Chamber History

What makes us who we are today

Back in the post-gold rush days of John Cunningham Maclure, (ranked a “Sapper” for the Royal Engineers), a neighbourhood then called Abbotsford Village took shape.

It was named for a Maclure family friend, Henry Braithwaite Abbott who was the General Superintendent of the CP’s Pacific Division. The CPR was granted right-of-way on 8.5 acres of land that had been purchased by John Cunningham Maclure and then sold to his son and his son’s partners on the condition that they would build a railway station there to ensure that a town centre would develop and grow at Abbotsford — and grow it did!

The area’s population growth was very slow until the Trethewey brothers came into the area and established a mill at Mill Lake (then called Abbotsford Lake). While farming was a mainstay in the early years, logging superseded it economically during the 1920’s and 1930’s, but after that, farming once again became the economic driver for the area.

In 1910, the south side of the Fraser was connected by the BC Electric ‘interurban’ railway, bringing people and produce within easy reach of the larger coastal cities. The first run of four daily runs between Chilliwack and Abbotsford became known as ‘the milk run’ and was a vital contribution to local dairy farmers as it allowed quick delivery of fresh milk and cream to Lower Mainland markets.

The Abbotsford Chamber’s historical roots begin here with the establishment of the Abbotsford and District Board of Trade, which was registered in 1913. Since that time, the organization under its many names has evolved and contributed significantly to the steady growth and recognition of the area, both from a business and tourism development standpoint.

Dating back to the 1930’s the Board was instrumental in tourism development through the building of a car and trailer park. The development of McCallum Road, as a major access route to the community, was also key. During the 40’s and 50’s, the Board was highly involved in the push for the location of the Trans Canada Highway on the south side of the Fraser River and also encouraged recognition of the Abbotsford Airport as an appropriate alternate to Vancouver (YVR).

In 1946, on the 25th of October the Abbotsford & District Chamber of Commerce was formed and registered boasting representation of a population “not less than 10,000”.

Thirteen years later, in 1959, the formation of the Clearbrook Board of trade took place and ten years after that in 1969, the name was changed to the Clearbook & District Chamber of Commerce.

In 1981, amid the onset of disco, big hair, and muscle cars, the Clearbrook and District Chamber of Commerce dissolved and the ‘merger’ with Abbotsford & District Chamber of Commerce resulted in another name change to Abbotsford-Clearbrook Chamber of Commerce. Issues of the day included the development of Advance in 1986 under the presidency of John Friesen. Advance was a Board and Committee brainstorming and goal setting function which remained the Chamber’s modal operation for planning and development for 10 years.

1988 became a year of first’s under the direction of Gary Fribance. Our first annual President’s Ball and the first annual Mixed Golf Tournament became beneficial fundraisers to fund the Chamber and it’s ongoing activities and operations.

In August of 1989, then President Gordon Holloway launched our first ever Flight Begins festival in conjunction with the Abbotsford International Airshow and Airshow Canada. Also under Gordon’s direction, 10 foot wings were added on to the existing ‘A’ frame Chamber building to house both business and visitor information areas.

In 1990, President Marilyn Hamilton saw the Shop Local campaign take off with a special new logo, attractive bags, and signage at the US border.

Another name change for the Abbotsford-Clearbrook Chamber followed in 1991 when it became the Abbotsford-Matsqui Chamber of Commerce to reflect the two distinct municipalities it represented. The two municipal bodies ran separately until January 1, 1995 when, with a combined population of 104,500, the municipalities amalgamated and obtained official city status — in fact, the fifth largest city in British Columbia! The Chamber had lobbied hard for amalgamation and was very pleased to see its fruition. Amalgamation though, would see the Chamber change its name yet again, when in November of 1994, the city voted resoundingly in favour of Abbotsford as the name for the newly amalgamated city. Following the city’s vote was the Chamber’s resolution to officially change its name to Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce. A unified effort was ongoing to promote the commercial, agricultural and industrial and civic welfare of the area within the district and the efforts were redoubled to effectively market the area under the Abbotsford name.

In 1995, the Abbotsford Chamber was stretched both physically and with the issues of the day. Under the Presidency of Diana Young and with the oversight of our 1994 President Herman Dreidiger, the Chamber building grew once again with a 16′ addition across the entire back of the existing building. This expansion allowed space for a small boardroom, the addition of two new offices, and a desperately needed storage space. Business issues included formulating a response to the new Employment Standards Act, as well as the Workers’ Compensation Board collective agreement. Abbotsford played “SuperHost” to the 1995 Western Canada Summer Games and our hotels and schools were bursting at the seams with athletes from all over Western Canada. Our Gala was even held in conjunction with the games and was called ‘The Jester’s Ball’.  1995 was a proud year for our Chamber and our community.

Working to establish a stronger tourism presence in the city, the Chamber, in partnership with Pacific Customs Brokers, piloted a satellite information centre at the Huntingdon/Sumas Border crossing in 1996. Also launched in 1996 was our first Abbotsford Business Excellence Awards to recognize businesses providing exemplary service throughout the city. This ‘academy awards for business’ is the ongoing legacy of our then President Fiona Harris in partnership with the Abbotsford News.

In 1997, with Dorothy Dyck at the helm, the Abbotsford Chamber proudly received the first ever  ‘Chamber of the Year Award ‘ at the BC Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting in May. This was a momentous occasion and truly an honour to receive this award in the presence of Chambers from across the province. The Chamber also focused on spearheading a Commercial and Industrial Development Review Task Force where dozens of local developers were interviewed to obtain their viewpoint on the lengthy red-tape process at City Hall. These reports were passed on to City Hall officials with the view to create a more open-door approach to potential business.

Our 1998 highlight was when our President Rita Walker represented our Chamber as a delegate on a trade mission to Fukagawa, Japan, where our cities were officially twinned. Rita also encouraged the go ahead on our first printing of an economic development magazine called “Abbotsford — Ready for Take Off”.

In 1999, as we stood on the threshold of a new millennium, Allan Asaph led us on a look down memory lane to see from where we’ve come so that we could plan effectively for the future. The Chamber accomplishments are many and the contributions to the business community and the community at large have been immense.

Under the theme “Faith Family and Community”, our President, Douglas MacAdams, urged the Chamber to take an introspective look during the year 2000. Leona Klingspon, long time Office Manager of the Chamber Office, indicated that her 16 years of service to the Chamber would be ending in December. The Way Forward Task Force was developed and met throughout the year to set some new directions for the future.

2001 was a year of challenge and transition for the Chamber faced by President Karen Young. She headed the team to redefine the role of senior management in the Chamber office and facilitated strategic planning sessions to that end. Staff changes and shifting of internal responsibilities were the order of the day and staff were encouraged to keep on their toes to maintain operations throughout this period. The position of Executive Director was established to take some of the workload off of our president and to bring it within the office operations. In mid-September of 2001, the Chamber welcomed Helen Secco as Executive Director. Helen brought 9 years of experience in the Chamber movement to the table and dove in with both feet to work with the Board to evaluate and streamline operations on every level.

In January of 2002, with Lauren Thomas carrying the baton, strategic planning sessions were scheduled. At our Board Planning Session the Chamber developed a new mission statement and set some strategic goals to continue this process. Specific and measurable goals were set and distributed throughout our committee structure to be accomplished. The Chamber continues to be involved in many areas including advocacy, economic development, policy and procedure development, along with membership marketing and communications strategies.

Our brand new Mission statement — ‘To represent, serve and connect our members to build and sustain a thriving business community’ will carry us into the unseen future economic, social, and environmental challenges for Abbotsford. The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce is looking with optimism to each new day and are working on this year’s theme which quotes Henry Ford “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”.

2003 arrived bringing with it a flurry of changes at the Chamber. The mantle of command came one year sooner than expected to Satvir Gill, our youngest ever president. He assumed leadership of the Chamber upon the sudden relocation announcement of Sharon Fraess. The year continued at a fast and furious pace with several transitions already marking the Chamber calendar. After more than 20 years of providing high-quality visitor services, the Chamber passed the torch to the newly formed Tourism Abbotsford Society. Hot on the heels of this transition was the relocation of the Chamber Office in July. After major housecleaning was undertaken, a comfortable new home was established midtown, upstairs at Sevenoaks Shopping Centre. 2003 has also saw the launch of our Government Affairs Committee, which has lobbied local government on many ongoing issues. The hard fought battle opposing SE2 continued with Chamber presentations as an intervenor. Development of the Chamber’s advocacy role has been the theme of the year with Sat’s parting challenge before us: “if not us then who?”

In 2004, under the leadership of Duncan Jeffries, the Chamber stood firmly on the model of the three legged stool under the theme of sustainability: economic, social, and environmental. A renewed commitment to represent our membership took the form of several lobby efforts on behalf of the local business community. The Chamber was very pleased to see the fruits of this increased advocacy role as ground was finally broken on the new Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre, as well as the upgrade project for the Mt. Lehman Interchange. Chamber members also were given the opportunity to have some serious input into the new Overall Community Plan, which will be implemented by the City in the coming years. The Chamber’s budget analysis at City hall had our membership sitting up to take notice as our Executive Committee asked some tough questions. Internally, the Chamber began an overhaul of our branding and marketing strategies and expanded services on our website. Throughout 2004 the Chamber marked steady progress in the growth of its membership and added more of what the membership was asking for: networking opportunities.

Participation was the theme for 2005, under the leadership of Karen Landon. The Chamber was pleased to see groundbreaking for the new Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre, Mt. Lehman Interchange, and the Abbotsford Airport expansion; all projects that the Chamber has lobbied for over the past several years. The Chamber’s committee teams were all active as well, with several workshops, special events, and fundraising activities executed throughout the year. The Chamber also stepped up its advocacy role in the community with the addition of David D. Hull, Executive Director, to the Chamber team. “Back to the Future” think tanks with the Past President’s provided excellent feed back and assisted the Chamber in setting future direction. The Chamber bylaws were rewritten (no small feat) an Employee Policy Manual was adopted. The Chamber got behind several community initiatives including the UCFV bid for full university status (which will continue in 2006) and the Capital Legacy Plan which will likely go to public referendum in the Fall of next year.

The Chamber is poised to move forward full steam ahead into 2006 and the membership was challenged to get involved to make a difference — to make Abbotsford the best of all worlds in which to live, work ,and play.

2006 was a very busy year under the leadership of Fiona Brett. The theme was Membership Matters and the Chamber launched into a full on campaign to let the business community know what the Chamber is all about. In order to further develop our advocacy role, the Abbotsford Chamber participated in both the BC Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Chamber of Commerce advocacy sessions by sending three representatives to each event. It became clear that if the Chamber wants to effectively lobby for issues at the heart of business, we need to be involved with all levels of government. The Chamber continued to lead a charge to make UCFV a full-on university and lobbied hard to assist the City in a positive outcome to the Plan A referendum. Quality of life indicators remain top priority as the Chamber works to make Abbotsford attractive to people across our country who can address the ever growing skills shortage issues within our community.

Under the banner of entrepreneurship, Ross Brown led the Chamber into 2007. The year began with a bang as Abbotsford hosted a valley chamber’s event which featured Premier Gordon Campbell addressing a crowd of over 400 at the Ramada Plaza in January. The year included several milestone achievements for the Chamber including the establishment of a student membership. In addition, chamber events held in unique venues such as Abby Collegiate and the Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery showcased a selection of local offerings to the business community in Abbotsford. By mid year, policy development became the focus and delegations were sent to both the BC and the Canadian Chamber Annual General Meetings. Here, the chamber was able to participate in the establishment of policies which will benefit all business.

In 2008, Alvin Epp lead the charge to further our advocacy role and to make valuable connections with key decision makers in municipal and provincial governments. Alvin’s passion for the development of infrastructure to carry our city into the future was top of the priority list. Big picture and long-term benefit thinking was the order of the day. Working together with the Lower Mainland Transportation Panel and on other regionally impacting stakeholder groups, the Abbotsford Chamber became an integral link in the establishment of future planning initiatives that will ensure the effective movement of goods and services in our area. The Chamber continues to see the positive impacts its participation has on the regional and provincial levels as several funding announcements for improvements are made.

James Barlow took the helm in April of 2009 to lead the Chamber forward into 2010, as BC prepared to welcome the world for the 2010 Winter Olympics. James was determined to keep the issues in front of the decision makers to ensure the momentum gathered in 2008 was not lost in spite of the economic downturn faced by several sectors within the business community. Staying focused on long-term goals throughout the economic crisis helped to keep the Chamber on track towards accomplishing many of it objectives for this term. Abbotsford’s strong and steady agriculture-based industry allowed our community breathing room as the economic pinch was felt to a greater degree in other areas of the province. Advocacy, networking, benefits ,and development remain the four main pillars on which the Chamber builds. The Chamber has seen growth during 2009 in spite of the economic challenges and look to 2010 and beyond to expand our sphere of influence within the community and to all levels of government.

In March of 2010, James passed the baton to long-time Chamber supporter Patricia Sapielak. Patricia’s term in the President’s seat was the result of many years of service and dedication to the Chamber organization. A true believer in the power of the network, Patricia’s unwavering commitment has led the ongoing pursuit of government lobby efforts at the chamber to improve the overall business climate in Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley. She encouraged participation and focused on membership growth and retention through a tough economic time. Members were encouraged to take advantage of some of the many tangible and intangible benefits available through their membership and given many opportunities throughout the year to grow their network. Big picture projects included the publication of the Chamber’s official Agriculture Strategy, lobbying the City to stay true to the OCP, the presentation of a business friendly economic strategy, the launch of the new Chamber website and the addition of a full-time sales position at the Chamber. As of April 1st, 2011, Patricia took the chair of the Board of Governors and handed the gavel to Patrick Giesbrecht for a newly legislated two year presidential term.

“Building a strong tomorrow together” became the first stepping stone towards a two-year term with a focus aimed at relationship building. Patrick’ Giesbrecht’s first major representation of the Chamber came as he participated on a trade mission to China to explore business opportunities in the Far East. The city led trade mission provided a very important first step in the development of those key connections necessary to enable the development of business relationships between Abbotsford and China.

The first year of Patrick’s term saw a big change at the Chamber office as the first order of business became the need to fill a key staff position, as the leadership undertook the search for a new Executive Director. While the search moved forward, Patrick and the Board kept the issues of the day in the forefront of decision makers to affect positive influence on the economic climate in Abbotsford. Lobby efforts at all levels of government continued to encourage more competitive taxation levels for business to open up new opportunities for clean industries and job creation through tax incentives, trade missions, and improved decision making processes and timelines. Patrick’s goal became to further build on our ability to influence and advocate on behalf of our members by working with other stakeholder groups in the city and within the region.

In October 2011, the Chamber signed an Accord with the Fraser Valley Indo Canadian Business Association to foster a working relationship and commitment to work together to navigate the cultural, social, environmental, and economic challenges for our society. The Relationship Accord supports the building of strong relationships between community partners, so that we can jointly effect significant positive change and achieve a mutually beneficial vision for the business community in Abbotsford.

As 2011 came to a close the Chamber welcomed Allan Asaph as the new Executive Director for the Chamber. Patrick continues to lead the Chamber into 2012 with the economic prosperity of the city at the heart of the Chamber’s motivation going forward.

Mike Welte took the wheel at the AGM in March of 2013. He began his two-year term in our year of celebration of the Abbotsford Chamber’s 100th Anniversary.  In addition to all of the Chamber’s regular events and activities, the Chamber participated in the July 1st Canada Parade with a float, hosted a Community Picnic at the Fraser Valley Trout Hatchery, and held formal celebrations at The Reach Gallery Museum where the Chamber received an official Proclamation of Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce Week from the Lieutenant Governor.

On the local level, the Chamber provided support to the downtown business association at a time when the intention of the C7 zoning was in jeopardy. Our representatives participated in the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Prosperity and the Homelessness Task Force which produced two excellent action plans. Our voice contributed to council rejecting the first audible bird scare bylaw that contravened Ministry of Agriculture guidelines and would have negatively impacted the blueberry industry.

The Chamber provided valuable input into local ICI recycling and composting programs and helped lobby for a small business exception to MMBC that if implemented as proposed, would have increased the administrative burden for small business. During the 2014 municipal elections, the Chamber continued to be the leading provider of All Candidates Forums for Mayor and Council. The Chamber was also pleased to complete our second year of the Chamber community grant program which recognized two local agencies with $2500.00 for the work they do.

Provincially, through our quarterly meetings with our three MLA’s, the chamber has been actively promoting our transportation priorities which call for increased lanes on Highway #1 to Whatcom Road, improved access to our airport, and improvements to Fraser Highway. The Chamber has also voiced opposition to a controversial bylaw 280 that would have likely fed an incinerator in Metro Vancouver.

Federally, we were proud to be recognized at the Canadian Chamber AGM, where the Abbotsford Chamber received “Accreditation with Distinction”. Abbotsford is now one of only nine Chambers in the Province of BC to achieve this status as a result of operations and advocacy on behalf of our members that meet the exemplary compliance standards of the Chamber Accreditation Council of Canada.

The work of the Chamber has never been more important and relevant than it is today. Business and industry need to have a voice so that all levels of government truly understand the significant contributions that our members make. Business should be celebrated and not taken for granted. Operating in a global economy, businesses have a choice where they wish to locate. The Chamber continues to be mindful of how to make Abbotsford the most business friendly municipality in Canada.

Mike completed his two-year term at the end of March 2015, where he passed the gavel to incoming president Joshua Bach. Josh will serve for two years.

The Chamber continued to serve in a leadership role to ensure that the interests of the business community are well represented in public policy decisions. Josh’s first term included a successful lobby of the BC government to ensure that our local transportation priorities were included in the Province’s 10-year Transportation Plan. The Chamber lead a strong local response to the Preliminary BC Electoral Boundaries Commission Report, which resulted in preserving the strong representation of our three local MLAs. The Chamber brought forward positions with the Province asking for stable funding for the Tourism Industry marketing and enhancement to the Mobile Business Licence program. On the national level, the Abbotsford Chamber asked the Federal Government to provide support to the agricultural community through payment protection for growers of perishable goods shipped to U.S. buyers. The need for enhanced enforcement of the collection of duties and taxes at the US Border was raised, as well as a suggested GST rebate incentive to encourage more U.S. travellers to shop in Canada and support local retailers.

The Chamber also hosted all-candidates meetings prior to the fall Federal election.

On the local level, the Chamber provided input on the city’s review of the Official Community Plan, as well as contributing on five separate city committees. Chamber board members participated with the city in the first “Business Walk”, which saw city council members, city staff, and Chamber representatives out in the community talking to local businesses about their needs. In addition, the Chamber continues to provide feedback to the city as it goes through the process of review of current bylaws.

The Chamber worked hard to connect and engage members through purpose driven events and activities. Our luncheons featured speakers such as the CEO of WestJet, the VP of Consumer Protection BC, the Communications Director of the Canadian Petroleum Producers Association, BC Hydro’s Senior VP of Development & Generation, and our own Mayor, Henry Braun. Our Business after Business events allowed our members an opportunity to build their network, while discovering more about products and services offered by some of our leading member companies. Our signature events, such as the Fraser Valley Trade Show, Agriculture Bus Tour, Annual Golf Tournament, and Business Excellence Awards, continued to be popular and well attended. The Chamber took a second Discover China trip and members were invited to join a tour to Thailand and Hong Kong in March of 2016.

A series of 12 focus group sessions for members to provide feedback, observations ,and suggestions was undertaken in the winter/spring of 2016. Information gathered will be utilized to develop goals and objectives for the coming year and beyond.

Our Mission statement: ‘To represent, serve, and connect our members to build and sustain a thriving business community’ will carry us into the future of economic, social, and environmental challenges for Abbotsford. The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce is looking with optimism to each new day and are working towards the development of a position to carve out a new role — whether it be advocating for our members, whether it be that of lobbying for community economic development…we are ready to listen and to be guided by your feedback.