According to Fernie Museum records the Catholic Church in Fernie began in 1896 with arrival of 200 miners to Coal Creek.

Father J. Welch, the priest from the Oblate Mission of St Eugene, was given the assignment of ministering and also given responsibility for construction of a church building.

Father Welch found kindness and generosity from contractors and workers when church construction began and by 1897 many Cape Breton families had arrived and volunteered a day’s pay each month towards construction. Father Welch dedicated the church the Holy Family in their honour. The fire of 1908 destroyed this building along with most of the townsite of Fernie.

In 1911 a long coal mine strike was the catalyst for beginning construction of present day church in a traditional cruciform pattern measuring 112 feet by 50 feet with bell tower soaring to 100 feet with building completed by 1912.

In 2005 it was determined that the church was in dire need of cleaning and painting. Local attorney George Majic offered to lead the fundraising effort. Sadly George passed away soon after but his wife Anne and family directed donations in his name to the fundraiser. With donations pouring in enough money was raised to invigorate the building by cleaning walls, statues, altars, glass windows, and murals. The interior was painted and new lighting fixtures installed with work completed in May of 2006. During this time Mass was celebrated in the Parish Hall.

Old window covering.

In 2010 fundraising again took place when it was determined the roof needed replacement, today the Restoration Committee responsible for previous fundraising work is back to make another improvement to the majestic historical Church. This time it is to replace the dark protective covers that shield the 27 exterior stained glass windows made by the Luxfer Prism Company of Toronto in 1912 . The windows were re-leaded and reglazed in 1963 and for those that aren’t familiar with them a few examples of the magnificent panels include scenes depicting the Last Supper, the Holy Family, the Polish Black Madonna, and a Guardian Angel guiding a child across a bridge. The original cost of each window was sponsored by parish families, organizations and individuals in memory or recognition of loved ones or groups. In keeping with the tradition of donation and sponsorship the Restoration Committee has decided that it would be reasonable to present to the community and to anyone living away associated with the town or the Church the opportunity to be involved in making this latest fundraiser successful.

New window covering

The new laminated glass protective cover that will replace current covers is what’s used on the world’s valuable heritage buildings. A test window to provide idea of final product is pictured below or can be viewed by driving down Fifth Street, it’s the first window on the south side of the church.

The Committee says that these covers are expensive but will prove to be a great improvement on the church windows so they encourage families, individuals, businesses, contractors and organizations to come together and sponsor as was done in the past for the original windows.

Donations are tax deductible and the name of the donor/donors will be placed on a plaque that will be publically visible.

The Roman Catholic Church is a landmark historical building in Fernie. It was built by love filled contributions from early town settlers and continues to be maintained by the hard work of parishioners and by the generosity of others in the community and elsewhere who value the beauty and history of this town. The Roman Catholic Church is a majestic and unique historical building in Fernie and in summer months is open for guided tours, it’s also a member of the Fernie Historical Walk and Columbia Basin Heritage tours.

For information contact John Pallone at 250-430-1012 or Anne Majic at 250-423-1344.

By Mary Giuliano

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