Community support helps Bowmanville bar owner overcome alt-right hate over Trudeau visit

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Published February 12, 2024 at 12:23 am

Chris Aucoin (right), espousing the merits of IPAs vs Kettle Sours to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Durham Riding Liberal candidate Robert Rock

Hatred by the bucketful. A mega-tonne of love and support. It’s not hard to figure out which emotion Chris Aucoin is focusing on.

The owner of a downtown Bowmanville brewer’s supply store and craft beer bar, Aucoin has experienced a whirlwind of emotions since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to Brewer’s Pantry for a visit Thursday night in support of local Liberal candidate Robert Rock.

It’s not every day the sitting Prime Minister stops by your small business for starters, but those positive vibes didn’t last long for Aucoin. Within hours his business was inundated with an “incredible amount” of hatred on social media – so much that he had to quickly shut down comments – as well as “countless offensive emails,” spammed Facebook posts, negative google reviews and phone calls at all hours from people who have never visited the establishment.

“A lot of it was f*** Trudeau, f*** you, and that hurt,” said Aucoin. “I am not political. I am not a politician. I do not have thick skin.”

“These are comments about my business that I am passionate about, and very proud of. To those of you that judge us by who we have in our business, I suggest maybe visiting us before you wish us bankruptcy, protests, violence, and outright hatred.”

But the support that followed from the craft beer community and his neighbours in Bowmanville has been overwhelming, he said, adding that he has received community support from most of the local businesses in the area, as well as politicians from all three political parties.

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“I’m getting a lot of messages and that’s great. But what’s even better is my customers have been lining up since then to show their support by buying beer and just showing up.”

“We had a record day Saturday – we couldn’t breathe in here – and (Sunday) has been just as good. Overwhelming, in fact,” Aucoin said, the tension seeming to lift from his body with each word. “Everyone wants to talk about (what happened) and there has been lots of hugs; lots of love.”

The message Aucoin put on his socials about the event Friday was simple enough:

“Last night we had the honour of hosting the prime minister of Canada at the Brewer’s Pantry. He came to Bowmanville to support the Robert Rock campaign. Our venue was asked to host as we are welcoming to all and supportive of our community. Our support of small-batch Ontario beer and craft beverages was highlighted many times leading up to and during the event. Our pride was overflowing and we posted a picture last night to share with our Pantry family.”

The vitriol from the far right that followed was full of ‘he had it coming’ for hosting Trudeau, such as “they deserve what comes next – an empty till (Lucia),” as well as hyperbole, “world most hated man was in Bowmanville” (Tracy) and even calls for the assassination of the Prime Minister of Canada (from Jae) on the Bowmanville Community (Uncensored) page: “How noone (sic) has given him the JFK treatment yet is beyond me. They would be a Canadian hero.”

That post drew 56 likes.

The support, however, came in like a tropical storm; the gentle kind, that blows away the hot air and left Aucoin feeling better about life and his business. The positive messages came from all corners, including those who actively support social causes, such as Reverand Michael Coren:

“Please visit, buy things, support them. Right-wingers claim to support private enterprise but try to destroy someone simply for being hospitable and trying to make a living. Obscene but typical of these hysterical and hateful people.”

It came from politicians as well, like Whitby Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull:

“We will not stand for this! These business owners are good hardworking people who are passionate about craft beer. This is the kind of damage the Poilievre hate-fest is creating in our society. Please show your love and support for Brewer’s Pantry.”

… and from Rock himself, who will be carrying the Liberal colours in the upcoming Durham Riding by-election (to replace former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole), scheduled for March 4.

“Keep showing Chris and Brewer’s Pantry the love!”

They also came in from regular customers and other craft beer lovers:

  • “Go show your love and your support to Brewers Pantry in Bowmanville! No business should be bullied no matter what your political affiliation is.” – Bev
  • “Much as I dislike driving Highway 401, I will make a special stop at Brewers Pantry in Bowmanville to load up my trunk. I don’t even drink beer, but lots of my family and friends do.” – Mark
  • “Are you in Durham Region? Plan a visit to the Brewer’s Pantry in Bowmanville and show them some local love after they were undeservedly attacked online and by phone. Shameful this happens to a small business.” – Hilary

And this from Adam, who posed a picture of a beer while at Brewer’s Pantry on Friday to show his support. “When your people take a hit, you show up.”

The fuss was all so unnecessary, Aucoin noted. “I’m very non-political. I just want to talk about beer.”

So, it turned out, did Trudeau and Aucoin spent a few minutes with the Prime Minister talking about the small-batch breweries he favours when he goes on his shopping trips to stock up the Brewer’s Pantry beer fridges.

“I had a great conversation with him about our selection and why we choose to support only small-batch brew. He applauded what we do,” Aucoin said. “He was impressed.”

Beer is how the event happened in the first place, he added. Rock, who originally was going to throw his hat in for the Conservatives until switching to the Liberal camp, is a long-time craft beer fan who hosted a podcast on the subject until earning a spot on Scugog Township’s municipal council in the summer of 2021. He and Aucoin became friends through beer and it was Rock’s idea to host the event at Brewer’s Pantry.

“Rob’s a craft beer guy – that’s how all this got started,” Aucoin explained. “I’m honoured the PM visited my business. Whether I support him is another story.”

The story is slowly making the media rounds – Aucoin is on a Toronto radio station Monday morning talking about the Thursday event and everything that happened since – but he would much rather be talking about beer and the inclusive environment he has tried to bring to Brewer’s Pantry.

“We welcome everyone at the pantry and if you’ve actually visited us, you would feel our love, friendship and pure pleasure that you chose to spend your time with us. We love everyone that comes through our door and wishes us well.”

“I run this business like a family and people who come here leave this place as friends.”

Brewer’s Pantry supplies yeast and hops and other ingredients for home brewers but has found its niche since Aucoin, who bought the place in 2018, moved it a few hundred metres east on King Street into the heart of downtown in 2022 and started selling craft beer that he sources from all across Ontario.

The negative blowback from hosting Trudeau has been stressful for him, but the community support has helped soften the pain and may even result in an improved bottom line.

“It’s opening up the doors to a lot of new customers who didn’t know what we were doing here.”

Chris Aucoin can drink to that.

 

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