On a recent visit to a friend who lives in the old section of the British Colombia town of Port Alberni , we found ourselves in a region surrounded by stunning natural beauty and natural riches …but full of contradictions. We came face to face with the struggle between economic interests and the environment played out in microcosm in this town.
Logging, clear-cutting, pulp mills and fisheries are all part of the historic fabric of Port Alberni, a post industrial town on the way to Vancouver Islands exquisite Pacific Rim National Park.
The streets are still wide avenues, built for bygone boom times of rich robber barons and lucky workers with decent union jobs.
The one remaining pulp mill employs only 250 workers these days (1/10 of it’s heyday) yet the forestry sector is still managing to strip the rain forests with monster machines, only with fewer and fewer workers to share at least some of the riches.
They don’t even process most of the logs into lumber any more but ship them raw to China, along with the jobs that used to go with them.
Located at the end of a Fjord leading to the Pacific the prettied up Port area can’t seem to decide how it’s going to reinvent itself…tourist attraction or resource extraction?
Looking around the Port itself is a study in the parts of this conundrum. Looking out from the pier, the mountains reaching down to the water with their shades of blue and green, are breathtaking. Mount Arrowsmith still with patches of snow in July, is a majestic backdrop to the town
…but a closer inspection reveals the clear-cut sections on the deforested slopes of the port’s surrounding hills, the resulting landslide scars and the ships being loaded with raw logs.
The latest endeavor for some in Port Alberni is the possible construction of a coal port for the export of raw coal also bound for the hungry power stations of China. It would truck the coal from the planned Raven Mine on the other side of the island, along the one mountain highway and down the streets of Port Alberni and on to ships – a dirty endeavor every step of the way.
Yet another contradiction for a struggling community trying to reinvent itself and survive. Many have a different vision for the town. There is a nascent arts community with hopes of transforming the old town into a haven for kinder, gentler pursuits and organic farmers and vineyards hoping to contribute to a new start .
It’s a ‘Potemkin forest’ acting as a blind for the logging companies that destroy at will, ancient trees that should be part of the entire world’s heritage.
Our friend is heavily involved in community groups fighting the ‘coal-port’ and the Raven Mine too. She also heeds the calls that go out every time a bulldozer advances on another living monument in the old growth forests. It is a never ending vigilance however and the contradictions of this community in transition are never ending too.