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

Revelstoke Fire Rescue Services douses house fire Aug. 7

Investigators say probable cause was an unattended barbecue

UFO trackers set their sights on Revelstoke skies

Rob Freeman UFO World Explorer and crew went up Sale Mountain

Updated: Molotov cocktails thrown at Revelstoke home in arson attempt

The flames were extinguished before they spread. Two men have been arrested.

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

EDITORIAL: Managing wildfires

Wildfires have the potential to cause significant damage within our province

B.C. records 30-50 new COVID-19 cases a day over weekend, no new deaths

Many of those testing positive were identified by contact tracing for being linked to other confirmed infections

Five B.C. First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

No new COVID-19 cases in Kelowna over the weekend

Kelowna has nine of the Interior Health region’s 13 active cases

Rent-relief program becomes new front in fight between Liberals, opposition

Opposition trying to draw parallels between decision to have Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. run program and the WE controversy

West Kelowna woman upset with RCMP response to street brawl

A physical altercation between a group of teens and a group of adults erupted on a West Kelowna street Sunday evening

Kelowna real estate agent fined $6,500 for ‘misleading’ website

The website listed several services its owner was not licensed to provide

Ottawa sets minimum unemployment rate at 13.1% for EI calculation

Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July

$45K in donations received after couple’s sudden death in Tulameen

Sarah MacDermid, 31, and Casey Bussiere, 37, died August long weekend

Most Read