The Fernie Museum has been a staple in Fernie for decades. Originally it had a home in the old Nunnery building behind the Roman Catholic Church, then moved to the building next to the Free Press and in the past decade, relocated to the building it presently inhabits on Second Avenue.
The current structure was originally the Home Bank, then the offices of East Kootenay Power Company and lastly BC Hydro office. When BC Hydro vacated the building, the City of Fernie purchased it with the express objective for it to become the permanent location for the museum. Volunteers worked tirelessly to renovate the building and turn it into an amazing space. Grants and donations of money, labour and material made it possible to have what is there today. The City provided a 25 year contract at a $1.00 per year paid in whole in advance by the chief administrative officer of the time (A. Chabot). Volunteers tore down old inside walls and floors, built an elevator shaft where the steel safes on the first and second floor were situated and when finally after months of work in dust and dirt were over and renovations completed thought was put into hosting a permanent exhibit on the main floor with the second floor available for other exhibits and events.
With the retirement of long-time curator Mike Pennock, a new director was brought in that had much experience and connections within the museum world. With those connections, Ron Ulrich brought changes that brought Museum events and exhibits to a new level, one that was equal to museums in much bigger centers than Fernie. For example, the Japanese exhibit brought visitors from out of town at the opening that wore beautiful kimonos in honor of the exhibit and the Chautauqua events were spectacular and enjoyed by residents and visitors. The cost of these beautiful and memorable events was much more than the Historical Society was able to carry and so right now the Museum is at a crossroad as to the direction it is going.
The City has given 125 day’s notice in regards to the contract which means if the Historical Society doesn’t come up with a good plan to move ahead the City could terminate the grant contract. That would make it extremely difficult to function without an operating budget as grants are available but never secure. Volunteers have come forward to form a Restart Committee and after holding a Zoom meeting last week discussion took place on what actions are necessary in the short term to reduce liability debt and continue the Museum to offer events and exhibits as well as staying open daily.
There is no doubt that there is huge community support for the Fernie Museum and the history of our town and area that it represents so well. This support has already been shown by several vendors that have donated the amount owing to them back to the Museum as well as the interest shown by the people that have joined the Restart Committee. Gratitude and deep thanks to those vendors for their generosity and thanks also to Kevin Allen for stepping forward to lead this committee, if interested in becoming involved in some way please contact him at email@example.com.
Participants at the meeting agreed it was imperative to have this Restart committee as well as having fresh leadership by a new board. Once a new board is in place work can begin to organize fundraising, holding a membership drive and renewing the important relationship with the City so that the operating grant can continue. The committee wants the community to know all volunteers are welcome, if interested in running for a board position you must be a member of the Society, membership is $20 for an individual, and $30 to $50 for a family. If interested in attending the AGM on August 27, at 7:30pm please contact firstname.lastname@example.org before noon on that day. If unable to attend by Zoom there is a limited number that can be accommodated in person at the Fernie Archives Center above the Scotia Bank, but you must let Rebecca know if you can attend and how. Please know getting a membership will serve to show community support for the Museum.
At last week’s initial meeting those attending expressed a united opinion that the Museum is a vital part of Fernie and it is important to see it back on its feet. It was also expressed that the, “museum needs to understand their past and the connection to the Ktunaxa while maintaining a strong presence as part of our resort community identity”.
There is no doubt this group with its collective knowledge of fundraising, law, medicine, business, local politics and volunteering for a variety of organizations will be successful with the help of others to provide the boost so that the Museum will have a bright future ahead. Please consider going for a seat on the board, volunteering in the Restart Committee, helping to fundraise or just buying a membership. Whatever you choose your input is welcome and will be appreciated greatly.