British Columbia

Tsunami pushed 1967 Port Alberni amalgamation forward

Alberni and Port Alberni debated and discussed a possible merger for years before the big event but it was a 1964 disaster that helped seal the deal, Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan says.

10-cent prices for rink and pool admission as former 'Twin Cities' residents celebrate semicentennial

Champion swimmers The Synchronettes from West Vancouver perform in Port Alberni's Echo Pool as part of the 1967 Centennial amalgamation celebrations. ( Alberni Valley Museum/PN09332)

Port Alberni, B.C., celebrates the 50th anniversary of amalgamation Saturday with cake, rollerblading and 1967 prices for admission to the local pool and recreation centre.

Vancouver Island's twin cities of Alberni and Port Alberni debated a possible merger for decades before the big event in 1967.

But it was a 1964 disaster that helped seal the deal, Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan told Gregor Craigie, host of On the Island

Damage from a tsunami that inundated the cities on Good Friday 1964 was "a major impetus for the consideration of this," Ruttan said.

Dozens of homes were destroyed, more than 300 damaged, and about 150 people required emergency shelter according to a CBC report at the time.

"The two communities were hugely impacted by that tsunami coming through town, and they realized they had to work together," Ruttan said. 

Amalgamation-related events included the opening of the Port Alberni Parks Yard building in 1967. (Alberni Valley Museum/PN20208.)

Long before the 1964 disaster, many local leaders supported the idea of merging the two communities that straddled either side of Rogers Creek. Discussions started around the Second World War but trailed off. 

An $800-million assessment for the Port Alberni operations of leading forest industry employer, MacMillian Bloedel Limited, revived strong interest in forging a single municipality, Ruttan said.

MacBlo operations, and the municipal taxes it paid, rested in the larger industrial hub of Port Alberni. Most of its employees lived in residential Alberni across the creek. 

Concerns for fairness and the potential for stronger growth spurred the first serious talks.

Secret meetings

"The two city councils were so concerned that they didn't even meet in the city," Ruttan said. "They went over the hump and they met in Parksville, in secret."

The meetings continued off and on for about four years before the councillors finally went public about them, he said.

Ruttan told On the Island host Gregor Craigie he remembered paying a dime for admission to the pool 50 years ago when he had a job stocking shelves at the local Safeway for $1.71 an hour.

"That was pretty good money because Port Alberni was a very wealthy community," Ruttan said.

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island