislature in 1973, 24 years too late for me!

My Birst year of high school was taken in a cluster of army camp H-­‐Huts that had been constructed to house soldiers being trained to Bight World War II. The camp was located at the north end of 10th Ave. One building, now known as Glenwood Centre, is one of the few camp buildings remaining. It had served as the Army Camp’s drill hall. My remaining high school years were spent in a brand new school, which opened the following year on Burde Street. We had an extra month of summer holidays waiting for the construction to be complete.

The years at Alberni District High School set the path my life would take. Although I can’t say I was an academic student by any stretch of the imagination, I reveled in the music and drama programs offered inthe curriculum. Several dedicated teachers introduced me to the world of jazz and musical theatre, something for which I’m eternally grateful. So much so that years later after studying music in Los Angeles, California, I returned to teach instrumental music in the Alberni school system. First at EJ Dunn Secondary School and later at ADSS, I had the privilege of introducing several more generations to the joy and importance of the performing arts to one’s life.

Now in this 100th year of Port Alberni, our grandson Nathan will attend a brand new high school set to open in September. My only regret is the music building I fought so hard for and had built in the old high school along with the 1000 seat auditorium that I performed in for over 50 years, will be knocked down. However, time doesn’t stand still and Pat and I are excited about the possibility of performing some concerts with Timbre! Choir in the new 500-­‐seat community theatre that will be part of the new high school complex. 


PHOTO ABOVE: This section of the Somass Hotel that faced the E&N train station was still in operation when I was a youngster. I recall having many family Sunday dinners in the hotel’s elegant dining room that led off from the balcony that can be seen at the top of the stairs coming up from the street. This part of the hotel burned to the ground in 1947. 



PHOTO (Above): This photo shows the Birst Port Alberni community band. My guess it was taken in front of the wooden band stand that stood between the E&N train station and the Somass Hotel at the foot of Arygle Street. As a youngster, my Birst awareness of brass band music came from watching the Elks Band perform in the May Day parades of the 1940’s. 

Dexter Wallbank who taught private piano and violin lessons in the valley directed the band. In parades the ensemble didn’t march but usually rode atop the Blat deck of a Tom’s Bros Moving Co. truck. I remember a common decoration on parade Bloats in those days was Blowering Scotch Broom. These days island communities stage an annual war against the obnoxious weed that was brought to Vancouver Island from Europe in 1850 by a Captain Grant who planted it on his farm near Victoria.

During the mid-­‐1950’s school orchestras and bands were introduced into the curriculum in BC schools and soon after the Elks Club Band disbanded, donating many of their instruments to the ADHS music program. Happily, the last few years have seen a community band re-­‐formed. It was Birst known as the Rubber Band, a handle I’m thankful to say has been changed to the Alberni Valley Community Band. The ensemble is currently directed by Cory Miller and is a member of the Port Alberni Orchestra and Chorus Society. New members are always welcome.

Happy 100th Birthday Port Alberni    











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