Several years ago a group of Fernieites with ties to mining came together to form a committee dedicated to building a monument to honor miners.
After commissioning an artist’s rendition of a miner’s statue and researching the price the group decided the cost wasn’t feasible for them to fundraise.
This is about the time I got involved with this committee. The group had been meeting for about three years and were now feeling discouraged. Some of the members had left thinking meetings were no longer productive as nothing concrete had happened to make their dream a reality.
I brought a couple of new people on board, locals Tammy Monsell and Peter Molander and after several discussions it was determined that perhaps a commemorative wall along the left side of the City Hall building would be a better tribute than a statue.
Bruce Abugov, an architect from Calgary drew up wonderful illustrations depicting a structure with open walls and a sunken area with seating and openings looking like mine entrances. It was thought black rock and a water feature could add interest.
These plans were put on hold when the City decided to hire an architectural firm to develop landscape plans for the grounds of City Hall, the chamber site and the cemetery. During the past two and half years waiting for the City plan to be done and implemented the committee kept meeting and it was decided that perhaps our present plan was also way too costly for us to fundraise for. The economy had taken a downward turn and money was tight. We didn’t think a project of this size would get the support it needed.
Then early this year John Kinnear and Jocelyn Thomas presented a concept to the committee and to City staff that seemed very achievable.
We jumped on the idea and have since hired a designer from Calgary who is very experienced in this field and who comes very highly recommended by Heinz Reese of Fernie. Lorne Perry has worked all over the world and is very interested in this project understanding the reasons and emotion behind it.
He understands that despite Fernie now having resort designation meaning tourism has become very important to our town, the underlying truth is that without mining Fernie and other communities in the Elk Valley wouldn’t exist.
Mining is still what drives the economy here. Mining is what kept people here even when miners were working only a few hours a week in the fifties. Coal Creek townsite disappeared when the mine closed down in the fifties. The Michell mine kept this area going until Kaiser arrived in the sixties and resurrected the whole industry bringing open pit mining. For most of us living in this area for half a century or more mining is what kept a roof over our heads and food on the table.
So now the committee consisting of Helen Bachlet, Mary Loughery, George Cockburn, Bob Morris, Mike Pennock and myself with Lorne at the helm as project manager and creative director, John Kinnear and Mike working on historical content and Jocelyn providing historical sketches is in full gear making plans for what we hope will materialize next year.
Lorne will develop sketches for what will best showcase this important history, the concept plan was further improved with questions like what is the lifespan of the exhibit, who will be the typical visitor, who would come to see it, what would they do, what would they take away with them after having seen this exhibit, would there be an educational component to this, will the people of Fernie and the Elk Valley be interested in this, do you want this?
Members think that having such an exhibit will validate the lives of past miners as well as validate the full importance of the industry. That’s why the questions why, what and where need to be asked as we move forward.
One idea presented by Lorne is to have outlines of miner’s hats made up of metal where a person name could be written on, this would be a good way to fundraise as families or industry could purchase them to commemorate those involved in mining.
When plans are finalized they will first be presented to City Council for approval and then brought to the public for comment. In the meantime fundraising is in full gear. We need to raise about 140 to 160 thousand dollars. Really not a large amount for what it will do. This will become a tourist attraction that will entice people to come and see what it is, have their photo taken with it, learn about the history of coal, of Fernie and area and then be directed to the Museum for further information.
I hope the public will be as excited at what is proposed as the committee is. I hope it will be understood that once this project comes to fruition it will bring not only something wonderful to City hall grounds that will enhance the already most important artifact we have, the City Hall itself, the original home of the Crowsnest Coal Company but that this will show what out town is. Fernie and Area is steeped in mining history that is the main support but tourism is also important, this project will bring a balance of the two.