Campaign for Real Ale Society of British Columbia (CAMRA BC)

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Campaign for Real Ale Society of British Columbia (CAMRA BC)

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The Campaign for Real Ale Society of British Columbia (CAMRA BC) was founded in 1990. It acts as a champion of the consumer in relation to the BC and Canadian beer and alcoholic beverage industry and seeks to advance British Columbians' access to quality beer and cider.

CAMRA BC's origins look to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) movement that began in Britain in the 1970s. CAMRA UK was founded on March 16, 1971 by Michael Hardman, Bill Mellor, Jim Makin and Graham Lees. They criticized the dominance of the British "Big Six" brewers on the British beer scene. CAMRA opposed the loss of independent regional breweries, the "tied house" system that bound pubs to the big brewers, the demise of traditional British cask-conditioned ales, and the declining quality of the remaining mass-produced beers. CAMRA defined "real ale" as beer that has not been filtered, pasteurized or pressurized, but is conditioned and carbonated by a secondary fermentation in the cask or bottle itself. Modern industrial brewing techniques were eliminating real ales, and CAMRA fought successfully to pressure brewers to revive their production. Membership grew rapidly, reaching 5000 members across the UK by 1974. In 2023 CAMRA had over 150,000 members in more than 200 local branches.

Outside the UK, beer drinkers inspired by CAMRA's success created organizations with broadly similar goals, and they sometimes used the CAMRA name. But there is no provision in the UK organization for international branches and affiliation is mainly symbolic. A CAMRA Canada was established around 1983 based in Ontario and Quebec. Members paid dues into the national organization, which in turn was to provide funding to local chapters. CAMRA Canada produced its own newsletter (What's Brewing) but there were no national meetings and chapters saw few if any funds for local initiatives. Vancouver members meeting at the Rowing Club in Stanley Park in the summer of 1985 opted for independence, formally incorporating CAMRA BC as its own society on October 29, 1985. This organization was based mainly in the Lower Mainland. It produced a newsletter (BC Beer Front News) and held regular meetings and social events. But after the first year, it failed to file annual reports with BC's Registrar of Companies and was de-listed in 1989. Around the same time the newsletter ceased operations.

Shortly after this, a separate initiative created a local CAMRA branch in Victoria. John and Carol Rowling, Phil Cottrell, and Dave Preston established CAMRA Victoria at a meeting at Spinnakers pub on April 7, 1990. It was only afterwards that the Victoria group became aware of the existence of the earlier CAMRA BC organization, and Rowling contacted Phil Atkinson who had been involved with it. The Victoria group proceeded to incorporate on September 24, 1990. Rather than revive the old CAMRA BC registration (and pay back fees), they registered as a new entity, but took up the old name.

Like its predecessor, the new CAMRA BC was dissatisfied with the affiliation model proposed by CAMRA Canada. Preferring independence, CAMRA BC created its own constitution and by-laws and retained its own finances. John Rowling served as the first President (1990-1992). Phil Atkinson became editor of the newsletter, What's Brewing, launched in June 1990 (CAMRA UK, CAMRA Canada and CAMRA BC all had newsletters with this same name). CAMRA Canada meanwhile faded out of existence in 1990s.

The purpose of CAMRA BC, as set out in its constitution, is "to actively promote and encourage a greater range of choice of quality beers." To this end it lobbies for changes to BC liquor policy to better support BC craft-beer and cider consumers; provides public education relating to craft beer and cider; promotes the establishment and success of quality brewpubs, neighbourhood pubs, and craft breweries and cideries in BC; supports quality home brewing; supports the production of cask-conditioned beers and events relating to those products; and encourages responsible and safe consumption of craft beer and cider.

CAMRA BC is run by volunteers. Like its UK namesake, CAMRA BC is a consumer advocacy organization. Breweries are encouraged take out corporate memberships, but corporate members cannot sit on the Board and do not have voting rights. Membership grew from about 40 after the first year to 120 in 1992 to over 250 by 1997, and numbers seem to have stabilized around that figure in subsequent years.

CAMRA BC's constitution provides for local branches with their own committees and Executive Board, elected at an Annual General Meeting. But for the first decade Victoria was the primary hub and focus of activity, and the line between CAMRA Victoria and CAMRA BC was fuzzy, with Victoria's Executive effectively operating for BC as a whole. By the early 2000s, branches outside Victoria had been more formally established - in Nanaimo, Osoyoos, Peachland, Prince George, Prince Rupert, Richmond-Steveston and Vancouver. Some of these were short-lived, while the Victoria branch has remained stable over the years.

In 2003, changes were introduced to more clearly separate branch and central finances. Branches retained a portion of the fees of their individual and corporate members, another part went to CAMRA BC as a whole (e.g. for Directors' insurance) and another part to the production costs for the newsletter. It was at this time that the tagline for What's Brewing changed from "the CAMRA Victoria newsletter" to "the magazine of CAMRA BC." But until 2010 the Executive of the Victoria branch continued to be the Executive of CAMRA BC. This changed in April 2010, when AGMs of the Victoria, Penticton and Victoria branches met independently but elected a provincial Executive separate from branch boards for the first time. At the time of writing (April 2023) CAMRA BC has four active branches in Victoria, the South Okanagan, Vancouver and Powell River.

One of CAMRA Victoria's earliest initiatives was the creation of an annual craft beer festival in 1993. Initially called the Victoria Microbrewery Festival, it was renamed the Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF) in 1995. A separate society was spun off from CAMRA and incorporated to assume ongoing responsibility for managing the festival, though the two organizations remained closely linked. In 2019 the GCBF Society dissolved itself and responsibility for the festival was taken over by the Victoria Beer Society. After a two-year hiatus occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, the GCBF resumed in September 2022.

Chief officers

  • John Rowling, President (1990-1992)
  • Tom Thomson, President (1992-1993)
  • Paul McGrarty, President (1993-1994)
  • Steve Fudge, President (1994-1996?)
  • Mark Bridges, President (1997)
  • Steve Fudge, President (1998-2000)
  • John Rowling, President (2000-2003)
  • Glen Stusek, President (2004-2010)

For a more detailed listing, see Appendix A in the pdf finding aid for F-318.


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