Bob Sumka’s latest book titled “24 Dalton Avenue, A Fernie Legacy” reads like a walk down the proverbial memory lane for those raised in Fernie from 1951 to 2000. You will find mention of real names and events that happened sparking your own remembrances of that period. And even if you don’t have a personal history, reading about Fernie during that period is an interesting bit of information.
Interesting news back then included the telephone office doing a switchover from a manual board of Fernie operators saying number please to connecting you to a multi user line and a new automatic office. He also mentions the start of construction on a new library building and Crowsnest securing a ten year coal contract with Japan.
Bob was born in Fernie in 1954 to Mike Sumka and Parma Bossio. He had two siblings, sisters Diane and Marilyn. His mother came from a family of twelve children and for many of those years the Bossio brothers were businessmen well known in the area.
Bob was a bookkeeper for many years and then a mechanic at the mines until it closed in 1993. When he was 19 he became engaged to a lovely woman from the South Country and the couple had intention to marry. Those plans came to an abrupt halt when his dad passed suddenly from an aneurism at age 59. This loss devastated Bob and with his mother prone to falls he put his own plans aside feeling the responsibility to remain at home to care for her. It was a difficult time for him with the mine shut down and too much time on his hands. That’s when he decided to write.
Bob’s first book was a novel murder mystery story titled “Elsie” took him ten years to complete. During that time his mother passed away at age 95 and his sister Diane moved home to live with him following being widowed. Diane was unwell for several years and Bob took very good care of her until she had to be placed in a senior facility. With her death a couple of years ago, Bob decided that he would finish the second book of historical fiction that he had been working on for five years.
Asked why he wrote it, he replied that “you never know the journey of your life, Life changes from day to day.” He created the story to write about Fernie by adding a fictional family to actual news from the local paper.
He determined that the years from 1951 to 2000 would be interesting. To research each week for a full year he would go to the Free Press where publisher Jennifer Cronin would make available access to papers. He read the papers for 52 weeks and that is the number of chapters in this book.
He wanted to show what it was like for a young couple to raise a family in those years and chose a fictional family of two parents with two daughters and two sons. He describes their lives and has them interacting with one another and others while discuss actual events that Bob has taken from paper headlines and articles.
He tells story of how they got to 24 Dalton Avenue which is now known as Sixth Avenue and how the father loses his job as junior payroll clerk at the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company only to get back as assistant to the personnel manager. He wrote about the 1958 Coal Creek Mine shutdown and the fire that burned the arena in 1959. He also describes how this family goes through hardships and what happens to family ties as the children grow.
Bob said he wanted to make the story as real as possible, he said he loves to write and “enjoys it, it’s not a chore”.
Bob’s personal life has had ups and downs as well as his fictious characters. He was hospitalized for weeks, five of those in the Vancouver General hospital. It was discovered he suffered from type one diabetes and a stomach, gall bladder and pancreas infection that took a long time to heal.
Writing the book took five years to complete, “from picking up the pen to seeing it on the shelf at Polar Peek bookstore”. It was published by Keith Powell of Wild Horse Creek Press from Cranbrook and is now available for sale at Polar Peek Books, at the Fernie Chamber office, and at the Fernie Museum. A copy is also available at the Fernie Heritage Library.
Bob is a quiet individual who loves Fernie and doesn’t often speak about his private life. He likes to volunteer and can be seen doing that at his church. He is someone that has a love of family, shown the way he took care of his mother and his sister, and keeps in touch with his remaining aunts that live out of town. He muses that from his mom’s family of 12 there is barely anyone left in town except maybe a cousin or two. He commented that last Christmas for the first time he found himself completely alone in his house on that day. “I treated myself to a steak, cooked a nice meal and enjoyed the quiet day”. He has had his share of bad times which he says quietly have been “like being in a dark room with no light trying to find the door, always looking for the right thing to do. I’ve been through these times in life.”
Bob is a lovely person that I have known since the early sixties when we attended the same school that everyone attended, it was the only public school. I have always found him pleasant and kind and very articulate.
His book is an addition to those written about the history of Fernie except that he has chosen to weave fiction in with the non-fiction events of places, people and events that have happened in Fernie. A clever idea to pique more interest and certainly makes a great Christmas gift to anyone that loves books and the history of Fernie.
By Mary Giuliano
Mary arrived in Fernie in May of 1953 and has lived here ever since, by choice, because she loves the Elk Valley and everything it stands for. Read more from Mary here.