Port Alberni’s tourism economy has taken a second blow this year with the news Thunder in the Valley has been cancelled for 2019.
The first hit came a few months ago when Port Alberni City Council shut down the popular Alberni Pacific Railway for the season in order to study how much it will cost to bring the train and tracks back to operational status.
Now another event that drew people into the community, providing entertainment as well as a revenue source for the city, is gone.
Thunder in the Valley has for 18 years brought in heart-pounding drag racing events—all but the last two held at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport. The airport runway afforded racers a full quarter-mile strip wide enough for some fast cars to compete side by side.
The runway was expanded two years ago in a multi-million-dollar project to draw more aviation business to the Alberni Valley. The operators (Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District) want to protect that investment, which is understandable.
What is difficult to comprehend is the way the decision was made to deny access to the airport: in camera, a private vote with few details released to anyone, including the drag racing association. Faced with a smaller venue on Stamp Avenue, diminished parking area for the pits and mounting expenses, the association cancelled the races.
There are parallels to each cancellation: they were both fraught with political debate, and they both created emotional outrage within the community. They will both be missed.
Regardless of the criticism over the operation of McLean Mill and the steam train, they are still draws for tourists from outside this community. Drag racers may represent a relatively small community, but fast cars and racing are always a magnet to people of all ages.
If taking a year off from the steam train and Thunder in the Valley results in better management of the Alberni Pacific Railway or a better event for drag racers, then we will stand to reap the benefits.
We need to ensure these pauses don’t drag on: the steam operation at McLean Mill ceased more than two years ago, and although people still ask about it, there is no sign the saw will ever fire up again.
Another event that usually takes place the same weekend as drag racing is the Five Acre Shaker. With the news that McLean Mill—which has hosted the Shaker for the past few years—may have to undergo more intensive water testing all over the site, we hope another large event isn’t next on the chopping block.