The Albernis, 1860-1922
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
William A. Waiser is a professor of history at the University of
Saskatchewan, and the author of Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History
of Prince Albert National Park and The New Northwest: The Photographs of
the Frank Crean Expeditions, 1908-1909.
This is the story of the Alberni Valley, the land at the head of a
50-kilometre, fingerlike canal running through the middle of western
Vancouver Island. Focusing on the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
Jan Peterson documents the arrival of the first white pioneers to the
region and the changes that followed in their wake. She describes in
considerable detail the first settlers, the first roads, and the first
schools, and examines the various resource activities, in particular
mining, forestry, and fishing. She also discusses the rivalry between
the twin communities of Alberni and Port Alberni, and how they
collectively sought to overcome the relative isolation of the region and
serve as the gateway to the Pacific.
The Albernis is largely concerned with the settlement of the valley and
the lives of the dominant white population. Although Peterson opens the
book with a brief overview of the aboriginal history of the region, the
interaction between the Natives and the newcomers is not examined in any
detail; white–Asian relations receive a similarly cursory treatment.
Instead, the emphasis is on how the settlers attempted to realize the
great promise of the natural canal and the local resources; this is
reflected in the fact that almost two-thirds of the book is devoted to
the heady days of the first two decades of the 20th century. Peterson
does a good job of describing the developments during this
period—complete with photographs—and the major players and forces
involved. What is missing, though, is an overall assessment of how these
settlers’ dreams compared to those in other Canadian communities at
the time, and how realistic they were.