Shop, stroll Port Alberni for healing nature, retail therapy


When Anita Sutherland was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in July 2019, she began to look at her life through a new lens. The diagnoses taught her to be present and appreciate each passing moment. 

Part of that, she said, included acknowledging her hometown of Port Alberni: “A lot of locals don't take the time to appreciate that we truly live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.” 

Located at the head of the Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island, the region is surrounded by mossy forests that hold impressive stands of hemlock and cedar trees. 

Accessed through a labyrinth of walking trails, such as the Log Train Trail near the McLean Mill National Historic Site (pictured above), these forests wind along the foot of the Beaufort Range.

WATCH: shop, stroll Port Alberni #ExplorePortAlberni 

Watch Shop, stroll Port Alberni for healing nature, retail therapy on YouTube.

“If I was having a bad day and went for a little walk out at the mill, I instantly felt better because the beauty is just astounding,” Sutherland said. “It’s nice to take a breath and take that in.” 

Sutherland is one of several locals sharing their tips in the new #ExplorePortAlberni series, Inspiring a Love for the Alberni Valley

You can find her tips for a healing, refreshing weekend in the Alberni Valley in this itinerary, featured on the Alberni Valley Tourism website.

After an intense round of treatment, Sutherland went into remission in February 2020 and in some ways, said she got a new lease on life: “I’m a very lucky lady."

Port Alberni British Columbia Shop and Stroll Melissa Renwick ZenSeekers 09 (1).jpg
Photo: Melissa Renwick
A couple walking the Log Train Trail, one of Sutherland's favourite places to find zen.

It had always been her lifelong dream to own a retail store and on November 1, 2022, Sutherland turned that into reality after purchasing Walk the Coast with her husband, Mike. 

The footwear and apparel store has been a staple in the Alberni Valley for the past 19 years. Over those years, Sutherland said, she has been one of their most loyal customers.

Port Alberni British Columbia Shop and Stroll Melissa Renwick ZenSeekers
Photo: Melissa Renwick
Anita Sutherland helps a customer, trying on shoes while seated on the converted pew inside Walk the Coast.

Despite spending stints living in larger metropolises such as Victoria and Vancouver for work, Sutherland said Walk the Coast remained one of her favourite stores because of its curation of “good quality” items. 

Tucked down a quiet street off the Alberni Highway, Walk the Coast is nestled in an old church hall. A pew serves as a bench for customers to try on shoes, nodding to the history of the building. 

“When I walk into this space, it feels and looks like the west coast,” Sutherland said. “I love that the environment is unique.”

Totally Board Surf Shop is another worthwhile stop on your tour. You can find owner Billy Leach's local tips alongside Sutherlands on the Alberni Valley Tourism website.

Walk the Coast has developed into a premiere shopping experience on Vancouver Island, with customers traveling from the mainland to score west coast fashion finds, Sutherland explained. 

While there were many painful and uncertain moments during her cancer journey, Sutherland said “many beautiful things came out of it too.” 

Ultimately, she said, it led her to this moment in which she’s carrying out her dreams in the place that she loves. 

For Sutherland's inside tips on what she loves to do in the Alberni Valley, check out her recommended 48-hour itinerary here.

“I think it’s really important in today's day and age that we spend our time in places that make us feel good, surrounded by nature,” she said. “I’ve always had a love for the valley. It’s just in me.”

Presence is a practice that Sutherland continues to invite into her life and one that Port Alberni continues to facilitate. 

“When I look around and see the mountains, I take a moment to pause,” she said. “We have this beautiful scenery, lovely people and everything we really need in a small community, which allows you to be present.” 

Sutherland said she feels proud to play a role in providing her community with a retail experience that her community can be proud of. 

“We are not that little town that you drive through to get to the west coast,” she said. “We are a destination.”

When you go

Billy Leach, owner of Totally Board Surf Shop in Port Alberni, says November is the perfect time of year to visit the valley because Stamp Falls is alive with sockeye salmon returning to Stamp River to spawn. “There’s lots of water and rain now so the waterfalls are really amazing,” 

As a resident of the Alberni Valley for the past 12 years, Leach chooses to make Port Alberni home because of its centrality. 

“There’s [Sproat] Lake, the river, bicycling, it’s close to the coast, it’s close to Nanaimo, there’s just so much to do here all of the time," but in the end, he says, "It’s the people that make the place and that’s truly why I love being here.”

Leach's suggested weekend itinerary is included alongside Sutherland's, on the Alberni Valley Tourism website.

Getting here
Port Alberni resides within the Alberni Valley – about an hour drive from Nanaimo. Check in with Alberni Valley Tourism for a wealth of local tips to explore the area. 

About the people of this land
The Alberni Valley lies within unceded territory of the Tseshaht First Nation (sis sha ahtah) and Hupačasath First Nation, two of the fourteen Nations of the Nuu-cha-nulth people of western Vancouver Island.

More local tips to Port Alberni
This is the second in a new 2023 #ExplorePortAlberni series, Love for the Alberni Valley, featuring local tips. The first instalment, with tips from Nilo DuPlessis of Antidote Distilling Co. and Célia Auclair of Forest for Dinner, is found here.

Like Our Facebook Page