Portraying a Community

By Margaret Growcott

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Photo by: Darren Evans; Port Alberni video journalist and volunteer Nancy Wilmot.

When Nancy Wilmot accompanied her husband to his new job in Port Alberni in 1996, she did not envisage that the logging town, which, at the time was beset with strikes and lay-offs, would become a showcase for her journalistic talents.

On arrival in Port Alberni, with husband, David, and two small children, Nancy saw a spark in the beleaguered town that would become a rewarding career and a portrait of the unique community that, in the face of adversity, refused to be beaten.

“Seeing the hard times where jobs were in jeopardy or already gone, I found that some individuals had made a leap from their former forestry career to something else,” says Nancy. “The trouble had started in the Alberni Valley around 1997 when MacMillan Bloedel was the big employer. This colossal company was forced to make some drastic changes, which were devastating for many workers. Everywhere I went, I met mill people and noticed some had crested the wave of problems and had started their own business, or had retrained in another field, or had retired creatively.”

Nancy felt she could be part of this positive attitude and had a concept for a program that could run on the local ShawTV channel. With her strong background in writing and motivational speaking, she approached Shaw with an idea for a regular half-hour show, profiling some of the individuals she had met. Shaw loved the proposal, and Nancy began to develop her idea. Later, however, it was decided that her program was too commercial with its emphasis on business, and would not meet the mandate for community programming.

Undaunted, Nancy was by now hooked on ShawTV and, after a period of volunteering, she was offered a casual position that soon turned into her present permanent niche, which is Video Journalist for ShawTV with her specialty in profiling local residents.

Born and raised in Manitoba, Nancy has lived in Nova Scotia and other parts of BC, as well as California. In 1991, she had her first experience of the West Coast, locating to Meares Island with her husband, a clinical counsellor. On the West Coast, huge problems were being experienced in the forestry industry, which led to the “War of the Woods” in Clayoquot Sound. This was a forerunner of underlying and similar themes Nancy would encounter later in the Alberni Valley.

After her studies at Brandon University and the University of Calgary, Nancy had a vague idea of what she wanted to do and this centred on writing. She thought writing a novel would be her ultimate goal. However, for several years, she was otherwise engaged in working various jobs whilst David finished his degree.

Nancy attributes her success at Shaw to the skills she acquired in California in the 1980s when employed in retail management by a sportswear manufacturing company. The company grew exponentially and Nancy was instrumental in organising and running successful workshops for retail staff and management. Her experience with this company was the inspiration for Nancy’s social responsibility and her belief that any employee can obtain excellence in their field, a philosophy that remains with her today.

Nancy has been with ShawTV for 15 years as an on-air producer of five-minute videos of local residents and says, “I love this job and the way it has developed from the original focus - people’s career paths.”

This busy journalist says she is never in danger of running out of subjects to interview and profile on the ShawTV show, which runs daily and is called *Go Island*.

“I bump into people at the supermarket, and then I happen to meet them in a different sphere, finding they have some remarkable accomplishment or attribute, which makes a great story.”

In one instance, a story she was working on led to something else.

“Shaw had asked me to do a video on Pot Luck Ceramics, a company that imports colourful and functional terracotta ceramics from Catalonia, Spain. The owner, Helma Swinkels, wanted to use her profits to fund the Alberni Valley Hospice, but was advised that profits from a business cannot be put into a charity. Helma found, however, that by forming another company, the Port Alberni Fundraising Co-op, she could legally put the pottery profits into that company, which in turn funds the Hospice Ty Watson House.”

After doing this profile on the successful pottery importing business that turns all its profits into community fundraising, Nancy became so intrigued, she became a volunteer. She then went one step further and is now on the Board of Directors of Pot Luck Ceramics.

Nancy is proud that this company is the first Profit-for-Non-Profit Co-op in Canada, ensuring that Ty Watson House, the Alberni Valley Hospice, which is the only “stand-alone” hospice on Vancouver Island, receives the necessary funds. The Hospice Society owns the building and Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) pays for medical staff and supplies.

“I am privileged to tell community stories,” says Nancy. “I have a never-ending list of interesting people to profile on my videos for Shaw; people who are passionate about fishing, logging, history, art, hockey and a multitude of other subjects. There is so much of interest in the Alberni Valley: the McLean Mill, which is a National Historic site; the Alberni Pacific Railway with its popular steam train; the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, a BCHL Junior “A” hockey team; and the Lady Rose Marine sailings to Barkley Sound. My job is to highlight the people who have made these things happen. The richness and culture of the area and its people are truly amazing.”

When not busy with ShawTV, Nancy loves to spend time with her husband on their sailboat, exploring the waters from the Alberni Inlet to the Broken Group Islands. And with her youngest daughter graduating from high school this year, Nancy will be facing a new phase in her life – the empty nest. Maybe this will be the opportunity to get back to work on her novel. However, there is the danger it may be put off indefinitely as Nancy will likely continue to produce her Shaw videos long after she is supposed to be officially retired.



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