Episode 6: Port Alberni

From Gabriola it was off on a jaunt of the mid west coast, one well known to travelers, Port Alberni, Bamfield, Ucluelet and Tofino. Port Alberni was our first stop and as it wasn't a long haul from Nanaimo we took our time and made an unscheduled stop at Cathedral Grove, an ancient stand of western red cedars that flanked the main road just before Port Alberni. It's always a nice stop and the giants didn't disappoint.

From there we headed to Stamp River Provincial Park as we heard the salmon were running, and were they ever. With the recent rains the river was roaring and we checked out the salmon ladder and the falls themselves where natures power was hard at work. As water cascaded over the falls we watched salmon leaping through the air trying to gain the next level. It was an amazing sight.

Cathedral Grove

Salmon at Stamp Falls

Stamp Falls

Then it was off to meet Daniel and Bouchra, our hosts for the next couple of nights on board the 'Swept Away Inn,' a 100' tug boat moored in the harbour. What a blast. We figured we mix things up on the accommodation front and a tug boat fit the bill. Daniel hails from Quebec and Bouchra from Morocco and what a pair they were, and the tug was magnificent. The 'MV Songhee' was the second converted minesweeper we'd stayed on, the other being the Uchuck III in Gold River. The Songhee also had a colourful history and after serving as a floating fishing lodge in the Queen Charlotte Islands Daniel and Bouchra had bought her and converted her into the Swept Away Inn, and what a lovely job they'd done. Add incredible authentic Moroccan cuisine to the unique lodgings and it makes for a very memorable stay. Thank you very much Daniel and Bouchra, and remember, if you're ever on Gabriola you have a room at the Nomadic Bull B&B.

West Coast early morn

Port Alberni maintains its ties to wood

Another beauty

The MV Songhee

The next morning Dominik set up on the dock just in front of the MV Songhee and painted a beautiful likeness of her while Daniel gave me a tour of the tug. We were getting a good sense of Port Alberni and our impressions were evolving fast. For many, including myself, Port Alberni was nothing more than a small town lost on the highway to Tofino, but as I was finding out nothing could be further from the truth. Its location, its history, its natural beauty, and the 'jumping off' aspect of its location were really strong attractions. Its had a hard time shaking off its working class mill town roots, but it's succeeding, and rightfully so. Port Alberni is a gem for many reasons and should be given its due. I'll definitely be going back.

Bouchra and Daniel

Bouchra pouring some Moroccan tea on the aft deck

Living on a tug

In the afternoon it was time to leave the water behind and head out to the McLean Steam Sawmill and what better way to get there then on a 'Speeder!' What's that you ask, well it's the little yellow beauty pictured below. Used in the old days to transport workers to the jobsite Neil and the boys from Alberni Valley Heritage Network fired her up just for us so we could arrive at Canada's last operating commercial steam sawmill in style. It was a gas and the mill was an incredible insight into the past. To see how the mill was set up to cut big wood was amazing. Belt's, chutes, blades, the supporting buildings and machinery were all 100% authentic. There's no doubt the mill in the old days was a place of hard work, but also one of a tight knit community and the fact the folks at the Heritage Valley Network continue to operate it is a real treat. We'd like to thank Neil for organizing our time there and Peter and Rod for flashing up the 'Speeder' and sharing their stories. Great afternoon guys, thank you very much!

Neil at the mill

Peter the natural born speeder

Rod with his steam

They flashed up the 'Speeder' for us!

Dominik on the Speeder

Go Speeder Go!

The McLean Steam Saw Mill

Then it was back to our tug for an incredible authentic Moroccan dinner prepared by Bouchra. It was served on a 'live edged' western red cedar slab table that had been milled just up the rails at the McLean Mill. Joining us were a lively South African couple and what a fine evening it was. Bouchra and Daniel were very entertaining hosts and it was my first time eating Moroccan food which was a real treat, very nice indeed. What a great capper to a couple of excellent days in Port Alberni.

Getting hungry?

A sweet Moroccan dinner

Next stop, Bamfield. How would we get there? Why on the MV Francis Barkley of course, right down Barkley Sound through waters spotted with humpback whales, sea otters, and sea lions. The maritime theme was definitely gaining traction.

The Francis Barkley with Mount Arrowsmith in the background