The City of Maple Ridge economic development department hosted a recent meeting for business owners and organizations who wanted to sit on the tourism committee to oversee a new municipal strategy.
I was invited, as the president of the Alouette River Management Society, to represent one of the voices for outdoor opportunities.
I would have agreed to participate under any title, as I wanted to share my views on why I believe Maple Ridge’s image gets a bad rap, due to the constant focus on the homeless issue. I believe the latter is distorting views of our city, and I wanted to offer my support in changing that.
Happily, it was refreshing to hear that the other representatives in attendance also wanted to change that view, as everyone is aware of the many positive offerings Maple Ridge has for its citizens and agreed that it is time to change the narrative that says otherwise.
Everyone felt optimistic, as we all agreed Maple Ridge already has a lot to offer within our surrounding landscape, businesses, services, entertainment and existing tourism.
Therefore, taking back our city’s image of a friendly place to visit and live was deemed achievable by the group and a lot of great ideas were shared within the room.
However, a story that was shared by one of the participants stood out for me, as it highlighted the possibilities that are before Maple Ridge, which he has already embraced, by tapping into the emerging craft beer industry.
Kevin Fulton, who co-owns Silver Valley Brewing Co. with his wife, Brandi, joined the committee as a business owner in the downtown core, in hopes of supporting tourism strategies that will address the issue of all of the lost revenue from the thousands of tourists who come to the surrounding area to enjoy our amazing outdoors, but don’t actually come into Maple Ridge proper.
He also wants to increase residents’ support of Maple Ridge businesses like his, which is easily done if you head to their establishment and taste their award-winning lager: The Highway, which recently placed third in the pale German beer category at the annual B.C. Beer Awards.
Fulton shared how proud he was about producing a beer that could receive such a prestigious placement in the competition, as B.C. beers are recognized internationally.
Because Silver Valley is classified as a nano-brewery – with one barrel – it was not expected to be able to compete against the ‘big guns’ in the industry.
Yet, that is exactly what Silver Valley did, coming in behind two larger, well-known Vancouver establishments: Brassneck Brewery and Coal Harbour Brewery, which took first and second place, respectively.
Personally, I am not a beer drinker and I wouldn’t drive to Vancouver to sit in a craft brewery. But wanting to hear more of the Fultons’ story of winning the award, coupled with my goal of wanting to be part of changing the narrative about Maple Ridge to one of positivity, I felt compelled to drop by their establishment and hear more.
Silver Valley Brewery Co is at No. 104 – 11952, 224th Street, and when I dropped by on Saturday, around midday, the place was packed.
I noticed right away people or various ages enjoying the beer and snacks offered. The location is not large, but with good use of the space, it provides a nice atmosphere, as it looks right onto the street so you still feel connected with the outside activity.
Keven and Brandi Fulton grew up in both Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows and continue to feel a strong connection to the two communities. Neither of them foresaw being a small business owner in Maple Ridge. And considering that Brandi Fulton barely drinks, they certainly did not envision the both of them working in the beer industry.
Kevin Fulton is a graphic designer by trade and she worked with troubled youth. His trade introduced him to the beer industry, as he was a tap-handle designer for a local company that supplies pubs all over the world.
Yet it was her ability to make a good business plan and understand what customers are looking for that finally set them on their course of becoming commercial craft brewers and small business owners.
Silver Valley Brewing Co. was the only name that made sense for their business, as they started brewing beer
Kevin Fulton started brewing beer with his buddy in the latter’s Silver Valley carport, hence the brewery’s name.
I purchased a 32 oz growler – fancy word for jug – and took it home to my husband, who considers himself to be a connoisseur of pale ales. I wasn’t able to get the award-winning brew, as it was sold out. But I bought a pale ale called The Lion, which got the thumbs up from my husband, which rarely happens when I select his beer.
Silver Valley Brewing Co.’s story isn’t unique as the tourism committee members recognize Maple Ridge is full of businesses owned by people just like Kevin and Brandi Fulton, and we need to celebrate and support all of them.
And while no one on the committee is saying Maple Ridge doesn’t have its share of issues, in order to get past them, we need to encourage our residents and tourists to use our city’s businesses and services, as doing so will increase the positive activities and help people see the truth of what we have to offer.
And now that we know we have an award-winning beer in our midst and can further encourage tourists to try, we might want to ask Kevin and Brandi Fulton to remember to hide a few batches in the back for the locals, as I’m sure Maple Ridge residents won’t want the tourists drinking all of the beer.
After all, we’re friendly, but we’re not that friendly.
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen
of the year, and currently
president of ARMS.