May 10 could not have gone better for Dennis Morgan.
His proposal to breathe life into the building formerly known as St. Aidan’s on the Hill Church by resurrecting it as a microbrewery went up for review at a public hearing and passed with flying colours.
The hearing was well attended but everybody was there to share the same sentiment: ‘Let him brew.’
Not a single person spoke against the project and the complete absence of scrutiny nixed any excuses for council to stall the historic building’s development any further.
The locals who spoke at the hearing all raised solid points of support as they heralded the potential brewery as a source of community connection, a unique and effective lure for tourists and a daytime musical venue for artists weary of playing to late night bar crowds.
The tourism value is obvious. Microbreweries are key tourist attractants throughout Vancouver Island and having one in town would enhance our visitors’ experiences and put us on the radars of travelers who might not have found us yet. It would also help convince Tofino’s tourists to come check out Ukee as well.
Apart from the tourism aspect, a microbrewery would bring a relaxed environment for cool people to meet, share stories and evolve together. It’s the kind of place we need more of.
It’s a no-risk, high reward project and the community was right to support it so strongly. It would be an outstanding community asset and we just happen to have a stunning vacant building to house it in.
There have, of course, been scattered criticisms thrown around online.
Predictable concerns raised over the building’s lack of parking, as well as the impacts loading trucks could have on the tight corner that’s already awkward for motorists, are as on point as they are fruitless. Those problems will absolutely exist, but they would exist no matter what went into the building and I can’t imagine anyone wants to see it torn down to avoid them.
As David McPherson pointed out at the hearing, a brewery might be the best thing for the space because people don’t tend to drive to where they plan to drink. BC’s liquor laws are strict and cops aren’t shy about pulling us over.
Some have cautioned the new venue would bring new noise. I don’t agree with the popular counterpoint that a brewery is a quiet reflective place that would never get rowdy—it’s my view that relaxing is fun and fun can get loud if it’s done right—but I also don’t agree that it would bring any more rowdiness to that area than already exists. My favourite bar is a stone’s throw away.
One theme of comments I hadn’t expected was the idea that a former church was an inappropriate place for a brewery. I am both a beer drinker and a churchgoer and I had never considered these two traits at odds. Reverend Will Ferrey and longtime St. Aidan’s parishioner Pam McIntosh both wholeheartedly endorsed the project when I spoke to them about the former church.
“I think it’s great. Get some life and liveliness into the place,” McIntosh said. “It’s heartbreaking to see the state it’s in right now. I’d be happy to see anything in there just to get that building refreshed and painted and looking like there’s some life there.”
Rev. Ferrey had planned to express his support at the hearing but was lured away by Tofino’s town hall meeting on short-term vacation rentals that same day and time.
Please, elected officials, talk to each other and try not to overlap events like these. We all care about our communities and we can’t split ourselves in half to be in two towns at once.
“The reason I wanted to go is because I wanted to have an opportunity to speak in support of the brewery and to say that, as a member of the church, I think it’s a really interesting use for the building,” Ferrey said.
“It would help revitalize that part of Ukee and be a really fun and interesting cornerstone of Main Street…and will hopefully be a community builder for Ucluelet, which we always hoped the church would be.”
St. Aidan’s church congregation now holds court at the UCC every Sunday at 4 p.m. and, like the brewery, it’s worthy of our support. I promise it’s nothing like the church you dreaded going to as a kid. It’s a relaxed environment for cool people to meet, share stories and evolve together. It’s the kind of place we need more of.
Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News. You can find his weekly column ‘Behest of the West’ on page 4 of our print edition every Wednesday.