Encouraging signs for Nuu-chah-nulth businesses despite ongoing pandemic

Port Alberni, BC

As the president of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce, Terry Deakin is pleased whenever there is positive business news in the region.

That’s why Deakin was thrilled to see the Chims Guest House in Port Alberni host a special grand opening for its RV sites and Indigenous cultural centre earlier this month.

Chims, located at 6890 Pacific Rim Hwy., will have four fully serviced RV sites available for bookings starting next month.

“Anything we can add to our communities to build capacity for our tourism is great,” Deakin said.

Deakin said she’d also welcome any other future opportunities from Alberni Valley businesses that would help bring in additional tourism dollars to the region.

“I think we need to tap into that, especially when the world opens back up again,” she said.

Due to family commitments, Deakin was unable to attend the grand opening at Chims, which was an event by invitation only.

Recent renovations, however, at Chims have caught Deakin’s attention.

“From the highway the landscaping looks beautiful,” said Deakin, who became the chamber of commerce president this past May, following a two-year stint as its vice-president. “If I was a tourist and driving by, I think I’d be impressed.”

Deakin added any new locations in the region that offer accommodations for tourists will prove to be beneficial regardless of the number of spots available.

“I think all of our hotels in the area are full,” she said. “Adding four places for people to stay in is a good thing.”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented out-of-country visitors to Vancouver Island businesses since March of last year, Deakin is glad tourists from British Columbia and a couple of other western provinces are still heading to the region.

“It’s great for people to explore their own backyards,” she said.

Naomi Nicholson, who owns Chims Guest House along with her husband Ed, was ecstatic with how things transpired earlier this month at the grand opening.

“We really impressed a bit and outdid ourselves,” she said. “The theme of the day was showcasing what’s possible.”

Besides offering tours of its RV sites to dignitaries and other invited guests, the Nicholsons also staged various events, including a fashion show, to showcase what Indigenous tourism experiences can look like.

Renovations are continuing on the Indigenous cultural centre, which is expected to open at Chims next year.

Video footage of the grand opening will be utilized in promotional materials.

“This event was put on because we need to sell our Indigenous experiences for next year,” Naomi Nicholson said.

Various workshops are expected to be offered at the cultural centre starting in 2022. Some of these workshops might include beading and drum making as well as how to can and cut fish.

Meanwhile, some other Nuu-chah-nulth businesses are enjoying varying successes this year.

These include a pair of businesses owned by the Tseshaht First Nation: the Tseshaht Market and Orange Bridge Cannabis.

Claudine Watts, the general manager of the Tseshaht Market, said the business did scale back its hours of operations somewhat during the pandemic.

But Watts said unlike many other businesses who have been struggling to stay afloat the past two years, her business has not suffered greatly.

“We’ve had a good year,” Watts said. “And even a bit better than last year.”

Watts believes there are a couple of reasons why Tseshaht Market has continued to run successfully despite the pandemic. The market is the last full-service gas station between Port Alberni and the west coast communities of Tofino and Ucluelet.

“I think it’s because of our location,” she said. “We’re kind of the last stop before you get to the west coast.”

Watts believes the business is also a popular one since its gas and cigarette sales are tax exempt.

Watts also said the Tseshaht Market retains a consistent customer base because it frequently updates the public via its Facebook page. Postings include information on times of highway closures, which have been a constant complaint in the area in recent months.

As for Orange Bridge Cannabis, one of the first First Nation-owned cannabis dispensaries in Canada, manager Ron Kyle said business is picking up once again.

“It’s definitely improved,” he said. “But I still think we’re in the midst of a pandemic.”

Prior to the pandemic, the business had six employees. But when Kyle was forced to cut back the store’s operating hours, he was only joined in the store by assistant manager Tammy Lucas.

Since then another employee has been brought back while one works on an on-call basis.

Kyle said in recent months it is not just area residents who are coming into his store.

“We have had a little bit of an influx with tourism,” he said. “It’s not just local people coming in.”

Kyle, however, is not willing to speculate when the number of customers he sees will return to pre-pandemic levels.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” he said.

But he is encouraged by the fact tourism does appear to be picking up lately.

“I’ve talked to friends in Tofino and Ucluelet and they are still seeing large crowds,” he said.

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