Education was of prime concern in those early days and in 1894, W.A. Corker was established as Principal of the newly constructed Residential School for boys. The school was situated on approximately 4-5 acres of land and was primarily established to teach the skills of carpentry, furniture making, boat building, animal husbandry, as well as regular academic school work, to first nation boys.
Water transportation has always been an important ingredient of Alert Bay’s history. In 1896, the Union Steamship “Comox”, made its first regular call while en-route to Rivers Inlet lying to the North. Many other ships representing a variety of purposes ranging from the transportation of goods, to the delivery of visitors who have come to our island over the years. In more recent years, when the community was at its peak as the centre of the region, regular access was provided by ferry from Kelsey Bay via Beaver Cove.
Regular ferry service is now provided from Port McNeill with direct runs to Alert Bay, interspersed by trips to neighbouring Malcolm Island.
1902 saw British Columbia Packers Association purchase the cannery from its founders, and in 1909, the first St. George’s Hospital was opened.
A giant step was taken during 1911-1912, when the Dominion Government established the first communications system to link Alert Bay and other now-established communities in the region, also to the Southern centres of Vancouver and Victoria. The system comprised a very crude telegraph service but proved a useful tool to the local industry. In 1912, the Dominion Government built a wireless station in Alert Bay. The station operated principally as an aid to navigation, although was used in other capacities from time to time.
Despite this trend Alert Bay continued to develop and in 1925, a new St. George’s Hospital was opened to replace the original building which suffered fire damage during 1923. That same year a beautiful chapel was built next to the hospital as a memorial to Mrs. Paterson Hall, who, upon her retirement as president of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Church of England in Canada, was given an honorarium, which she in turn gave to the Columbia Coast Mission for the erection of the Memorial Chapel. The furnishings were the gift of Mrs. Georgina M. Pennell, also of the Montreal Diocesan Women’s Auxiliary. The Toronto Women’s Auxiliary, Babies’ Branch, donated the baptismal font. The chapel is now located next to the century old Anglican Church.
During 1929, the St. Michael’s Residential School was constructed to serve, educate and house native children from outlying areas in the region. The school was solidly built of brick and designed to accommodate 200 children aged from seven to fifteen years old. Our Residential School was one of the last ones to close in the early 1970’s. The building is now owned by the ‘Namgis First Nation and many of the surrounding First Nation’s have an office space in this building. Also located in the building are: North Island College, K.T.F.C, and many local businesses.
Years passed and the community continued to diversify its activities to include dairy farming, raising of poultry, growing of vegetables, etc. The Nimpkish Hotel became an established part of the community providing accommodation for the traveler and entertainment for the local people.
In 1946, the Village of Alert Bay became incorporated. At the same time the region was commencing a new era of prosperity which would see profitable growth in the fishing and logging industries. Alert Bay flourished as the supply centre for necessary life-sustaining goods and provided the desired recreation and entertainment to the many people employed in fishing and logging. A community hall was built, electricity came to the community, a taxi service was established, a bus service operated on a limited scale and the volunteer firemen of Alert Bay received a shipment of their new fire engine.
Air transportation now began to serve an important role in the development of the community. By 1948, the first elements of an air transportation service had been established to serve the development of the area’s natural resources,. Until recently only float planes could operate from the island but during 1972, a landing strip of wheeled aircraft was constructed. The runway which was paved during 1979 is approximately 2,900 feet long.
The present countenance of the Alert Bay community reflects much of its past history. Visitors to the area will be fascinated by the mixing and contrasting of the cultures. The native art forms are represented by their carving, paintings weaving and metal crafting. Artifacts and events of the past can be viewed in the community’s U’mista Cultural Centre and the Library-Museum. Above all a casual stroll from one end of the community to the other instills one with an appreciation for the efforts of the early pioneers who carved themselves a place to live, work and created the roots of the village which now exists on Cormorant Island.
Information Courtesy of:
Alert Bay Visitor Centre
116 Fir Street, Bag Service 2800
Alert Bay, BC