A LOOK BACK: Port Alberni during the Depression

Take a peek at Vancouver Island history

A long double line of men walk down the middle of Johnston Road through the centre of Alberni in 1933. During the Depression, these men, who were described as from out of town, were demonstrating because they wanted jobs. This photo is one of nearly 24,000 in the Alberni Valley Museum’s collection. See more at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com/ (PHOTO BY JOSEPH CLEGG/ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM, PN01170)

A line of men—many of them apparently from out of town—snakes along Johnston Road in Alberni in 1933, in the heart of the Depression.

The men were, according to information from the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital photo collection, demonstrating because they were unemployed and wanted jobs.

Historian Jan Peterson chronicles some of the difficulties the region experienced in her book Twin Cities: Alberni-Port Alberni. She writes about the region’s resilience in surviving the ‘slump’ of 1915 and the post-war period (which would include the global Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918), and the realization by 1930 that what has come to be known as the Depression was different.

The Alberni Valley had several sawmills operating at the time, but their finished lumber headed to the United States housing market and to Japan. When the Depression dried up the housing market south of the border, so many workers lost their jobs that camps were established in the bush in B.C. and workers were put to work cutting out roads or doing other make-work tasks. They were fed, housed and given a small fee, which was dictated by government in how it was distributed.

There was a turnaround in the forestry industry by late 1933, when ships began appearing up the Alberni Canal again to pick up lumber shipments. The fishing industry was not as fortunate, as the pilchards they had so successfully caught by seiners were nowhere to be found, and coastal fish processing plants remained idle.

Ahousaht First Nation Chief Cap-Chah called the pilchard the ‘Death Fish’, according to a reference from the Port Alberni News from August 1933. He said he related the story about where and why the fish disappeared, to some of the men in charge of the Albernis, but they paid no attention.

This photo is one of nearly 24,000 in the Alberni Valley Museum’s collection. Many of them can be viewed online. See more at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com/ (PN00109/ Alberni Valley Museum)

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