It was a bleak scene as the Friends of Mt. Revelstoke & Glacier met for likely the last time at the Powder Springs on Tuesday night.
Seven members sat and listened as what remained of the board – president Travis Hunt, treasurer Marie-Helene Ostiguy, and director David Rooney – delivered an update on the Friends’ situation.
“The Friends is basically insolvent and its essentially dissolved,” said Hunt. “There’s no money, there isn’t quorum of the board. It’s basically non-functioning, non-operational.”
In December, the shocking news broke that the Friends was $215,000 in debt and the board recommended to its members that the organization dissolve. Three months later, they let the members know the debt was in fact even higher – about $250,000 – and most of that would never be paid back. In fact, the remaining directors weren’t even sure they could pay off the $35,000 owing to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) from unpaid payroll taxes, let alone the $20,000 owing to the Revelstoke Credit Union, and the thousands more owed to dozens of other creditors.
“There’s certain entities that need to be paid as priority over others. Unfortunately that’s the case. The number one debt priority is Revenue Canada,” Hunt said. “Unfortunately whatever’s left will probably go to that debt and it may not cover all of it and so the credit union won’t be paid and it’s unlikely that any local businesses, contractors and other creditors will be paid. That’s a difficult situation for them and that’s the reality right now.”
Since the meeting in December, what’s left of the Friends has been busy gathering and selling off its inventory. The store at the Rogers Pass Centre was emptied out, the office in downtown Revelstoke was vacated and everything has been consolidated in a storage space at Okanagan College. They have been selling off inventory to local businesses and a big sale is being planned for some time in April, like the weekend of the 27-28. So far about $20,000 has been paid to the CRA, however the Friends’ bank account has been frozen and any more money raised by selling inventory will go directly to the CRA until it is paid off.
Some suggestions were made such as running the store in Rogers Pass for the summer earn money to pay off the debt, or trading back merchandise in exchange for retiring part of the debt. Both were deemed unfeasible – the organization can’t pay employees to run the store and the CRA has to be paid off before anyone else can collect on their debts.
Why go through all this effort to pay down the debt when only the government will benefit? someone asked.
“Because I have to pay that out of my own pocket otherwise,” replied Hunt. The directors do have insurance, but they’re not sure they’ll be covered, he said. “It’s easy to sit here and not have the stress of that hanging over your head. I’m telling you that’s a big stress. It’s not just that. If we had inventory we could sell and pay all the debts off and pay people in town – which is what we want to do – but it’s just not the reality.”
After the meeting, several long-time members called the situation “disappointing.”
“It’s disillusioning,” said former president Glen O’Reilly. “You look at these organizations and demographics change, recreational habits change. These organizations tend to have a lifespan. This could have kept on going in another form if it didn’t have this hurdle that it ran into.”
He joined the organization before moving to Revelstoke and used to take part in the hikes the Friends would put on when he visited the area as a tourist.
“We were an active outdoors club,” said Bill Shuttleworth, who joined the Friends’ board in its second year of operation back in the late-1980s, and later served as presidents.
He and Jeff Nicholson, who also served as president of the Friends, spoke of the outdoor activities that were organized, such as canoe trip down the Goldstream River. They talked of the growth of the Friends’ store at Rogers Pass, from a desk to an alcove to dedicated space; and of the books the Friends published. Shuttleworth said they used to sell lots of books via mail order.
“Watching it grow. That was really great,” said Shuttleworth. “It’s very sad. It’s very disappointing. What can you do? It’s a great disappointment to me. I’ve been involved with it for 25 years almost.”