Through tough times & good, Chamber’s commitment to community endures
With the world at war again and the “boys” back in the trenches, challenges faced everyone in the early 1940s.
And for the Courtenay Chamber of Commerce (known as the Board of Trade then), it was no different. Budgetary shortfalls and low membership hindered the organization throughout that period. Despite that, the Board managed to survive and keep moving forward through the end of the decade and into the next with unwavering commitment and numerous contributions to the local communities.
Focussing on the forties and fifties, we invite you to continue to look back at our 100-year history and see how our past helped shape the Valley’s present.
Fighting to survive in the forties
Newspaper reports from the Board of Trade’s Annual General Meeting in 1940 noted that dredging of the slough had allowed additional boats to use it but more good roads were needed as Courtenay evolved into a business centre.
Freight charges to the North Island continued to be an issue. Rates got charged as though freight got shipped from the mainland via Victoria, even though it travelled from Nanoose to Courtenay. The board vowed to investigate the “discrimination.”
The Board had also approached the City about reducing commercial electrical rates. And why not? The area’s 25-cycle electrical system had a reputation for being temperamental. In fact, that summer it caused a tourist’s radio to blow up! In spite of that mishap, 1940 marked a banner year for tourism with 970 visitors dropping in at the Tourist Bureau.
However, those and other civic issues understandably took a back seat to war efforts through the next few years. In 1943, The Argus (the Valley’s newspaper of the day) reported then-president Mr. D.B. McLean stating, “I know that nearly all of you are on two or three other committees of Red Cross, etc., that take much of your spare time, but we must keep the Board of Trade alive as it has a very definite place in the community.”
With a reduction in meetings and through the efforts of its members, the organization managed to stay alive. Though slowed by the war and shaken by a 1946 earthquake centred in Courtenay, the Board forged ahead in its support of various local endeavours, including the championing of a new wharf in Comox, flights between Comox and Vancouver with Queen Charlotte Airlines and the ongoing road and rail issues.
By 1949, the Board had taken to calling itself the Chamber of Commerce and even took up Radio CVJI’s offer of promoting the Comox District on their Victoria Station. They had, it seemed, escaped the decade still intact.
Fit for the fifties
Even though the Chamber entered the new decade $40 in the red, things were looking up. President Bool noted that 40 new members had signed up, bringing the total to 118, and “30 or so planned to join soon.” It must have happened, because by 1951, the deficit had turned into a $860 surplus!
Advocating for proper ferry service to Hornby, hosting events, such as a lunch for Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, staging a fair for provincial Chambers of Commerce at the Native Sons’ Hall and contributing to Upper Island tourism made up just some of the organization’s duties in the early fifties.
Regardless of their work, the Chamber still encountered occasional setbacks. Feeling the pinch of budgetary issues, it actually teetered on bankruptcy in 1957, so once again a membership drive took place and the community responded.
In fact, by 1958, both citizens and City Hall recognized the value of and need for the Chamber, and council allowed for purchase of a site for a new Tourist Information Centre near the city limits at 21st Street. The location also included a welcome arch, a park and boat-launching facilities on the Courtenay River – and it remains our home to this very day!
That year’s AGM included a guest speaker predicting that tourism would surpass mining, farming and fishing and be second only to forestry. Unfortunately, while his prediction of a 20-hour work week in 50 years hasn’t come to pass, he was correct in noting that the Valley would need to rely on all its industries, inhabitants and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to remain vital and relevant into the future.