Alec Thomas was born around 1894 near Alberni, British Columbia, Canada. He was a fisherman, trapper, longshoreman, logger, interpreter, self-taught anthropologist, and Tseshaht politician.
In 1910, anthropologist Edward Sapir was collecting data on native people in the Port Alberni area. Following the example of Franz Boas, a famous American anthropologist, Sapir was looking for translators who could interview people and write down their answers. Alec Thomas was just out of school, but was bilingual and could translate. He became interested in Sapir's work and collected anthropological and linguistic information for him for more than 20 years. He has been described as one of the most productive indigenous linguists in North America.
Wilfred Robinson stated, "Alec held one of the last traditional potlatches. It was at athlmaqtleis, Dodd Island and lasted several days. This was probably at the time he worked for Sapir....He documented potlatches. His work was better documented than a lot of anthropologists.”