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.”
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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
“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."
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”