Think your Sea to Sky commute is bad? In 1964, the road that would later become Highway 99 was so rough it could take seven hours to get from Vancouver to Pemberton.
Despite the length of the journey, that road was a major achievement for the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce, which was founded 85 years ago and is celebrating the milestone anniversary on Oct. 19.
“That road made quite a difference for Pemberton. When we only had the train, everyone came in and went out on the train. That was entertainment — we’d go to see who came on the train and who left on the train everyday. That was the way in and out,” said Shirley Henry, former mayor and secretary-treasurer of the Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce. “It’s interesting to see how it developed. It’s grown substantially.”
Over the years Henry has been putting together history notes on the community and the membership of the historical chamber. The original organizational meeting, according to her research, was attended by around 11 members.
Now the chamber has 146 members.
The board of trade was founded on June 7 in 1932, and held meetings in Pemberton’s only hotel at the time. It’s a far cry from the focus the community now places on tourism — with multiple hotels, bed and breakfasts and Airbnb rentals.
As the chamber celebrates turning 85, Henry said it’s been an important force in shaping the town.
While in the present day the community is smaller and seems more remote, Pemberton’s Chamber of Commerce predates both Whister and Squamish. The history of the village is tied up in trade and business — orginally founded to help supply miners during the gold rush of the mid-1800s.
Port Pemberton saw less traffic as a better route was discovered, but the fertile valley of Pemberton became an agricultural community. The railway was built in the early 1900s.
The Chamber of Commerce in Pemberton, once known as a Board of Trade, was originally founded because business owners and farmers wanted to lobby for road access to the community.
While the road was likely a more pressing concern, a history of the community published in 1978 also notes that Vancouver dealers calling Pemberton’s award-winning potatoes “second rate” was also a galvanizing issue.
While connected to ports and the city by rail, the roadway allowed more diversity of travel and greater opportunity to ship products like potatoes and timber. “There were roads in the Lower Mainland, and the people up here were pretty progressive, so they wanted a road so they could get out,” said Henry.
Prior to the highway being built, even by 1962, wealthier residents of Pemberton would have cars shipped by rail. But once a car arrived, it couldn’t leave the village.
“If you wanted to bring a car to Pemberton, it would come on a flat-car, all the way from Squamish. Then you drove it off and it would stay in the valley until it rusted to its death,” said George Henry. “You just didn’t move cars around. It was an interesting time.”
While we may now take our car travel for granted, some things have remained the same in the small community, as noted in Pemberton: A History of a Settlement, published in 1978.
“Though in earlier days the Board of Trade was mainly concerned with the needs of the farming community, as the population expanded their concerns turned towards the business community and the need for a locally based industry offering year round employment,” notes the book. “This very real need has yet to be fulfilled and the Board of Trade, now the Chamber of Commerce, is still working on the problem.”
Next Thursday (Oct. 19), locals have an opportunity to celebrate Pemberton’s “Past, Present, and Future” at the Big Sky Golf Course. A few former presidents of the chamber, including 1972 president Louis Potvin, have even been invited to share their memories.
Tickets for the event are $55, including dinner. They’re available at AC Gas, Scotiabank and the Pemberton Valley Supermarket.
Past presidents of the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce:
Harold Wyatt Purden (1932-34), J. Wilkinson (1935-37), Edmond Ronayne (1937-44), A.M.Ridley (1944-48), W.J.Matthews (1948-50), F.B.Menzel (1950-52), A.R.Mawbey (1952-?), R.H.E. Taylor (1959-?), Ben Cherry, Jack Graham (1964-65), Bob Priest (1967- 69), Howie Ayers (1971-72), Louis Potvin (1972-73), Harald Mischke (1973-74), Len Belliveau (1974-75), Sharon Desrosier (1979-), Roland Wushcke (1980), Diane Wushcke (1990-91), Mark Hunter (1991-92), Paul Woodside (1993), Bill Gonidis (1994), Jan Kennett (1995-1998), D’Arcy DeMore (1999), Mark Blundell (2000- 2005), Paul Selina (2006-2008), Sandy Ryan (2009), Paul Vacirca (2010), Mark Blundell (2011), Karen Ross (2012-2014), Garth Phare (2014 –2016), Graham Turner (2017).