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.
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.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce, and we couldn’t be more proud to celebrate our centennial with the community we’ve championed since 1919.
While the Chamber is best known today for our support of the local business community, promoting and celebrating the entire region has always been central to our mandate.
Did you know, for example, that in 1929 a group of Chamber board members dedicated to tourism promotion loaded their packs and ponies and headed out on an overnight expedition to Mount Becher, many sleeping under the stars near the shores of a then-unnamed lake?
Or that, in 1938, the Chamber president made a humble request that planes travelling from Vancouver stop in Courtenay on their way to Zeballos? Yeah, we had to read that a couple of times to make sure we got it right too! Or did you know that we asked the City of Courtenay in 1940 to put up a sign warning visitors about our 25-cycle electrical system after a poor tourist’s radio blew up?