Park Place Lodge

Some years ago the oil derrick structure and the land it sat on at the Fernie Chamber site had become so unsightly that a plan was put in place to remove it.

As the derrick belonged to the City of Fernie Chamber members presented at a council meeting to state that someone from Alberta had been found that wanted to take the structure.

Valuing history I didn’t support this move and with the help of Councilor Patrick Burke, who took out a petition to gage resident’s support, and with local residents Alex Millar, Fred Lightfoot and others, a society was formed to save the oil derrick. The society is still active today with Alex Millar and I still fundraising so that regular maintenance is done. Most recently Alex oversaw a variety of work tasks such as placement of wide rubber belting under and around the structure to prevent weeds from growing completed by Chuck Shoesmith Construction, strong metal racks were built by Summit Ironworks to hold original metal artifacts from the Akamina derrick that once stood in the Flathead area and lighting was changed by Cooks Electric. Thanks and deep appreciation goes to Alex as without him this important work wouldn’t have been accomplished and so the society owes him a debt of gratitude for his continuing volunteer effort towards this representation of important history. This oil derrick structure is the only one standing in British Columbia and I believe has become an icon for our area. Thanks go to all the original members of the society that joined me and Alex towards the saving of this icon. Below is history on how this item came to belong to our town.

Alex Miller

June 1986, there’s excitement about rescuing a Flathead oil rig for display at the weigh scales site in Fernie.

The project is gathering momentum with help from David Yager and BC Heritage trust, Shell Oil, and architect and project co-coordinator Eileen Fletcher.

Ms. Fletcher comments, “The rig will create a landmark for Fernie, an anchor for identifying the city. It is a good step in the right direction toward making Fernie a goal for tourists.”

Ms. Fletcher is working with the many interested parties, Shell Oil, The Heritage Trust, BC Lotteries fund, the City of Fernie, MLA Terry Segarty and Fernie City Council. Original builder of the structure was Garnet Edwards from Northern Alberta who built many derricks in the 1920’s and 30’, and who was also a consultant in this field.

April 2007, excitement abounds again regarding the same rig; this time tempers are high over removal and replacement with, “a more appropriate Fernie related centre piece”.

This display hasn’t been formulated yet but Chamber president Evelyn Cutts said, “the goal is to develop a new display in its place which will attract visitors by compelling them to stop at the Visitor Centre.”

What’s happened in two decades to bring about such opposing scenarios? Precisely nothing, that’s the problem. When Akamina #2 was reconstructed with help from private, federal, provincial and local government, it was assumed ownership would provide upkeep.

This hasn’t happened, so at this time there’s a site with strong historical roots that sits in disarray.

Free Press issues July 18 – 22, 1986 state “a study by W.W. Boberg of Casper, Wyoming says that oil seeps in the Flathead region had long been used by the local Indians for medical purposes. The seepage was rich in paraffin and served the same purpose as modern Vaseline, not only for themselves but for saddle galls on their horses. Trappers, travelers and farmers also used the oil seeps for medicinal and lubricating needs.”

According to Canadian Hunter Exploration Ltd. Calgary, Alberta, seeps on the BC/Alberta border were reported in 1874. Gunny sacks would be dipped into seeps, squeezed into containers and used as lamp fuel.

Over the years the eight foot wire fence that kept people from accessing the oil derrick structure had bent and become unsightly. Weeds as high as the fence in places were abundant giving the entire area a derelict look, it’s no wonder that people wanted it gone. It truly was awful to look at.

But undeterred I researched ways to find funding to make changes, it was helpful that on getting to know a government employee I was pointed to making application and with his help $25,000 started us off. More funding happened and with assistance from some community members Alex got together the heavy equipment required to pull out the heavy fencing, local engineer John Turcasso examined the structure to determine safety, overgrown bushes and trees were removed, the base of the derrick was rebuilt and components painted. Once finished the place looked amazing, signs were hung providing some info on the derrick and picnic tables repositioned. Since then each year maintenance has been accomplished with some new work added leading to where it is today.

In past months work has been ongoing on changes required by the Societies Act including the transition for filing for the Act. Last fall the site and structure was looked at and determined that everything is in good shape.

Upgrades discussed by Society members were accomplished concentrating on low maintenance for the display. Not only was rubber belting placed under the structure to prevent weeds for growing, but Shoesmith Construction poured more concrete pads to host the new racks holding metal artifacts, LED lighting was installed and the railings fixed.

Thanks to the Chamber of Commerce for offering to replace the flag on the very top of the derrick, this has saved Alex from finding someone to do so as he has made sure each year the flag was replaced due to the elements basically shredding it.

This spring new signage will be put up as well; this work is thanks to the CBT grants awarded, thank you Alex for applying.

This project is a labour of love and I want to thank all of the society members but especially Alex Millar who has been doing this work quietly and without fanfare or recognition for years. It’s truly people like Alex that are unsung heroes who just keep contributing to community without wanting any recognition. Thank you Alex, you are truly great.

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