Gibsons mayor brings leaders together to discuss challenges

It wasn't the event Gibsons Mayor Bill Beamish envisioned when he first proposed a community leaders meeting earlier this year.

For one thing, there was no pizza lunch. And no actual face-to-face meeting.

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More than 40 representatives from local governments, service clubs, community organizations and cultural institutions took part in the three-hour Zoom conference June 23 to, as the official agenda put it, “speak of your plans and challenges for 2020.”

The challenges Beamish said he expected to discuss when he proposed hosting the forum earlier this year – climate change, infrastructure, lack of affordable housing, an aging population, and others – were overshadowed by the challenges of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 and the emergency declaration by the province on March 17 changed everything for us, as I’m sure it did for yourselves as well,” Beamish said in his opening remarks. “Along with COVID-19, we are currently in this community dealing with an opioid overdose crisis, issues of discrimination, challenges in how we can restart our local economies as we prepare for the summer and what is promising to be a very busy tourist season.”

Chris Nicholls, executive director of the Gibsons and District Chamber of Commerce, said his organization’s focus has been on helping the local business community navigate the rapidly changing information “that’s been coming at us from all sides.”

“We’re looking actually three months down the road,” Nicholls said. “As businesses get through this summer period, which is a real core focus as everybody knows in the Sunshine Coast, how can we get them in a position to sustain their business?”

Nicholls also said the Chamber is working with Town staff on how best to use a $5,000 fund allocated by council to help support business recovery.

Gibsons Harbour is typically one of the busiest places in the Town heading into the summer, and Gibsons Landing Harbour Authority president Joe Wright told the forum that activity in the harbour has been “down a little bit, but not as much as we might have expected.”

“The office is now back in full operation and business is booming… A few less overnight stays, but lots of daytime visits and especially on the weekend.”

Wright said a the rebuild of the approach from School Road and the wharfhead they were hoping to have completed this spring, after receiving federal funding last April, has been delayed because of the pandemic but they now hope to get started sometime this summer.

Another major hub in Gibsons, the Gibsons Public Market, is also starting to resume its usual operations.

Vicki Raw, executive director of the Gibsons Community Building Society, which runs the public market and the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre, said the pandemic “disrupted our momentum and threw us temporarily off course,” but they’re now hoping the merchants, who have been open on reduced hours, will be moving back to their regular days and regular opening hours in July and August.

“We launched just today our sold-out Ocean Explorers Kids Camp. The kids that were there today were very, very excited to be out of their homes and doing something with other children,” Raw said. “We're also looking forward to opening up our aquarium again on July 3.”

Raw said that like many of the other organizations on the Zoom call that rely on fundraising, they’ve had to re-think how they do that and what some of their signature events will look like this year.

She also caught the mood of several others when she said the society was looking forward to “getting back to being proactive and less reactive.”

RainCity Housing’s Isaac Malmgren said the organization, which ran the winter shelter in Gibsons and will manage the BC Housing supportive housing site which is under construction on School Road, has been through “seismic shifts in the way that we’ve had to approach the work that we do pretty much across the board.”

He said the pandemic, and the resulting loss of public spaces like the libraries, has affected the lives of their clients.

“What we’re seeing is that we’re now working with a population of people who are probably even more vulnerable than they were three months ago,” he said. “We've seen people are really struggling [and our] staff have been doing an incredible job.”

Malmgren added that while there has been some delay because of COVID-19, BC Housing expects to have the School Road supportive housing project ready for move-in by December.

“I really appreciate the commitment you all have to the community,” Beamish said, wrapping up what he acknowledged was a very long meeting and adding that he hopes to bring the group together in person next time. 

The entire forum is available for viewing on the Town of Gibsons YouTube channel:

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