Village of Alert Bay turning 75

Alert Bay is a quiet village now, but 75 years ago it was hopping with activity.

The Island highway hadn’t yet been extended north of Campbell River, so it was all about water transportation. Floating logging camps were scattered around the shorelines and islands, and workers would congregate at Alert Bay on the weekends.

All the government officials were based there, and in the mid-1900s, it was the only place with a bank or a liquor store. At one point there were 84 businesses on the small island. Dress shops, credit unions, four hotels, churches, cafes and of course the shipyards. It’s also where the North Island Gazette was founded in 1965!

At the height of things in 1958 the Alert Bay Library was founded. It’s still there, running an adjacent museum and village archives.

Joyce Wilby was there at the beginning, and 63 years later still runs the place as the community librarian. She’s 90 now, but came to Alert Bay during its heyday as a young bride in 1948.

“We never thought of leaving, we were too busy here,” Wilby said. The community was always very engaged, she said, and even more so in the days before TV and internet, when folks made their own entertainment.

She remembers when the army hospital that had been built at Fort Rupert was floated down the ocean in sections to Cormorant Island. The 70-bed hospital served the community for decades until it burned down, and was replaced by the Cormorant Island Health Care facility.

The first council meeting was held 75 years ago on Feb. 5, 1947, so this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Village. It incorporated on Jan. 14, 1947, a move Wilby said gave the village power to organize and manage its own affairs.

The Village hopes to be able to celebrate the Anniversary in the summer, permitting of course that COVID-19 restrictions allow.