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.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Single vehicle rollover on Highway 16 claims life of young woman, seriously injures another

The single vehicle incident occurred at Highway 16 and Hillcrest Way

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

COVID-19 cases grow to 13 at B.C. First Nation near Fort St. James

“This is very serious,” says Nak’azdli Whut’en Chief

Directional traffic change coming to one-way street beside McLeod Elementary

This change will be in effect starting Monday, Oct. 5.

Vanderhoof’s Brian Frenkel takes on top job in tough times

We can get through this, new local government leader says

Weekend sees 267 cases, 3 deaths in B.C.; Dr. Henry says events leading to COVID spread

There are currently 1,302 active cases in B.C., while 3,372 people are under public health monitoring

Liberals seek to fast track new COVID-19 aid bill after CERB expires

Government secured NDP support for legislation by hiking amount of benefits by $100 to $500 per week

B.C. VOTES 2020: Echoes of HST in B.C. debate over sales tax

Cannabis, tobacco, luxury cars still taxed in B.C. Liberal plan

She warned her son about toxic drugs, then he was dead

Donna Bridgman’s son died at the age of 38 in Vancouver

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. food and beverage producers set record sales in 2019

Farmed salmon again leads international exports

B.C. marriage annulled because husband was unable to have sex with wife

Husband did not disclose any sexual health concerns to his wife prior to marriage

Most Read