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Former Port Alberni city councillor dies after car crash overseas

World renowned car enthusiast Helen Poon was touring New Zealand’s North Island

Former Port Alberni city councillor Helen Poon has died following a car crash in New Zealand.

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions called Poon, who served as councillor from 2018-22 during Minions’ first term as mayor, “a cherished colleague, a dear friend and a vibrant soul who has left an unforgettable mark on our community and in our hearts.”

Minions said Poon was a “consistent voice for progress and an unwavering proponent of positive change. Her belief in the potential of our community was unparalleled, and her contributions, including her instrumental support for the acquisition of the Somass Lands and several other key projects, set the course for transformational change in Port Alberni.”

Minions, as with many of Poon’s friends and acquaintances, called her “iconic…indescribably unique…Her passion for classic cars was not just a hobby; it was a reflection of her zest for life and her love for connecting with others.”

Poon travelled to New Zealand’s North Island over the holidays with a friend, spending Christmas Day in Auckland and meeting up with others in the central North Island. A car enthusiast with a love of the classics, Poon was known around the world for her love of touring. She borrowed an Audi TT 1.8t to drive around New Zealand.

Poon was in a car south of Hastings on State Highway (SH) 50 on Dec. 30 when her vehicle was involved in a crash at the intersection with Maraekakaho Road. She was taken to a regional hospital and later airlifted to Wellington with critical injuries. She died Jan. 4, 2024.

Word of her crash spread through auto groups Poon belonged to, and people began sharing their memories on social media. Poon had a penchant for whiskey and cigars, proudly wore her fur coat—even while camping—and wasn’t afraid to drive her European cars off-road. She was known for her sense of humour.

“The world truly needs more kind-hearted, bold and unique people like you in it,” one friend posted. “That show up, and that show up classy and cool. In a vintage coat, with a cigar in one hand and a bottle of—always luxurious—wine (or whiskey!) in the other.”

“I know the car communities across not only Vancouver but throughout the world will certainly miss you and have a huge void that cannot be replaced,” another said.

“Thank you for being such a great friend.”

“We will miss you and your smiling energy.”

“Helen, you are classy as hell.”

Poon loved road trips; after she was elected to Port Alberni city council she toured around small communities in B.C. It was a similar tour that brought her to Vancouver Island.

Poon, from Vancouver, visited Port Alberni and Ucluelet in 2017 with an auto club she belonged to along with real estate agent and fellow car enthusiast Dave Koszegi of Port Alberni. She saw potential in the city, and purchased the Kingsway Pub and Hotel rejuvenating the historic building in the spring of 2018 (she also bought a house in Port Alberni). Poon. who studied law, was passionate about providing affordable housing to people, something she was involved with in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The pub was also her downfall politically, as she failed to take out development permits for further work on the pub while she was a sitting city councillor, and was forced to apologize publicly. Poon decided not to run for re-election after her first term. She did take a break in 2020 to run for the provincial Liberal party in an unsuccessful bid for MLA in Mid Island-Pacific Rim.

Some of her accomplishments while in Port Alberni included election as director-at-large on the Union of BC Municipalities board, member of the Young Professionals of Alberni Valley, Literacy Alberni and Alberni Hospice Society. She prided herself on her provincial-level advocacy experience.

When it was announced that Matthews West was chosen as developer for the Somass Lands on Port Alberni’s waterfront, Poon posted on Facebook that she was “proud to have been part of the council that acquired the site.”

Susie Quinn

About the Author: Susie Quinn

A journalist since 1987, I proudly serve as the Alberni Valley News editor.
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