CAMRA BC: A Potted History
byPhil Atkinson

It was born in the summer of 1985, at a meeting of CAMRA Canada’s Vancouver Chapter at the Rowing Club in StanleyPark. That day was special from the start for me, travelling as I was from Victoria to attend my first CAMRA meeting with people I had only met previously via mail. The folded-paper-in-an-envelope kind that you stuck a stamp on and dropped into a mail box. There was a sporadic newsletter from Ottawa back then, but it never mentioned B.C. and we never met any of the members from back east, or from anywhere else in Canada for that matter.

On the face of it, the gathering looked like a fairly ordinary sort of thing: beardy guys with Old-Country accents, swarthy Canadians of the rugged coastal build, no-nonsense women that laughed a lot and had mischievous eyes (that could have been the effect of the beer). The first person to speak after I arrived (I was late) was discussing a letter from ‘head-office’ which came in reply to a plea for funds to set up a beer festival in B.C. He was disappointed to report that the membership fees paid to CAMRA Canada from British Columbians (incidentally, a whopping $25 … almost the same as they are now) were not available to the chapters; we had to do our own fundraising to finance local events. This was a disappointment to all of us, but to me especially as I had a vested interest in ‘trading up’ to a proper beer festival. For several years then I had organized ‘The Great Western Beer Festival’ in Victoria; an extravaganza that mixed homebrewers with beer-sausage sandwiches and home brew. Exactly. But while the speaker moved on to other things and I poured beer onto my disappointment, a voice at the back (how come those voices always come from the back?) piped up loud and angry.

“I am sick and tired of sending money across those mountains and getting nothing in return!” he shouted. I should paint a little context here; those were the days when Canada’s love affair with Brian Mulrooney hit the rocks. We didn’t like Central Canada and they didn’t know who we were. “I vote we tell those *******s to **** off and keep our money here!” Chorus of assent, chinking of glasses and there you have it: a unilateral declaration of independence that gave birth to CAMRABC and a rush to the bar for refills.

The new arrival was greeted with all the warmth and excitement of an adopted child. Except for the unnecessarily enthusiastic consumption of beer (which was for the most part crap, by the way – there was no craft beer in those days except for on-premise at the fabled Troller in Horseshoe Bay- we were all pretending the bottled Lowenbrau was real) and the bravado and the singing of the Red Flag with on-the-spot new lyrics. OK, I may have false-memory syndrome about that bit. But within weeks the stalwarts of Vancouver had registered the society with the Province (October 29th, 1985 Society No. 0020698) and had filed the first Annual Report. Alas, that was also the last Annual Report filed … several things, sad rather than bad, happened over the following years and the Registrar de-listed the society in 1989. Everybody say, ahhh …

Here’s where something very strange happened. In 1990, the famous and fabled John Rowling put a notice in a Victoria newspaper calling on all those interested in good beer to give him a call. Those that did met up and determined to form a CAMRA society. Upon the announcement at Spinnakers, he was informed that there already was one and he should call Phil Atkinson, which he did, and which is how we met and became lifelong friends. I know what you’re thinking: there’s a movie in this. That’s not the strange bit though.

The Registrar said we could revive the society simply by paying the fees owed for the five years outstanding. Even my math was good enough to see that was five times more than the cost of re-registering; so now you know why we have two registration dates. So CAMRABC is 25 the same time as CAMRABC is 20.

Hang on though, that’s still not the strange bit. After several meetings, during which we identified the need to set up a ‘proper’ beer festival as paramount, John said, “Hey … I met this guy called Gerry Hieter who’s a brewer and wants to set up a proper beer festival …” Et voila! How odd is it that exactly the right people to provide the brains for our world-class beer festival are the same people that have access to the brawn that can pull it off? Well, I find it at least remarkable. u

What’s the Deal with UK?

People sometimes ask if we are part of CAMRAUK. The answer is no, we are not. The reasons for that are because the laws of the United Kingdom, under which the Campaign operates in the UK, carry no weight inCanada, and, conversely, BC laws hold no currency in the UK. So legally, it can’t be done. However, the UK offered immediate camradery and encouragement for CAMRABC to live long and prosper. But even people who are on the UK Executive don’t know for sure what the deal is. People move on and replacements aren’t necessarily confident of the information on what’s happened in the past. I asked former CAMRABC president John Rowling if he remembered our dealings with the UK all those years ago. Of course he did.

 Dear Phil,

Here are the facts from my point of view:
I have a copy of a fax that I sent to the CAMRA UK office in St Albans (at the old 34 Alma Road location) on 16th March 1994. I was to be in England from 21st March to 4th April.

 In the fax:

  1. I requested a meeting with Stephen Cox regarding lobbying strategies used by CAMRAUK. We were in the midst of taking on the provincial and federal governments on several issues.
  2. I requested a meeting with Sue Tilley re shipping CAMRA products to us more efficiently and cheaply.
  3. I requested extra copies of the December 1993 issue of What’s Brewing in which Michael Jackson wrote an article re his visit to theVictoriabranch of The Campaign for Real Ale Society of British Columbia.
  4. I requested a meeting with Roger Protz re publicity for the 1994 CAMRA Victoria Microbrewery Festival.
  5. I also requested copies of the CAMRA UK Branch and Brewery Liaison Officer handbooks.

I arranged a meeting some time in the week of the 28th March, and traveled to St Albans. I have mislaid my notes for the meeting. However, Stephen Cox did meet with me and brought Iain Lowe with him. They spent an hour discussing general campaigning strategies and the differences between campaigning in the UK versus Canada. I later had short meetings with both Sue Tilley and Roger Protz (I subsequently met Roger in Victoria at Spinnakers pub and had further discussions).

From the start it was pointed out that in no way could we be a branch of CAMRAUK. Apart from any legal consideration the two organizations are campaigning in different legislative environments. Burning issues in one jurisdiction may be irrelevant, or even contrary to the other group’s mandate. We were told we could use the word “affiliate” in regard to our relationship with CAMRAUK; in effect we would be walking beside them in the battles ahead.

The verbal agreement was to give CAMRABC permission to use the name “Campaign for Real Ale”, the CAMRA UK logo, and any CAMRA UK posters, handouts, or any other miscellaneous literature, etc. I was given copies of everything I could carry, including the Brewery Liaison Officer handbook. All of the staff I met with that day were extremely encouraging to us, as you might expect from an organization with the word Campaign in its name. Roger Protz even gave us a free ad in What’s Brewing [UK]. I felt that we had been given CAMRAUK’s blessing to go out and spread the good word about Real Ale. – JR

Our research also shows that currently (June 2012) the differing Provincial laws probably mean we cannot even be truly affiliated with CAMRA groups that might spring up elsewhere in Canada. So, while CAMRAs BC andUKare definitely on the same wave length when it comes to looking out for beer consumers, we are completely separate and independent entities. Based on my own experience and reports from many other travelers, you will be welcome at any CAMRA UK event; but your CAMRABC member’s card will not entitle you to a discount on ale, festival events tickets, merchandise nor pork scratchings.

One Response to History

  1. Rick Green says:

    Actually, some CAMRA Vancouver members have reported being given equal consideration as UK members. Whilst one should not expect this, it won’t hurt to identify yourself as a CAMRA BC member. You never know…

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