When people emptied out of Port Alice after the mill curtailment in 2015 to go to jobs elsewhere, the thought that was probably in the back of everybody’s minds is “Port Alice is dead.” Four years later, houses have sold so well that there are barely any left to sell! In spite of that, some opinions about Port Alice’s potential for economic growth still seem fixed in time at 2015!
The following are ten signs that suggest that Port Alice has changed significantly in the last four years:
1. When you walk down the street, you meet several people you don’t know!
2. You drive past the townhouses on Haida and, instead of seeing a bunch of empty carports, you see carports with cars in them!
3. You go into the bank and it’s busy!
4. You run into tourists from places like Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Philadelphia and wonder how the heck they found out about us!
5. Things are getting stolen! People are starting to lock their doors! Not necessarily a positive thing, but the emergence of a crime rate is usually indicative of a growing population.
6. With more people comes more emergencies. Sirens are making a comeback. Rarely heard during the curtailment, they are a part of the soundscape once again!
7. You hear car horns honking a couple of times in one week, bringing you momentarily back to a holiday you spent in New York City.
8. You back out of your carport to find a vehicle on each side of you. Much hilarity ensues as all drivers realize that they are stuck in a Port Alice traffic jam!
9. When you drive through town at night, you notice many more windows lit up than there used to be!
10. Before the curtailment of 2015, our population was around 850, before it dipped to approximately 600 right after. It would be logical to assume that, since the recent rash of house sales, that it might have gone back up to or even surpassed 850 by now! Before the curtailment, yes, we had people in town, but we still had many empty houses because of a policy that enabled mill workers to live elsewhere and commute. It was during that time that I was able to buy my house at a “ghost town price”. Now, I am hearing about small apartments in Seaview going for three times as much as what I paid for my townhouse!
Unfortunately, we won’t know exactly where our population is at until next year’s census.
But who needs a census?
By the new level of activity in town and all the new faces around, there are obviously a lot more than 600 people living here, possibly even more than when the mill was in full production mode!
In spite of all these changes, remarkably, I still run into folks who say, “Our economy can’t work without a mill”, “We don’t have enough people in town to support a restaurant” and “tourism is only seasonal”. Would residents prefer a vibrant seasonal economy, or a non-existent one year-round? The nice thing about a seasonal economy here—because of our temperate climate—“seasonal” could be a lot longer here than it is in, say, Alberta. It could run from April to September, or even longer! The dividends from an extended seasonal economy in a village that has already captured global attention could be staggering! We may need four of five months off to recover! Right now, our lack of amenities is holding back economic growth in our village. Treating tourists like unwanted guests is damaging our reputation world-wide. It would be beneficial if we could feed and entertain the people that come here, instead of inadvertently saying to them, “Take your fish and go!”
If there are still people around who think that Port Alice is destined for the doldrums because the mill is shut down… then they are not seeing the signs!
Debra Lynn is a writer, artist and educator who lives in Port Alice. Have some thoughts on Debra’s column? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will publish it online and in print.