by Stephen Huebl
(2005) Over the past 100 years, the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce has played an active and vital role in Sarnia Lambton’s growth. But even before its official incorporation in 1905, the Chamber can trace its roots back to the late 1800s.
It all started on Feb. 26, 1860 with an informal meeting of prominent businessmen who wanted to increase economic trade and manufacturing within the town. A second meeting in 1871 took place of local merchants who again wanted to secure profitable industries and increase the economic growth of the city.
In 1905, 33 local businessmen officially formed The Sarnia Board of Trade, with Sarnia Lambton’s economic prosperity in mind.
Early on, the Board of Trade made a number of notable accomplishments. In 1909, the board successfully attracted a canning factory to the city benefiting local farmers and business, installed incandescent lighting along Front Street and increased marketing of Sarnia as a tourist destination. The Board moved into an office on Front Street in 1916, where rent was only $10 for the first year and $5 every year after that.
By 1919 membership had grown to a total of 612 members, each volunteering an annual subscription fee of $25 per year for three years. A growing membership forced the board to purchase the entire Northern Hotel as the location of their next office, where they continued to launch ambitious programs and aid the community both economically and socially.
One such program was the Board’s Initial Program of Work, which outlined areas of interest, including education, housing, municipal improvements, transportation, industrial projects, agriculture interests and advertising projects.
In 1920, the Board of Trade underwent its first name change to the Sarnia Chamber of Commerce.
The 1920s brought about the creation of numerous committees to focus on specific projects. The Entertainment Committee, the Citizens Bylaw Committee and the Blue Water Highway Association all put forward a number of initiatives in their respective areas of expertise.
Throughout the 1930s the Chamber focused much of its attention to attracting tourists to the area, in part by constructing a tourist booth at the base of the Blue Water Bridge.
With the arrival of the 1940’s and the Second World War, the Chamber shifted some of its attention to aiding in the war effort here at home.
The Chamber provided support for returned soldiers by founding the Re-establishment Board, and also aided local farmers by promoting the release of farm hands from factories aiding in the war effort to assist with the local harvest season.
It did this while still accomplishing much around the city, including being instrumental in the building of a new community arena and aiding in the establishment of a local YMCA.
In 1950, the Chamber started a Community Chest; an organization that collected money for other organizations.
Several years later, in 1952, the Chamber relocated from the corner of Christina and Lochiel streets, to 224 North Vidal Street at a cost of $20,000.
The move was necessary due to the expanding duties of the Chamber and the high demand for the Driver and Vehicle Licence Issuing Office, which was run by the Chamber. The Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce has operated the Driver and Vehicle License Issuing Office (on behalf of the provincial government) since its inception, believed to be as early as 1908 by some local historians. There were renovations in the mid 1960’s to expand the back half of the building, but parking and interior space continued to be a major problem. In May 1999, due to an urgent need for more space at the Chamber and the licence bureau, the Chamber relocated once again, to its current building on North Christina Street. The Licence Bureau processed in excess of 91,000 transactions in 2004 on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation.
The Chamber also stepped in to help the community in times of disaster, such as replacing fallen trees following the 1953 Sarnia tornado that left a path of destruction through the downtown.
By 1986, the Chamber attained a long awaited goal of 1,000 members.
The year 1999 also brought about the Chamber’s participation in the creation of a stand alone tourism body, now known as Tourism Sarnia Lambton.
Looking back over all of its accomplishments of the past 100 years, the Chamber continues to look to the future for new ways to assist the community.
Work carried out by the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce over the past 100 years has always been done with compassion and the community’s interests at heart.
The Chamber was instrumental in bringing countless vital services and institutions to the community and continues to do so today. The Initial Program of Work developed by the Chamber in 1919 outlined numerous areas of focus, including housing, education, municipal improvements and taxation.
In 1919 the Chamber helped bring about the construction of 250 homes to address Sarnia’s housing shortage and also helped secure government aid to accelerate the building operations.
Current Chamber president Garry McDonald said the Chamber has always tried to identify things that would benefit the community that were not actively pursued by any other groups or organizations in the community.
“We would not have this quality of life or be as representative a community without this leadership and effort by the Chamber members and organization,” McDonald said.
“Without exception, the community has significantly improved because of this effort.
Chamber members volunteered their time and financial resources to develop these and many other programs that benefited the community, which in turn benefited Chamber members, McDonald said.
The Chamber also helped bring many of today’s essential institutions to Sarnia. In 1922 it supported the construction of SCITS at a cost of $700,000.
The building of the school achieved one of the many educational goals set out in the Initial Program of Work and provided Sarnia’s growing population with a state-of-the art educational facility.
During this time period, the Chamber also financially assisted Sarnia General Hospital to provide better health care services.
In times of disaster, both locally and abroad, the Chamber has always been quick to step in and help. In 1917 the Chamber raised money for relief funds for victims of the Halifax explosion. The Chamber also provided support for returning soldiers during the Second World War by funding the Re-establishment board.
They raised nearly $500,000 for war loans during the war and another $125,000 for a War Chest Fund to carry on war charities.
Following the devastating tornado that swept through Sarnia’s downtown in 1953, the Chamber again rallied to support the community by financially assisting in the replacement of trees.
While continuing to assist with community development, in 1953 the Chamber also made some internal changes to better assist its own members. A group insurance plan was implemented for members and employees, along with two Chamber scholarships for students graduating with high standing from a regular and commercial course.
The Chamber has always been dedicated to assisting the community with its education needs and that was proven in 1963 when an education committee was struck to examine the needs of a higher education facility in Sarnia. In 1965, as a result of the Education Committee’s needs study for a post-secondary institution, the Sarnia Citizens University Committee and the Chamber of Commerce compiled letters of support for the establishment of Lambton College, Ontario’s first community college.
Continuing with its commitment to community development, in 1972 the Chamber initiated Sarnia’s first “Operation Placement,” which helped an estimated 1,500 local students obtain summer employment. In 1986, the first Board of Directors locally for Crimestoppers was organized by the Chamber. The commitment to the community’s social needs that the Chamber has shown over the years continues today.
The Chamber was involved with creating the Physician Recruitment Task Force, a local initiative to attract badly-needed physicians and family doctors to the area.
In 2000 and again in 2004 the Chamber traveled with a delegation to Queen’s Park to lobby the government for social and bottom-line business improvements, McDonald said. Issues that were brought up with the government included the building of a new hospital in Sarnia, fair healthcare funding, local potential for new agri-business products and growth and adequate funding for the college system to help build a skilled workforce, McDonald said.
“I think it is important to recognize the Chamber’s holistic approach to the quality of life in Sarnia-Lambton as a key to this Chamber’s success,” said Leo Stathakis, 2004 chairperson of the Chamber of Commerce. “We recognize that we must have good health care, recreational opportunities, arts, culture and a good environment. These are a prerequisite to creating a climate for continued investment in the community.”
Stathakis said while at first glance many of these initiatives, such as physician recruitment, may not appear business-related, they are in fact “critical” to the business community.
“Without adequate health care, it is quite difficult to attract the qualified and diverse people this community requires to vitalize and grow our economy,” he said.
Asked where the Chamber intends to go from here, McDonald said their new strategic plan identified a continued willingness to address matters of community development. The only difference is that there are more opportunities to team up with other organizations within the community, he said.
“We may do more in partnership with others these days than in the past,” McDonald said. “There seems to be an agency funded to do most everything theses days, unlike in the past when the Chamber did most itself.”
The Chamber of Commerce has always put tourism high on its list of priorities throughout its 100 year history. As early as 1909, the Chamber, then known as the Sarnia Board of Trade, included marketing Sarnia as a tourist destination as a primary part of its mandate. By 1919 the board had managed to put Sarnia Lambton on the map. Thanks to aggressive marketing, Sarnia Lambton became known as a destination to visit across North America.
“It’s a matter of getting industry of any type to your community,” said Ray Beggs, who was manager of the Chamber of Commerce from 1962 to 1987. “That’s what it’s all about, jobs for people.”
Much was accomplished in terms of attracting tourism to the area during Beggs’ 25-year term. During his first year the Chamber created the Sarnia Lambton Tourist Council, which spearheaded an aggressive advertising campaign to promote Sarnia Lambton, specifically targeting a Detroit audience.
“We were getting tremendous coverage and a lot of freebies,” Beggs said.
The Chamber received $5,000 in funding from the city, the province and the county. With the money the council paid for two commercials to be aired on Channel 7 Detroit to promote the Steam Threshers reunion, but ended up receiving 20 freebies, Beggs said. A local photographer, Doug Short provided the important photo and announcers from radio station CHOK provided the voices used in the commercials.
Beggs phoned up the manager of the station to express his gratitude for the added publicity and asked him what made him do it. He was told it was because the Chamber was a not-for-profit organization, they were Canadian and could get away with the special treatment without American advertisers expecting the same, plus the soft-sell commercials were a big hit. The manager told Beggs people liked listening to the commercials because they were interesting.
The area’s golf courses, beaches, parks, and the fact Sarnia was simply a “nice place to be” were all promoted heavily, Beggs said.
“While the tourism budget was small, under $15,000, we had over 30 volunteers from all over Lambton County helping,” he said. “The tourists were just coming up here in droves.”
Another big initiative was trying to attract conventions to the area in 1963.
At the time the city was spending $6,000 a year to send delegates to various conventions, Beggs said.
“We said to the city, ‘give us that money and we’ll use it to promote more convention,’ and they did,” Beggs said. A film was created featuring Sarnia and its attractions, which was lent to local organizations to help them promote Sarnia for their future conventions. Beggs said conventions really began to take off locally because Sarnia was a nice place to have them, it was much cheaper than Toronto and other larger cities and because the people are friendly. With the boom in tourism it became evident Sarnia was lacking proper accommodations, which is why in 1964 Beggs began writing letters to Holiday Inn of Canada appealing to them to build a hotel in the city.
“I told them you’re missing the boat. We’re expanding on our tourism and conventions and you should be here,” he said. “I sent a letter a month for three months and finally two guys (from the company) walked into the office. I convinced them they should be here and (in 1971) they came.”
During its history the Chamber has been involved in countless initiatives meant to attract people to the area. As a way of supporting the incorporation of Sarnia and creating a lasting impression of the city, the Sarnia Board of Trade in 1914 sponsored a contest to come up with a catchy city name and slogan. The winning name was “Beacon City” and the slogan was “Sarnia Lights the Way.” Others followed over the years including two in the late 1950s that made reference to Sarnia as “Canada’s most remarkable city,” and “Midway on the Seaway.”
In the 1920s the Chamber was instrumental in bringing tourists to different camping areas along the river road and even offered a tourist bureau for tourists.
In 1927 the Chamber and the citizens of Sarnia put together a committee to sell Sarnia as a summer resort town.
The Chamber began construction of a tourist booth at the base of the Blue Water Bridge in 1939 and created a large welcome sign next to the bridge to advertise and promote Sarnia.
The 1980s ushered in the first major event imported to Sarnia, the Highland Games.
As a result of “think tank” sessions held in 1983, the Chamber of Commerce at Anita Hobbs suggested the idea of hosting the Highland Games in Sarnia. Centennial Park seemed like the logical place to hold such a large event, said Beggs, and a committee with seven subcommittees was struck to organize the event. More than 12,000 people attended the Highland Games in its first year and the Chamber continued to provide financial assistance until 1988.
In 1983 Beggs said a former city alderman, Wills Rawana, approached him about the idea of holding a Celebration of Lights. The Chamber gladly took on the task of organizing the event by purchasing eight displays for $40,000, Beggs said. The Chamber then turned to industry and commerce to help recover the cost.
Today the Celebration of Lights is a free-standing organization that has become a holiday tradition. Thanks to the expansion of the lights in 1999, supported by the Chamber and Steeves and Rozema Enterprises, they are now one of the largest Christmas light displays in the province, attracting thousands of visitors to Sarnia Lambton.
Tourism promotion was brought under one roof by Lambton County and the Chamber in 1996 and was renamed the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A campaign then began to attract a provincially-regulated casino, which the Chamber supported after deciding it would add positively to Sarnia Lambton’s economic and tourist base.
The Visitor and Convention Bureau was dissolved in 2000 and the present-day Tourism Sarnia Lambton was created by the City of Sarnia, County of Lambton, Village of Point Edward and the Chamber to oversee the community’s tourism initiatives.
While working to promote the interests of businesses in the city, the Chamber of Commerce has always realized the importance of giving back to the community in the form of an enhanced quality of life. Some of Sarnia’s most popular recreation areas are a result of the Chamber’s involvement and financial contributions.
The Board of Trade helped to form an athletic club in 1919, which was responsible for creating the city’s only park at the time for recreation.
During this time the Chamber also became involved with city beautification efforts.
Sarnia’s population continued to grow and by 1947 the Chamber had formed a committee to study the needs of a community arena. It found there was overwhelming support to build the arena. The following year the Chamber jump-started contributions to the arena’s construction with a $1,000 donation.
That same year, the Chamber covered the $5,000 cost to construct the large covered picnic area in Canatara Park.
As part of its “City Beautiful” campaign, in 1955 the Chamber held a photo contest entitled, “What I don’t like about Sarnia.” The contest invited residents to submit photos of community eyesores and fire hazards in an effort to clean up the city and make it attractive and safe.
The Chamber’s biggest contribution to recreation and the beautification of Sarnia came in 1967 when it rallied to support fundraising efforts to purchase and build Centennial Park. Ray Beggs, who served as manager of the Chamber during that time period, described the creation of Centennial Park as “a community project.”
As a way of celebrating Canada’s centennial year, the federal government encouraged municipalities to embark upon a community project and the federal government would cover half the cost. The City of Sarnia decided to purchase the Sifto Salt lands and turn them into a park. The $500,000 purchase cost of the 44 acres was paid for by the city and the federal government, but Beggs said the city approached the Chamber to come up with another $250,000 to cover the cost of transforming the lands into a park. A considerable amount of effort went into building up the land itself since much of it was four feet below water, according to Beggs.
“I went to the industries and asked them to pledge $125,000,” said Beggs, who was told by industry they would match whatever the community contributed. The Chamber then launched an aggressive campaign and the donations started rolling in. No matter how small, businesses and individuals across the city dug deep and gave what they could. The Chamber was able to raise $95,000. Despite the deal the industries made, they gave the full $125,000 the Chamber had asked for. The money went towards filling in the land, moving the railroad tracks to the east side of Front Street and hauling in soil by truck to build the berms as seating for sporting events and concerts. Beggs said that while the city got the ball rolling on the project, the Chamber played an essential role.
“We were not the leaders in it, we were the people who were asked to raise the money and figure out what had to be done,” he said.
Years later, in 1996, the Chamber offered its services to the planning for a multi-purpose recreational complex; the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre.
The Chamber formulated more than 100 recommendations, which it delivered to the project steering committee to give some guidance on how they should proceed with the project.
Beautification also remains a part of the Chamber’s mandate as it continues to assist in improving the community. In 1997, a 402 Greenbelt committee was formed to discuss ways the community could address the entry way from the Blue Water Bridge to the Airport, along Highway 402. The recent erection of sound barrier walls had raised concern that the city would be overlooked by travelers. A partnership was formed with local government and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to complete additional aesthetic improvements along the highway that would be paid for by the community.
A contest was held amongst regional landscape design school students who submitted their ideas on possible improvements that could be done in the area.
A plan idea included a new City of Sarnia sign along Highway 402 at the entrance to the city. Sarnia budgeted for and installed the landscaped sign in 2001. The 402 Greenbelt Committee continues to implement plan ideas, and raise funds to plant and care for Boston ivy vines, a plant bed and daffodil beds along this busy highway corridor entranceway to Sarnia Lambton and Ontario.
Much of the success of the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce can be attributed to the talent, hard work and dedication of all the individuals involved. Over the past century, 98 men and women have served as president or chairperson on the Chamber’s board of directors.
J.R. Geddes, who served from 1905 to 1908, was the first president of the Sarnia Board of Trade, which later became the Sarnia Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s first female president was Betty Blok Anderson, who served in 1982.
Blok Anderson was very active with the chamber prior to her term, including holding the position of chair of the Visitor and Convention Bureau. It was an all male board who voted to nominate Blok Anderson for president.
“It was the guys who put me there,” she said. “I felt the Chamber did a lot of good things for Sarnia, so I wanted to be part of it.”
During Blok Anderson’s term, the Chamber focused much of its attention on tourism and advertising Sarnia as a great place to visit, she said.
“We created a lot of interest in Sarnia,” she said. “We certainly had Sarnia out in the forefront to bring visitors and tourists to the area to enjoy our beautiful Bluewater land.”
W.E. Beresford became the first president of the Sarnia Chamber of Commerce in 1919 after its name was changed from the Sarnia Board of Trade. Beresford was credited with organizing a campaign that resulted in a membership for the Sarnia Chamber of well over 600 people. This set a world record for the most number of subscriptions for any Chamber in a city of similar size. Following the membership drive under Beresford, the Chamber required more space and purchased the entire Northern Hotel as its new headquarters.
An old newspaper article referred to the Chamber’s new headquarters as “one of the finest headquarters buildings on the continent, the size of the city considered.”
W.H. Kenny, who served as president of the Chamber three separate times, in 1918, 1921 and 1945, was credited with bringing much-needed publicity to Sarnia Lambton. It was under his leadership, in 1922, that the Chamber secured an agreement from Pere Marquette officials for the building of a new rail depot. Progress was also made in the paving of the Toronto to Sarnia highway, resulting in great benefit to businesses in all of Lambton County.
The Deep Waterways project was also given active support during his term and a number of industrial prospects were secured.
H.A. Couse took over in 1923 and oversaw improved ferry service, work on the Plank Road extension and the creation of a number of factory sites. H.J. Lockhart served as manager from 1938 to 1942, had previously been Board president in 1934 (and then again in 1946.) Carl Manore, a former Observer ad manager, served from 1942 to 1952 and A.W. Bennet held the position from 1952 to 1962.
The Chamber’s longest-serving manager, Ray Beggs, served from 1962 to 1987.
Before coming to Sarnia in 1954, Beggs served as president of the Port Arthur Junior Chamber of Commerce and in 1956 moved up to become president of Region Four for the Canadian Junior Chamber of Commerce, and then Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce manager from 1956 to 1962. Beggs has showed much dedication and love for his community during his tenure as manager, which he looks back at with a sense of humour.
“I stuck my nose in a lot of things,” he said with a laugh. “It’s fun, it’s really fun to work with people to promote your community.”
The Chamber accomplished a lot during Beggs’ 25-year term.
He oversaw a number of tourism initiatives, including a promotional campaign directed at Detroit, the creation of the Highland Games and the start of the Celebration of Lights. The Chamber also kept up its voice of advocacy and support for causes such as the building of a new and modern airport, Lambton College, Centennial Park and the revitalization of downtown Sarnia.
“It’s the people of the community that make the Chamber of Commerce work,” Beggs said. “Because without them, without their involvement and their dollars put into promoting their community, it doesn’t tick.”
Gerry Macartney took over and served from 1987 to 1997. During his term as General Manager, the Chamber conducted an “energy from waste” study, advocated strongly for amalgamation of Sarnia and Clearwater and aggressively pursued many provincial and federal legislative changes, improving the local and national business landscape. The Chamber at this time actively participated in the formation of the Sarnia Lambton Economic Renewal’s Vision 2020, and expanded its tourism mandate amalgamating the county tourism body with the existing Chamber Visitor and Convention body to create the Convention and Visitor Bureau.
David McGarry was elected president of the Chamber in 1990. McGarry, oversaw initiatives such as the installation of scrubbers at the Lambton Generating Station, the commissioning of the Energy from Waste Study and he held discussions with a number of industrial companies looking to locate to Sarnia, including TransAlta.
“As a businessman it was quite rewarding. As a technocrat, it was challenging,” he said, admitting he had a tendency (for) being plainly blunt.
Macartney was succeeded as general manager by Michael Van Pelt, who headed the Chamber from 1997 until 2000. Van Pelt guided the Chamber through the founding of the Trade Corridors conference, a significant expansion of the Celebration of Lights, and the organization of a delegation of local officials to Queen’s Park.
Susan Houston, who served as Chamber president in 1997, moved on after her term to make further contributions to the Chamber of Commerce at both the provincial and national level. Houston had been involved with the local Chamber since the early 1990s before moving up to president. Among the initiatives undertaken during her term, Houston oversaw the implementation of a strategic plan, which provided the framework for a business plan that is still being used today.
“It is quite remarkable how vibrant an organization it is locally,” Houston said. “The proportion of businesses that belong is very high and the level of participation is also very high.”
After her term as president, Houston became involved with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and sat on its board of directors. She currently sits on the executive of that board as the Immediate Past-Chair.
“I was really honoured to be able to participate with the Ontario chamber and to highlight Sarnia-Lambton’s accomplishments,” Houston said. “Sarnia-Lambton is recognized amongst the chambers in both Ontario and Canada as having a very strong policy section, which is very unusual for smaller municipalities and their Chambers of Commerce.”
Houston most recently became a director on the Canadian Chamber of Commerce board in September 2004.
Garry McDonald, the Chamber’s current president, took over as General Manager in 2000. McDonald brings with him 25 years of experience in small business, national corporate business and government agency operations. The Queens University graduate has led the Chamber through initiatives such as the Physician Recruitment Task Force, the formation of a downtown revitalization task force and the geographic expansion of the chamber to represent all of Lambton County.
McDonald said it is an honour to be leading the Chamber, an organization with such an accomplished history.
“There is such a high bar of success set by past leadership,” he said.
McDonald added that leadership at the Chamber is not a one-person job, but instead involves the president, board chair, board members and staff working with countless volunteers.
“This is key to our 100 years of success. This ‘team’ of many identifies an important role for the Chamber and together we get it done, to the benefit of our membership and the community.”
A city can’t function like one without proper infrastructure and transportation connections to allow trade and commerce to flow freely. The Chamber of Commerce and its predecessors realized this since day one and has always advocated for easy access to the city to increase the flow of economic trade.
“All through the years and the history of the Chamber, transportation has always played a major role,” said Marty Raaymakers of MIG Engineering, who was the 2003 Chamber Chairperson. “It really is ‘build it and they will come’.”
The businessmen who met in the late 1800’s, prior to the inception of the Sarnia Board of Trade, realized Sarnia Lambton’s potential since it boasted a superior railway facility and an excellent water port. Early local businessmen like Malcolm Cameron and George Durand founded the Sarnia-Florence Plank Road Company.
With help from the city they built Plank Road, which was the last toll road in Ontario before Highway 407. The road was used extensively to transport crude oil from the oil fields in the county to the burgeoning refinery industry.
Early on, the Board of Trade proved to be effective. By 1914 it had advocated for and implemented incandescent lighting for Front Street.In 1919 the Board sent two engineers to Ottawa to argue Sarnia importance as a harbour. The following year the newly named Sarnia Chamber of Commerce commissioned a report, which was submitted to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, that Sarnia should be considered in the development of trade routes in the Great Lakes.
The Chamber continued to make progress with transportation infrastructure when in 1922 it secured a new depot for the Pere Marquette Railway and improved the paving and maintenance of city streets.
The Chamber was also successful in its advocacy for a well-paved provincial road from Sarnia to Toronto. The Blue Water Highway Association was later created by the Chamber, and one of its first orders of business was the proposal of a scenic highway that would stretch from Windsor to Goderich passing through Chatham and St. Clair Township. The proposed route through St. Clair Township was via River Road, which remained privately owned prior to 1926. The road was owned by South Sarnia Properties Company, and that allowed them to close the road as they saw fit. The Chamber disagreed with this and worked to make River Road part of the general road system.
The Chamber also had a hand in improving the Sombra ferry service and extending Plank Road, which was a vital transportation link for the early oil industry.
Transportation remained in the forefront of the Chamber’s initiatives throughout the 1930’s.
In 1932 the Chamber promoted the designation of the St. Clair River road as a provincial highway. The road included a total of 75 miles and connected Wallaceburg to Sarnia along the shore of Lake Huron and continued to the 15th Concession of Plympton where (it)ran up to the Pinery and Grand Bend.
Another study was done by the Chamber in 1951 that called for the implementation of downtown docks and the development of a winter harbour for large and small craft.
The Chamber also worked in conjunction with the City to alleviate congestion in the downtown from the southern industrial area to the northern residential part of town.
By the late 1950s a growing population warranted new and better connections to the surrounding area. So, in 1959 the Chamber issued a proposal for a new Highway 40 running from Sarnia to Wallaceburg, which eventually came to fruition in the late 1960s. It also called for the old Hwy. 40 to be transformed into a parkway system, known today as the St. Clair Parks Commission.
The Chamber recognized the slowing of the economy in 1961 and the deteriorating infrastructure in the downtown as a result. A committee was appointed to head a downtown revitalization effort coined “Operation Downtown.” As a result of the initiative, a number of downtown improvements were made, including the establishment of a boardwalk along Sarnia Bay.
In 1970 the Chamber decided to brush the dust off studies from the 1950s regarding Sarnia’s harbour. The Chamber realized the importance of a port to a community and proceeded to conduct a dock study. Once the need was identified, the Chamber worked with the local government to secure $800,000 from the federal government for the building of new “finger docks”, a recommendation by Lucio Sandrin.
Years later the Chamber’s attention shifted again to land transportation, this time advocating for the speedy completion of Highway 402.
With the tremendous growth on tourism in the area, in 1978 the Chamber made its first recommendation for the location of a second span of the Blue Water Bridge.
The 1980s was an important time for transportation in the area. The Chamber continued to organize petitions calling for the completion of Hwy. 402 and was also instrumental in bringing about the advent of the new Sarnia Airport in 1985.
A number of present-day improvements were made during very busy Chamber years from 1995 to the present. In the early part of this period steps were taken to improve Sarnia-Lambton’s image as a major trade corridor and transportation hub. Raaymakers and Dan Elash of the Blue Water Bridge Authority served as co-chairs of the Chamber transportation committee during this time. Some of those accomplishments include petitioning for the acceleration of improvements to Hwy. 402, the promotion of the new CN Rail tunnel and the founding of the Super Highways & Trade Corridors conference in 1999. The Chamber also continued advocating strongly for the widening of Hwy. 40 between Sarnia and Wallaceburg.
“The Chamber represents business. We’re here to help our members and to promote for our members,” said Raaymakers. “Having good transportation infrastructure, good roads, good rail, is all important for all of our members. You have to have a reliable and modern infrastructure network to move trade, It’s as simple as that.”
Industry has always been a vital part of Sarnia Lambton’s history and has played a role in shaping the city into what it is today. As such, the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce has a strong history of speaking out for industry and advocating for a better economic environment that would be to its advantage.
Several years after it was founded, the Sarnia Board of Trade successfully attracted a canning factory to the community. In its 1919 Initial Program of Work, which outlined the Chamber’s top priorities for the years ahead, numerous initiatives were identified to make the city more appealing to industry. The Chamber dedicated a whole section of the report to industrial improvements. Under this heading the Chamber planned to promote and ensure industrial growth, attempt to increase the development of the ship building industry and increase the usage of grain elevators.
The Chamber also planned to seek out a cold storage plant for the generation of ice and attract a brick manufacturer to the area.
Under its proposal for municipal improvements the Chamber wanted to open up Aamjiwnaang First Nation for the development of industry. Many of the Chamber’s other initiatives were meant to better the economic environment and infrastructure to make the city more appealing to companies looking to locate to the community.
Nearly all of the infrastructure improvements the Chamber advocated for had a positive effect and attracted large industry to the area.
In the 1920s the Chamber realized Sarnia was being treated unfairly in regards to freight rates. The Chamber had found Windsor and Chatham were receiving a shipping advantage over Sarnia and subsequently reorganized the industrial committee to fight this.
In an attempt to beautify the industrial areas of Sarnia, the Chamber instituted an industrial grounds competition. To recognize the importance of industry to this city, the Chamber organized and hosted its first industrial appreciation day. The Chamber was also instrumental in lobbying the federal government for the expansion and rehabilitation of the north slip in order to bolster winter berthing and seasonal repairs for the shipping industry.
In 1962, the Chamber organized an Industrial Promotion Committee. Representatives from Sarnia, the townships of Sarnia and Moore served on the committee and contributed financially. In 1978, the municipalities decided to form their own promotional committee. Mayor Andrew Brant was the chief organizer of this.
In 1989, a $100,000 study was commissioned by the Chamber to study the economic and environmental feasibility of constructing a large “Energy from Waste: facility in Sarnia Lambton. Much of the technical information developed through the study has been used today in several co-generation projects. Currently an energy committee reports to the Chamber, providing its expertise and experience to educate Chamber members. Its mandate is to advocate on energy-related issues and projects in order to promote economic development in Sarnia-Lambton. Committee Chairperson David McGarry, also president of the engineering company Elecsar, said most of the Chamber’s involvement with industry over the past 10 to 15 years has been through the committee. Recent initiatives include the installation of scrubbers at the Lambton Generating Station, restructuring of the former Hydro One as well as the study on energy from waste.
“I see the Chamber Energy Committee as more than just a lobby group,” McGarry said. “We also try to educate.”
McGarry said the committee recently sponsored a seminar on blackouts, which aimed to educate members about measures being taken to prevent or at least mitigate the extent of another major blackout.