Arts Alive #ExplorePortAlberni



The totem pole has, for thousands of years, kept the stories of the Indigenous people alive, ensuring they pass from generation to generation. Think of it as a beautiful visual library that has been around long before audio recordings, books and even e-readers.

This thought struck me as I was talking to Cecil Dawson of the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation, pulling out his knife kit and demonstrating his technique on a wood halibut carving.

Stationed near the Port Alberni Maritime Discovery Centre for the rest of the summer, he will be working on a UNESCO project with Tim Paul, master carver, artist and Hesquiaht elder. And anyone who walks by the Port Alberni waterfront, next to the 40-foot tall and five-foot diameter red cedar, can walk up and get a free carving demo from Dawson, who is more than happy to share his craft with visitors.

 “Hands on is how you learn,” he says.

Watch Arts Alive #ExplorePortAlberni on YouTube.

#ExplorePortAlberni. Start by checking out the Alberni Valley Tourism website.

Paul and Dawson are carving a totem pole to celebrate the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages which will, once it is finished, have a permanent home at the University of Victoria.

“We just want to create a bridge,” Dawson said as he showed off a few more of his smaller carvings and masks. “The art of carving is a talent. The art of a story is what we are trying to portray - everything tells a story.”

Port Alberni Solstice Festival
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

Artist Cecil Dawson demonstrating technique on a halibut carving

The air filled with the aroma of cedar, you can get some hands-on art experience - from seaside carving, to sea glass and sandscapes - at nearby Coastal Flow Glass Co. you just have to sign up for one of Michelle Frost’s workshops.

“What surprises me in class is that everyone starts out with the same materials but no finished product is alike,” Frost says. Her studio and workshop is a crafter’s dream come true. I had flashbacks to the craft cabin at summer camp where there was a seemingly endless supply of driftwood, string, paint brushes, sea glass, sand, and Mod Podge.

Port Alberni Solstice Festival
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

Michelle Frost at the Coastal Flow Glass Co. workshop space

She hosts several workshops and events each month where you can create your own fused glass jewelry, stained glass, seascapes, fused glass lanterns, windchimes and more. Frost has all of the materials and you get tutorials (perhaps even a glass of wine), and your very own take-home creation.

Over at DRAW Gallery, Astrid Johnston’s walls are covered in local artworks with rotating shows every two months, along with posters for festivals and events. Read about the Jane Austen Festival (which draws an international crowd) or pick up a brochure for an upcoming workshop or gallery tour. DRAW Gallery also hosts Port Alberni's the Port Alberni chapter of the International Plein Air Painters Great Worldwide Paint Out. On the same day, in cities and countries across the globe, painters put brush to canvas outside for one glorious day of painting under the coastal skies. With Port Alberni's gorgeous natural landscape, anyone would be inspired.

Port Alberni Solstice Festival
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

DRAW Gallery in Port Alberni

When it comes to inspirational natural landscapes, the Rollin Art Centre’s grounds are the perfect way to end your day of artistic explorations. The centre is covered by a lush canopy of leaves and the scent of roses and lilac fills the air.

Complete with a fine arts gallery, gift shop, classroom and office, the grounds are also an idyllic venue for special events and an outdoor concert. The main garden features a replica of Port Alberni's first bandstand and the elegant concrete balustrade and classical fountain along with a traditional Japanese garden, which was a gift from Abashiri, Japan (Port Alberni's sister city). Enjoy Tea on the Terrace over several weeks this summer, with high and low tea service complete with finger sandwiches and live music, on Sundays and Thursdays.

Port Alberni Solstice Festival
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

Tea on the Terrace is one of the highlights of the summer at the Rollin Arts Centre, where the band Stranger Than Fiction will play an acoustic set this summer. 

The art centre’s workshop roster also includes basket weaving, acrylic on canvas, watercolours, and more.

I’m used to seeing a more rugged side of Port Alberni, with rewarding hikes that have me scrambling up rock faces for panoramic inlet views. Discovering its cultural and artistic side have made it an even more desirable destination that visitors and locals are sure to enjoy.

Solstice Arts Festival in Port Alberni

You can get a taste of all of the arts and culture Port Alberni has to offer June 14-15, 2019 at the Solstice Arts Festival. It’s a celebration of arts, music, culture, and heritage, with the Rollin Arts Centre as a home base. From there - where you can find musicians, a children’s activity tent and two food trucks - you can embark on a self-guided arts tour, visiting 15 venues and more than 88 artists. Learn more about the event here.

When You Go

Search #ExplorePortAlberni for more inspiration. Be sure to tag #ExplorePortAlberni while exploring the region as you could be featured on our social media channels.

Start planning your adventures in Port Alberni at Alberni Valley Tourism

Start exploring your Port Alberni region options with Destination BC

Find out more at the City of Port Alberni’s website

Uncover more about the Port Alberni region's offers for adventure. Check out ZenSeeker’s #ExplorePortAlberni Expedition page to see how you can have an adventure like this.

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