Supporting our friends and neighbours from the beginning
In 1919, Courtenay-Comox, like much of Canada and the world, started getting back to business after five years of war. A vigorous early part of the decade had seen telephone, electricity and the E&N Railway arrive in the Valley. Alas, the war had put many lives and dreams on hold. But with the signing of the Armistice, a renewed feeling of hope had returned.
On March 22, 1919, riding that new-found sense of optimism, a group of businessmen officially chartered the Courtenay Chamber of Commerce (then called the Board of Trade). Charging an annual membership fee of $5, the board stipulated that members must be directly involved with tourism.
So began our 100-year journey advocating for tourism, trade and the Valley as a whole.
In this centennial year of the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce, we look back at our beginnings, celebrating the highs, looking at the lows and finding out about the in-betweens over the decades through a series of articles. Today’s piece focusses on the years between the wars – an era of excitement, expansion, and, finally, fear for the future.
The roaring twenties – Valley-style
While their main mandate initially existed to help expand tourism, the newly established board quickly became involved in other matters, big and small, about town. Yes, there were discussions with the CPR to encourage extension of the railway past Courtenay and support was given for the creation of parks, but they also took the time to champion the causes and concerns of their members.
Imagine the insults flying at the protest about higher express rates being charged – shipping a 50-pound box of butter to Ladysmith went from 45 cents to 70 cents! YES to Daylight Savings Time, and NO to making Vancouver Island a separate province.
Improving roads as well as boat, rail and mail service between other communities perennially took precedent. But they also made time to coordinate seasonal community dances, where games of chance took place and fun was had by all – after all, prohibition had ended in 1920. Looking back, serving baked beans before the spring Klondike Dance might not have been the best choice.
In 1923, the Chamber organized itself into six bureaus: Good Roads and Transportation; Civic; Publicity; Agricultural and Horticultural; Industrial Trade and Commerce; and, Legal.
By mid-decade, it was well-known that “Courtenay’s future is on the river,” and the board formed a committee to work with the City to help organize negotiations about dredging and straightening the channel, making it easier for boats to navigate. And by the year 1929, the Board had begun pushing for an airport in the area, a ferry between Comox and Powell River, as well as one from Buckley Bay to Denman Island.
The dirty thirties – a time of expansion and challenges
YES, LET’S GO!
What's made Courtenay the undisputed centre of the Upper Island?
Nothing but the optimism of its business men and their unquenchable belief in the future of their town. It's the same optimism, the same belief, that converted Seattle from a sandhill to the greatest port on the northern Pacific; it's the same spirit that is driving Vancouver forward towards her destiny. Join and work with the Courtenay-Comox Board of Trade to make Courtney bigger, better, and more prosperous in 1930…
Tickets are one dollar each and ladies are especially invited…
So begins the ad for the 1930 annual Board of Trade meeting and dinner. Even with the start of the Great Depression, hopefulness reigned – at least for the time being.
While the local paper made little or no mention of the 1929 stock market crash, some effects of the Depression had begun to seep in it seems, as the annual Klondike Dance wasn’t held in 1930, putting a strain on cash flow as the Board relied on that $250, or so, profit.
Depression or not, the start of the decade continued to see plenty of activity, as well as cooperation with the Cumberland Board of Trade and the newly formed one in Campbell River. The Comox Airport was approved, and in 1931 the Comox-Powell River ferry began to run daily from Comox Wharf. Tourism and buying local remained high on the agenda.
However, as the decade progressed, the realities of the world’s financial crisis and political tensions had made an impression. Gas prices continued to rise, loss of employment in some industries and housing shortages had started to become a concern, and a meeting of 13 Vancouver Island Boards of Trade even included a heated debate over the suggestion to exclude Japanese from BC.
By 1939, the Courtenay-Comox Board had been in existence for 20 years and showed no sign of stopping, even with the country heading back to war. It had established itself as a permanent and significant part of the community, regardless of the economic and political circumstances.
Their long-standing mandate to help make the Valley a better place to live and work would prove to hold them in good stead through the war years and beyond, as we’ll see in our continuing look at the past 100 years of Chamber history.