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Port Alberni: Old Foundations, New Beginnings

The past and the present merge to launch Port Alberni into a bright, new future.

Credit: James Nizam Studio

The past and the present merge to launch Port Alberni into a bright, new future.

Somass Sawmill

Built in 1934 by Bloedel, Stewart and Welch, in its heyday, Somass Sawmill boasted the longest free-standing building in the Commonwealth at 1,200 feet long over two rows of train tracks. It employed 1,200 people. It was permanently closed in July of 2017 by then-owner Western Forest Products.

Fish Processing Building

This is a 17,500-square-foot concrete block building owned by the Port Alberni Port Authority and leased by Port Fish (P.A.) Ltd in 1997. It was best known for processing hake and groundfish and featured the only remaining surimi processing line in Canada. It closed in 2011 and sat empty for ten years.

Alberni Engineering

Opening its doors in 1914, Alberni Engineering built hundreds of fishboats, tugs workboats and boom boats from one fabrication site. It was purchased by Canadian Maritime Engineering (CME) in 2013 and renamed Canadian Alberni Engineering. CME also acquired Kamma & Blake, an aluminum boat builder, in 2014.

Martin Mars Water Bombers

Seven Martin Mars’ were built for the US Navy during WWII. They were the largest Allied flying boat to enter production. Four were later converted for use as civilian firefighting water bombers. The Coulson Group bought two of them in 2007, retiring one in 2012 and the other in 2015.

Waterfront Mixed-Use Development

The City of Port Alberni bought the 43-acre site, and in doing so, has taken control of its future. The $5.3 million purchase marks the beginning of Council’s Strategic Plan to provide greater access to the waterfront for residents and visitors and to ensure marine-based industries thrive. The remediation of the site and deconstruction of former sawmill buildings using circular economy principles has started.

Seafood-Focused Food Hub

A combined $2 million investment by the Port Alberni Port Authority, the Province of BC, the City of Port Alberni and the Island Coastal Economic Trust converted the plant into a Canadian Food Inspection Agency certified Food Hub operation. Five seafood-focused anchor tenants are growing. Others use the commercial kitchen on a part-time basis.


Canadian Maritime Engineering has grown its ship building and repair business from 35 to over 90 employees during the pandemic and has added two more fabrication sites.


The Coulson Group is now modifying Boeing 737s, Hercules C-130s and helicopters for forest fire-fighting purposes. The number of aircraft maintenance technicians has grown to 140 from 50 over the past three years.

Some have described these and other developments as new beginnings from old foundations. However one wishes to characterize the transformations, it is an exciting time.