Not so long ago ago it was rumored that the United Church of Fernie would be on the market for sale. Built in 1909, the Knox United Church board voted unanimously to sell the building, due to dwindling resources and a shrinking congregation.
With a love of history and historical buildings, Gordon Sombrowski gave much thought to what the future potential for this beautiful historic structure could be.
Gordon and partner, Kevin Allen, pulled together a small group to discuss future possibilities. They formed a nonprofit society and after several meetings it was determined that there was a need for a performing arts center in Fernie.
Members of “The Fernie Heritage Trust Society” are Courtney Baker, Jill Langmaid-Palamarek, Mary Giuliano, Patti Vadnais, Kevin Allen and Gordon Sombrowski.
This group of individuals have been meeting for several months and after much thought and work they can now announce that the Knox United Church of Canada building in Fernie has been purchased from the Fernie Congregation so as to safeguard the heritage of the building and make sure that it continues to be a public space for the community.
Possession will transfer to the Fernie Heritage Trust Society on December 1, 2022, pursuant to an agreement for sale between the Society and the Knox United Church Congregation. The following press release has been released by The Fernie Heritage Trust Society.
“The Knox United Church was built in 1909 and served as the home of the Presbyterian and then the United Church. The congregation recognized that it needed to find a long-term stewardship solution for the building in 2019 and announced that it was for sale. Working with the Fernie Heritage Trust Society an arrangement was structured that allows the congregation to continue to use the building for the purposes of the congregation and allows the Fernie Heritage Trust Society to make the building available to the community for public performances, concerts, meetings, and events. The building is widely known for its wonderful acoustics, and it is a ready-made concert hall.
The purchase of the building by Fernie Heritage Trust was made possible by the generous underwriting of the financing by the Sombrowski Family which ensured a long-term interest free loan was possible. The Fernie Heritage Trust will be undertaking a capital campaign in order to raise funds for the retirement of the debt, as well as to make needed restorations and renovations, purchase professional performance space equipment, and create a capital fund to allow for independent programming.
Gordon Sombrowski, President of the Fernie Heritage Trust Society said, “It’s a great day for Fernie. We are saving an important heritage building and ensuring it will be a public cultural space for the community. Our vision is to make the building available to the community as a performance art space and a community hub. The Fernie Heritage Trust Society has been working with some wonderful key individuals at Knox who understood how important the building was for the community. Their foresight and hard work helped to make this happen.”
Ev Cutts, representative of the Knox United Church Congregation said, many generations of Fernie and South Country families have used the Knox Building for worship, weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Knox has been an anchor on 2nd Avenue since 1909 and although the current members of Knox are sad to not own the building going forward, we are pleased to be able to leave such a great legacy to the Citizens of the Elk Valley – we look forward to watching the space grow as a performing arts space. It has been a pleasure to work with the FHTS.
There will be a Community Open House and Consultation on December 6, 2022, at 5 p.m. at Knox United Church at 201 2nd Avenue at which the Fernie Heritage Trust Society will engage the community as it further develops the vision for the building.
The Fernie Heritage Trust Society is a not-for-profit society dedicated to preserving the built and landscape heritage of Fernie for future generations by encouraging repurposing and restoration that honors the community and its needs.
The Knox United Church Congregation is a congregation of the United Church of Canada located in Fernie British Columbia.”
The Fernie Heritage Trust Society members are looking forward to greeting the public and answering questions as well as providing tours of the church at the Open House.
The Open House will be held on December 6, 2022 from 5:00 pm to 8:00pm. All are invited to attend and light refreshments will be served.
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.