Port Alberni’s population rose by 4.5 percent between 2016 and 2021, according to new census figures.
The Port Alberni census agglomeration area saw the population rise from 24,669 in 2016 to 25,786 in 2021.
Although it’s a “modest” amount of growth, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said it shows the city is moving in the right direction.
In the past, she explained, people have chosen Port Alberni for its relative affordability.
“What we’re really seeing as a trend right now is people choosing Port Alberni for lifestyle,” said Minions. “Because of our proximity to other comunities, our parks, our trails, our outdoor recreation opportunities. It’s a really exciting shift to see that happen.”
Port Alberni is following a trend seen in other Vancouver Island communities. Census figures show the population of Vancouver Island grew by 8.2 per cent to 864,864 between 2016 and 2021. As a whole, the population of British Columbia has grown by 7.6 per cent since 2016.
Inter-and intra-provincial migration statistics from Statistics Canada show that the majority of newcomers to the Port Alberni area are moving from elsewhere in B.C. In 2019 and 2020, 161 newcomers to the Port Alberni area came from Vancouver, while 162 of them came from Victoria. Another 146 moved from Nanaimo, while 322 moved from B.C.’s rural regions.
The City of Port Alberni has made a few changes recently to address the population growth. In the past few years, the city has increased its planning department, adding another planner and a manager to the department to respond to an increased number of developments. During a Monday, Jan. 31 meeting of council, Minions and the rest of council approved three developments and 110 units of mixed housing.
The city is also updating its Official Community Plan (OCP) for the first time since 2007. The OCP describes the long-term vision of the community, looking at housing, parks and green space, transportation and land development.
“It’s so exciting that there’s this new feeling of life in the community at the same time we are reviewing our community plan,” said Minions.
She joked that the only time council has looked at the OCP in the last few years was to amend it—a sign that the current plan is “out of touch” with the community.
Minions says she wants to see the city “take an intentional path” going forward.
“We need to take a proactive approach to show potential developers what we want in our community, rather than letting development drive what we want,” she said.
An example of this is the city’s recent purchase of the Somass Sawmill lands. With this purchase, she said, the city is intentionally purchasing industrial land and opening it up to public access.
“There are endless opportunities in front of us, and we want to make sure we drive that instead of letting others drive it for us,” she said.
Statistics Canada is releasing data from the 2021 census in seven batches. The next batch of census data is scheduled to be released in April 2022 and will look at Canada’s shifting demographic profile.