A New ERA for Esquimalt
– the story of the Esquimalt Residents Association (ERA)
By Tim Morrison with files from Eleanor Calder
Being a relatively small municipality, Esquimalt has always had a very active, involved, and engaged community. One aspect, however, that has been challenging to maintain is a formal connection of the community. Over our 100 year history, there have been various reincarnations of united citizen-based community associations, sometimes called Ratepayer Associations and sometimes divided up by Esquimalt’s various neighbourhoods such as the once-mighty but now long-defunct Saxe Point Residents Association. These groups have come and gone like the ships in our harbour.
Since 2007, however, the Esquimalt Residents Association (commonly known as “ERA”) has beaten the odds. With a registered membership of nearly 600 households from all neighbourhoods of Esquimalt, ERA continues to grow stronger and more effective each year.
ERA’s founding President Beth Burton-Krahn recalls how it all began.
“There was a gap in engaging the community in talking about problems or concerns that impacted them,” says Burton-Krahn. “The community was not connected and this was accentuated with the combining of Esquimalt News and Victoria News to one community paper.”
Then, something really terrible happened. In April, 2007, Esquimalt Council had voted to close the Archie Browning Centre. Burton-Krahn got together with a local young mother and soon-to-be political star, Ali Gaul, and many other community volunteers to form the Friends of Archie Browning Centre.
“There was a decision made to bulldoze a public building without any public input,” recalls Burton-Krahn. “This was public land and this was a facility that was used by the region. There was an epidemic of rising childhood obesity and in Esquimalt a sports facility used by children was going to be closed. This sense of arrogance and lack of respect for what this arena meant for the people of Esquimalt prompted me to speak out in public for the first time in the many years that I have lived in Esquimalt.”
The grassroots group had achieved a victory with Esquimalt Council quickly reversing its decision on Archie Browning. The cherished arena had been saved and this month, we honoured its 50th anniversary with many residents of all ages joining in the celebrations.
Burton-Krahn and Gaul realized a strong formal community link would need to be maintained in order to ensure a better connection between our Municipal Council’s actions and our community’s awareness. Hence, ERA was founded. The two women combined their networks of school parent advisory councils, grassroots community clubs, sports and recreation groups, etc to recruit others and membership quickly sky-rocketed. A group of community leaders was elected to its inaugural Board of Directors and ERA was officially registered as a society.
Like a proud mother that gave birth to ERA, Beth has seen the grassroots organization develop tremendously over the years with many successes attributing to that growth. An e-newsletter was created that eventually morphed into EsquimaltReview.com. This was designed to promote increased awareness and participation in community issues and events.
In January 2008, the Capital Regional District’s sewage treatment plans were being discussed. ERA decided to sponsor its first community forum held in March, 2008.
“This educational event provided the community a chance to hear from scientists and environmentalists, assisting them in understanding how the CRD decision-making would impact the community,” says Burton-Krahn.
ERA went on to co-sponsor a lively all-candidates meeting in the last municipal election, advocated for better community planning and consultations, better municipal budgeting, better policing, better public transit, and better respect for Esquimalt from the CRD and its attempts to force a short-sighted regional sewage treatment plant upon the people of Esquimalt. These are just but a few of the examples of how ERA has made a difference while still maintaining its non-partisanship and staying neutral and objective on issues.
“Listening and providing information and education to our community, staying at arm’s length from City Council and developers is the goal to staying relevant and representing ERA’s objectives,” says Burton-Krahn.
After ERA was replenished with new blood and renewed energy in 2010, Beth stepped down as President but remained as a member of the Board of Directors. She led an extensive revision of ERA’s constitution to create a more inclusive, shared, non-hierarchal format of co-leadership. Beth will be stepping away from ERA’s Executive Board this month to free up time for her many other community volunteer pursuits.
“ERA is a place for every voice; a place where every voice can be heard; a place where every person can make their voice heard safely and freely,” says Burton-Krahn in her departing words of wisdom.
September 27th, 2011 marks the fourth anniversary of the exact date when ERA was formally founded. This will also be the date of our 2011 Annual General Meeting. The ERA AGM takes place on Tuesday, September 27th from 7pm – 9pm; fittingly, the venue for the AGM will be the Archie Browning Sports Centre (upstairs lounge) and the guest speaker will be Councillor Ali Gaul. Everyone is welcome! This will be a great opportunity to meet your neighbours, take part in an open forum on community issues, and consider joining ERA’s Board of Directors. Together, we are and will continue to make a difference!
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