Port Alberni’s waterfront shines under the sun and the shadow of Mount Arrowsmith in this iconic photo from August 2018. SUSAN QUINN/Black Press

Port Alberni fights bad reputation in international media amid manhunt for wanted teens

People have been quick to judge teens, says city councillor

The Canada-wide manhunt for two Port Alberni teens suspected in three deaths in northern British Columbia has thrust the small city located in the heart of Vancouver Island into an unwanted limelight.

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky have been charged with second degree murder in the death of Leonard Dyck of Vancouver, whose body was found at a rest area on Highway 37 a couple of kilometres away from where the Port Alberni teens’ truck was found on fire last week. They are also implicated in the shooting deaths of international tourists Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese near Liard Hot Springs on July 15.

READ: ‘Struggling to understand’: Family, UBC pay tribute to lecturer killed in northern B.C.

Barry Shep of Calgary was already down on Port Alberni after his truck was broken into while he was helping a fellow fisher, whose truck and boat trailer were stolen while he was fishing down the Alberni Inlet. “Wow, seems this town has its share of murders as well,” he said.

Tom Shanahan from Pickering, Ontario wrote to the Alberni Valley News with his thoughts regarding the manhunt for two Port Alberni teens. “This sad story disproves the idiotic theory that raising kids in a small town is better than raising kids in a big city,” he said.

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said her city is not unique in the negative attention it has been receiving.

“We do get big media attention when it’s for something negative; I don’t think we’re unique in that,” she said.

Minions said she reached out to Gillam, Manitoba mayor Dwayne Forman, whose community has been inundated with SWAT team members, law enforcement members and international media because it was the last place McLeod and Schmegelsky were spotted.

“Their community is struggling with the same thing,” she said.

City Councillor Cindy Solda, who has been a politician in Port Alberni for well over a decade, said the press attention has been difficult to take. “I love press, but only for the right reasons,” she said. “This whole situation has affected a lot of communities and so many families, the relatives, the friends.

“People are judging. What happened in our society to innocent until proven guilty? Of course, everyone’s talking about it. People are being judge and jury before these young adults even had a chance. We don’t know; we’ve just heard bits and pieces and we’re judging.”

READ: B.C. fugitives believed to still be in northern Manitoba

Port Alberni has been labeled one of the worst places to live in Canada by Moneysense magazine for several years. The label spawned a spoof Facebook campaign called The Worst Place to Live, then a social media campaign called Heart of Vancouver Island to try and combat the bad reputation by highlighting positive things about the community.

“I do feel that Port Alberni unfortunately only gets international media attention when something bad happens,” said Kama Jones, one of Vancouver’s top mom bloggers of 2018 who is from Port Alberni. Jones was part of the team that operated Heart of Vancouver Island blog from 2016–2017.

“We started Heart of Vancouver Island as a direct response to Port Alberni’s notoriety as ‘The Worst Place to Live in Canada’ by Moneysense Magazine,” Jones said.

“We didn’t agree with this label, and wanted to create a grassroots campaign to increase local pride about living in the community, which would ripple forward to all of our social networks.

“Even though the city stopped funding it and the page now lays stagnant, I’ve been told it helped to change the story about why people love living in Port Alberni.”

Just Posted

Firefighters battling two blazes on Highway 1 south of Ashcroft

Highway has reopened to single-lane, alternating traffic led by a pilot car so expect delays

Fires on Highway 1, CN mainline keep Ashcroft firefighters busy

Two vehicle fires and a rail fire sparked within an 11-day span

Reports on seniors’ needs, downtown show way forward for Cache Creek

‘I hope they won’t gather dust’ says Cache Creek mayor

Counselling support available for those impacted by wildfires

New, confidential, free service in region designed for families or individuals

Local News Briefs: Come out and rock

Join Rawkn’ Art Camp participants as they show off their accomplishments, and stay for a concert

QUIZ: How much do you remember about Woodstock?

Weekend music festival in Bethel, New York, was held 50 years ago

U16 B.C. fastpitch team named national champs

Girls went undefeated at national tournament in Calgary

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

Canadian entrepreneurs turning beer byproduct into bread, cookies and profits

Some breweries turn to entrepreneurs looking to turn spent grain into treats for people and their pets

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

Most Read