Former City of Maple Ridge councillor and Billy Miner Pub co-founder Bernice Gehring died Nov. 11, at age 82.
Bernice and husband Don bought what was formerly the Bank of Montreal building on River Road in 1973 and, over several years, rehabilitated the 1911 structure. The building then began a new life in 1981 as the Billy Miner Pub, also known as ‘The Billy.’
“It had to do with creating a social gathering place, but it also had to do with saving the building from demolition,” said former Maple Ridge councillor Craig Speirs.
There were only two surviving heritage buildings on River Road from the pioneers days, Speirs added.
|Bernice Gehring was always involved in the community. Contributed|
“I think they did the community a huge favour. It’s a magnet now,” said Speirs. “I was there the first day it opened and the 20th anniversary.”
The couple ran the pub until 2002. The pub is now part of the Springs Group and is protected under the Heritage Act.
Speirs described Bernice as empathetic, loving and generous, “just a real community builder.”
He considered her a true publican, “somebody who knew how to run a bar. Just very generous with her time and resources.”
Bernice’s son Ron recalls similar memories of his mother.
“Mom was raised with hosting habits. She was a very hospitable person when we were growing up,” he said.
He added that getting the pub open was a total family effort, noting his parents stayed in the suite upstairs, and requiring the sale of the McIver family home on River Road, near 207th Street.
Once, Ron heard his dad second-guessing his own work on resurrecting the building. But Ron told him, “Wow, you don’t know what you accomplished there. That was something.”
It takes desire, money and time to restore a building and bring it back to use and that was an accomplishment for the middle-class family, Ron said.
“Not too many people do things like that in their lives. It’s easier to push the damn thing down.”
Former Maple Ridge mayor Ernie Daykin, was to say in her eulogy that Bernice was a “hard worker … and a great humanitarian.”
Former Maple Ridge councillor Linda King said she was a “magnificent friend” who “contributed so much to the community.”
After training to become a practical nurse, Bernice became vice-president of the B.C. Licensed Practical Nurses Association, then was recruited to become a representative with the Hospital Employees Union.
She also served on Maple Ridge city council in 1982-83 and unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1996.
A regular routine during the summer was swimming the Fraser River, which she did every year until age 60.
“She was in so many volunteer organizations, it was insane,” said Ron.
That was recognized in 2012, when she was awarded Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her volunteer time and her efforts preserving the Billy Miner building.
Ron added that the family valued the help of staff at Baillie House, where she spent her last three years, following a stroke.
A memorial service takes place Friday, Dec. 6, 1 p.m., at Burnett Fellowship Church, 20639 – 123rd Ave.