In 1930, electricity and telephones were rare in Campbell River. And, with forestry and the fishery flattened, the town of 1,200 did not escape the crushing impact of the depression years. But challenging times motivated the business community to establish the Campbell River Board of Trade.
Out of these hard times emerged a visionary, the Board’s first president, Herbert Pidcock, who became a mentor to Roderick Haig-Brown. At a time when most folks thought their natural resources were limitless, Pidcock sounded the first warnings about the fragility of the salmon fishery. The issue became big news when the King of Siam visited and couldn’t catch a fish.
In 1931, the Board told the Province it should reject a proposal to build a dam on Campbell River because it would destroy the scenic value of Buttle Lake.
The cash-strapped Province told the Board it was useless to ask for money for roads. However, the Board quickly joined other island Boards of Trade to lobby Victoria for much-needed highway improvements. In 1935, a delegation went to Victoria to successfully argue for hard surfacing from Merville to Campbell River.
Efforts to protect the environment and improve community facilities were on the Board of Trade’s agenda through and after the war years. In 1948, the board fought a decision by the BC Power Commission to not bother clearing the edges of Lower Campbell Lake of trees and debris. A delegation led by Mayor P.D.P. Holmes, then vice-president of the Associated Boards of Trade of Vancouver Island met with the cabinet.
The Board successfully lobbied Ottawa for waterfront improvements and the Commons voted for a $100,000 appropriation for a 700-foot breakwater and mooring for 120 fishing vessels. Also, in 1948 the Board pressed the provincial government to deal with deplorable road conditions through the village.
In 1950, the Board renamed itself the Campbell River & District Chamber of Commerce. Two immediate priorities in the early 50’s were improvements to the shoddy telephone service and postal service, including airmail. The Chamber fought for the development of an airport and for improved highway conditions to Upper Campbell and Buttle lakes. It also lobbied locally for mooring for tourists and visiting craft at the new floats. In 1959, the Chamber joined its Powell River counterpart to lobby the government for a ferry link between the two communities.
In 1961, “buy local” was the rallying cry of Chamber President Wallace Baikie. The Chamber adopted a just-do-it approach by launching a promotional campaign that said: “Others theorize… We energize.”
In 1966, the Chamber took on city hall to fight a controversial business tax and demand its repeal. For its trouble, the Chamber was basically told to mind its own business and let the city fathers run the municipality’s affairs.
In 1969, Chamber President Don Elmore pushed the Chamber to sniff “the winds of change,” work harder and establish a permanent office.
This was a tough decade for the Chamber, which identified huge potential for progress, but met equally huge roadblocks. It started in 1973 with an unsuccessful initiative to get rail service extended north to Campbell River. It continued in 1974, with a failed push for improved docking facilities to keep Campbell River as a port of call for the Fairsea cruise ship line. At that time, the Chamber president Norm McLaren believed it was time for the Chamber to get serious about tourist promotion.
In 1979, the Chamber struck an economic development committee to promote lower cost land development for housing, apartment construction, and trailer parks to meet the housing demand. In the summer of that year, it supported a youth employment project that created 65 summer jobs.
Throughout the decade, the Chamber lobbied Victoria for an improved highway north and in late 1979 then-premier Bill Bennett came to Campbell River to “cut the ribbon.” The Chamber presented him with a framed print of an eagle painted by Leon Zimmerman.
With 50 years under its belt and 180 members on its rolls, the Chamber was still chasing government to make much-needed infrastructure upgrades such as the pothole-plagued airport road. It also led the charge for Sunday shopping and was instrumental in a successful referendum. The Chamber also put its support behind the Quinsam Coal Mine. The Chamber’s leadership and vision paid off in 1985 when it was named the best Chamber on Vancouver Island and placed in the top 10 BC-wide.
In the latter part of the decade, the Chamber went to bat for its members when city hall wanted to increase business license fees and it lobbied Ottawa over a proposed catch and release Chinook only fishery proposal that would hurt tourism. In 1987, the Chamber embraced the computer age to improve Business Information and Travel Info services by installing the first computer in the Chamber office. In 1988, it hosted the BC Chamber AGM and in 1989 it developed a city map and revamped its newsletter.
The decade began with the publication of the Chamber’s new 64-page Business Directory that provided an economic profile of the business community.
Up to 1993 it was still aggressively lobbying Victoria with “Cavalcades for the New Island Highway” and in October of that year, the provincial government finally announced construction. In 1996, the Chamber was still pressing the government to honour its commitment by the Year 2000.
The nuts and bolts of Chamber business continued including the beach clean-up program, the hometown shopping campaign, a new “employee of the week” initiative in 1992 and a Home-based Business Workshop in 1993. In 1995, it helped develop a course for local business to increase profitability and improve skills. The next year it offered a course on Internet usage.
Mid-decade, the Chamber found itself on familiar turf as members sought its leadership on the ongoing issues of sign bylaws, business license fee hikes and development cost charges.
One of the biggest threats to business in BC came in 1997 when the NDP government introduced Bill 44, the Labour Statutes Amendment Act that would have swept all construction workers into the hands of designated unions. The Campbell River Chamber joined forces with its provincial body to fight the investment-killing legislation. It was withdrawn.
The close of the decade was a roller coaster ride for the Chamber as its members braced against the impacts of massive forest sector layoffs, labor disputes, sector downturns in and mining and fisheries. Regardless, the Chamber soldiered on and in 1998 hosted the first ever Community Economic Development Forum and Campbell River Business Summit.
The Year 2000 began with some introspection on hard times and continued with a realization that the Chamber needed to get its house in order. President Les Lengyel reminded members that much of the Chamber’s influence with municipal and provincial leaders was unseen. “A lot of it is knowing we’re there. It makes the government think twice about enabling legislation that hinders business.”
He urged members “to work with all our resources to weather the current economic storm.” He reminded members that if every small business could hire just one extra worker the total new employment would be “greater that the workforce at Norske Skog.”
In 2002, the focus was inward. President Layne Marshal admitted that the Chamber’s “planning culture” development was incomplete. A better way was needed to get feedback from members and take action on that feedback. Organizational effectiveness needed to improve.
By mid-decade, the Chamber was an active member of the Cruise Ship Committee and was building strong and lasting relationships with partners such as City Hall, Rivercorp, the BIA’s, Community Futures, and NIEFS.