The story of Port Alberni is woven from many threads. Before European settlement, the area was inhabited by the Tseshaht and Hupacasath peoples of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. Incorporated in 1912, the town began to be settled by Europeans in the late 1800s as part of the British Colony of Vancouver Island, but it took its name from the adventures of a Spanish Captain who came to the Island for Spanish colonial efforts in the 1700s.
Although Pedro de Alberni was only in the Vancouver Island region for two years between 1790 and 1792, he is the namesake of one of the Island’s major towns: Port Alberni. Born in Tortosa, Catalonia early in the year of 1747, Don Pedro was left with the same unfortunate choice as so many other younger brothers of his day: suffer pecuniary difficulties, enter the church, or join the military. He chose the latter.
While Don Pedro’s elder brother, Josep Antoni, was to inherit their family’s considerable fortunes (a destiny awarded him by Catalan civil law), his other six siblings––four brothers and two sisters––merely received small sums of money. One of the sisters became a nun. The younger brothers all joined the military.
This career took Pedro far from home, ferrying him to New Spain, from which he travelled to the Pacific Northwest, where he left his mark in the name of Port Alberni. In 1782 he was named Captain of his company, and in 1789 he led them to Vancouver Island to fortify posts established there earlier that year.
Serious European settlement of the area seems to have begun much later, when the British sent Hudson’s Bay Company traders into the area. In 1856, one such trader, Adam Horne, investigated rumours he had heard about a trail used by indigenous peoples in the region, which started at Qualicum and led inland to the Alberni Valley. Horne found this trail––later known as the Horne Lake Trail. The trail allowed many other settlers to move into the valley.
Today, Port Alberni and the surrounding areas bear the names of this multifaceted history that includes the British and Spanish Empires, and First Nations. Indigenous place names that remain include Somass (which means “washing”), Kitsuksis (meaning a log across the mouth of a creek), Pacheena (which means “foamy”), and Nootka (meaning “go around”).