A Fresh Place of Interest

“Port Alberni? Where’s that?”

I don’t remember if I actually said those words, but I definitely thought them when I was first invited to attend a Jane Austen festival there July 14 – 16. In case you’re scratching your head and asking yourself the same question, Port Alberni is a community of about 18,000 people at the end of a long fjord on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. As part of the festival, local enthusiasts (a group called the Centennial Belles) had decided to attempt breaking the record for the most people gathered in Regency costume – an ambitious goal considering the modest size and remoteness of the town.

20170720_152941-1_resizedSince I was so warmly invited, since Port Alberni isn’t all that far from Seattle (or so it appears on the map), and since I had the weekend free on my calendar, I decided to go. We could make a mini-vacation of it, I thought. The scenery was sure to be spectacular. I’d have the chance to dress up, talk to people about my books, and soak up the general Jane Austen atmosphere. And with a little luck, my husband might even catch the spirit. Surely he would want to support the record attempt by dressing Regency long enough to be counted. At least I dared to hope so.

We ran into a couple of obstacles, though. First, my passport had expired and, even though we (especially those of us in border states, perhaps) tend to think of Canada as our friendly neighbor to the north, technically it is a foreign country, now requiring official documentation from all visitors. New passport obtained, check.

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The other significant obstruction was that body of water between us. It may not look like much on the map, but THERE IS NO BRIDGE, and ferries, although a scenic form of travel, don’t schedule their departure times according my own convenience. We also discovered that traffic jams aren’t only a phenomenon of major metropolitan areas like Seattle; they also occur at 5:00pm on Fridays in smaller population centers with smaller capacity roads, apparently. We persevered, however, and safely arrived in Port Alberni about 9:30pm. Those three inches on the map had somehow translated into about 13 hours of travel.

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Helena Korin, me, and Suzan Lauder

Well rested after overnighting at a comfortable B&B, we were ready for the big day. The first event on Saturday morning would be the record attempt, at which I and fellow authors Helena Korin and Suzan Lauder had been invited to display our wares. When the official count came in, there was good news and bad news. Although the 286 total beat last year’s number, it unfortunately fell short of the 409 needed to establish a new record. I thought it an impressive total nonetheless, and everybody seemed to be having a good time.

20170715_123704_resizedThen it was off to the pier for a promenade, which turned out to be a very windy affair. “Hang on to your bonnets!” Next came a Jane Austen inspired lunch (with my first taste of the celebrated “white soup” – quite tasty!), followed by author readings (I did a well-received excerpt from The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen), and very entertaining mini-play versions of Persuasion and Emma.

As with most if not all Jane Austen festivals, this one climaxed with a grand ball in the evening. Although not everybody was an expert dancer, everybody was enthusiastic and having a marvelous time!

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This kind of dancing (“country dances” like you see in the movie adaptations) is a lot of fun; it doesn’t require an even number of men and women; and it’s something that can be carried on well into later years. If you want to give it a try, go to a JA festival/convention or look for a Regency dance club in your area.

20170716_124327_resizedSaturday was a very full day, and I slept well that night. A picnic at a local park was the only thing on the schedule for Sunday. Some people went all out for that too, as you can see. Then it was time to do a little sightseeing before saying farewell to Port Alberni and all the friends we made there.

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“…and previously there had been a great deal of enjoyment. So much novelty and beauty! I have travelled so little that every fresh place would be interesting to me – but there is real beauty at Lyme… altogether my impressions of the place are very agreeable.” (Persuasion)

20170715_102912-1_resizedYes, we had all the above: a great deal of enjoyment, novelty, beauty, and a fresh place that made an agreeable impression on me.

What would I consider my personal highlight, though?  It had to be finally seeing my husband in full Regency dress (for the first and hopefully not the last time) and having the chance to dance period dances with him. That’s a bit of fantasy fulfillment. Sort of a mature Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightly, don’t you think?

So thank you, Port Alberni and all my new friends! It was a great weekend!


For a related post on the Jane Austen experience, see my post about attending the 2013 JASNA convention in Minneapolis: Having a Ball…

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About Shannon Winslow

author of historical fiction in the tradition of Jane Austen
This entry was posted in Jane Austen, travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A Fresh Place of Interest

  1. Janet T says:

    I enjoyed reading your experience, Shannon. It sounds like a wonderful weekend. You look very pretty in your Regency Attire. I thought Suzan Lauder’s dress, Helena Korin’s and yours were lovely! That is so neat that your husband dressed up. He is a handsome man and looked very nice. You were a ‘dashing’ couple. Thanks for sharing your photos and the good time had by all. 😊

  2. caroleincanada says:

    Oh that looked like so much fun and very genteel! All of you looked lovely in your dresses and bonnets and your husband very dashing. I could never convince mine to wear Regency attire!
    The scenery is absolutely gorgeous isn’t it?! When our daughter graduated from university, we flew out for a family vacation to Victoria, B.C. on Vancouver Island and went around the coast to Tofino. Glad you had a great time!

    • I was really surprised he (my husband) went for it, Carole, so don’t give up hope for yours! I should have put up some more scenery pictures, but I didn’t have room. We felt right at home, since it’s so much like the scenery in our area.

  3. suzanlauder says:

    It was wonderful meeting you and Mr. Shannon. I enjoyed talking to you about JAFF and being a writer. Your DH is very dashing, and he has great hair. Mr. Suze enjoyed chatting about airplanes and such with him, so perhaps that aspect made it more likely that he won’t mind joining you on another Regency costuming adventure. It’s not all tea and scones, though the scones were as good as the white soup!

    • It was a real pleasure to meet you too, Suzan, and to hang out with you on the author panel. I was so glad our husbands found things to talk about. I think you’re right; that will give them both extra positive memories of the experience and more chance of doing it again sometime. And the white soup was excellent!

  4. Anne Breuker says:

    So glad you enjoyed your Jane Austen experience in Port Alberni. I certainly enjoyed the readings Saturday afternoon, the Grand Ball was amazing and our picnic so relaxing in the park. Hope we see you both return to Port Alberni.

  5. How totally lovely. So nice to see the faces of those we know of through this JAFF community and even a husband we haven’t seen or met before. He is a trooper to dress up in Regency. Mine wouldn’t do it for man or money. The photos are lovely. Thanks for sharing.

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