I found the Lady Rose at her berth at the Argyle Street wharf but hanging out from the wharf by one headline and slowly swinging back and forth, her stern aimed first at Polly Point and then at the Somass River. It was on the sunny day following the arrival of the tidal wave at just after midnight on March 28, 1964, that I went down to the waterfront to see what had happened. I needed to see if our Uchuck II, tied to the Fisherman’s floats at Port Alberni, was alright and to check on the Lady Rose at the same time.
After the wave had receded, the harbour behaved like a bowl of water jiggling and sloshing after you thump it down on a table, only this was on a grand scale. I scrambled on board the Rose to go and sit with John Monrufet and Dick McMinn, first owners of Alberni Marine Transportation, in the wheelhouse of the vessel as she swung gently back and forth to the still swirling water. They were just watching to see what might come next so I hung out with them for a time, sipping on something, while we waited.
No one noticed that just after midnight the tide rose to the level of the highest high tide of the year and then a further eight feet. At those high tides, for example, the water laps at the doors of Alberni Engineering’s shop on Bird Street so with eight more feet, everything within went underwater. The tideline on the shop wall was still there years later.
The cause of this was the earthquake at Anchorage, Alaska late on the day before. It had created a tsunami that moved down the coast of North America but because of the geography of Vancouver Island, the wave was also directed up Alberni Inlet being amplified as it went.
Had the water come up even another two feet, there would have been mayhem in the harbour because all the floats that most vessels were moored to would have come adrift from the pilings holding them in place. Since that did not happen, we were just treated to the sight of a multitude of flotsam, torn loose from everywhere, swirling around on the surface of the harbour.
Written by Dave Young