Having been raised in Fernie I always believed that West Fernie was just another part of town. My family lived in the North End of main town and my school mates that lived in West Fernie had a much longer walk to school and didn’t get to go home for a hot lunch.
When I finally understood that West Fernie was a separate community, I never imagined that after decades of attempts, I would be part of the solution in making West Fernie officially part of this City.
Earlier this month a book launch was held at the Fernie Museum for a book commissioned by Mike Sosnowski and written by award winning historian Kevin Allen. The pages hold a wonderful account of the history of West Fernie and its eventual inclusion into the City of Fernie.
“West Fernie has a unique history. For over a century, it was an independent settlement that resisted joining the City of Fernie- despite being surrounded by it. The Big Bend uncovers how the rapidly settled community of West Fernie came into being, flourished and then stagnated due to the conflict that grew between West Fernie and the City of Fernie”. Kevin Allen, award winning historian.
The book is a coffee table style with beautiful photos and incredible bits of fascinating information on West Fernie. It’s easy to read in a sitting and should be read by all residents interested in local history and even those that aren’t. You can purchase a book at the Fernie Museum or pay a visit to the Fernie Heritage Library as they have acquired two books available to the public.
The launch was well attended with many books purchased and 100% proceeds of all sales to be donated to the Historical Society for support of the Museum.
Gordon Sombrowski was emcee and after welcoming everyone recognized the Ktunaxa with a land acknowledgement. Gordon also acknowledged the tireless work of the Fernie Museum board, thanking them for all the great work accomplished this past year. He congratulated and thanked Nic Milligan who stepped down as president of the museum board as he is Fernie’s new mayor. Gordon also expressed that it was sad to lose Nic on the board.
Gordon then introduced his husband Kevin, mentioning that Kevin has been recording history for more than 30 years. He is an academic and historian with his work achieving national recognition and winning awards. He has been the senior election administrator for the City of Fernie election, Alberta, and Elections Canada.
Kevin spoke of how years ago the City of Fernie had commissioned him to do a report on West Fernie so when Mike Sosnowski approached him to finish this last phase of the story he was interested.
Kevin explained that at the time he had been searching for a project to write his thesis on so when the Fernie Chief Administrative Officer said the City of Fernie had a project regarding West Fernie, he said yes. The drama that had transpired between the two communities over the years made a good story.
It took Kevin two years to research and write and then present it to the city. The drama continued however in 2018 West Fernie finally joined the City, largely due to the political will of Mike Sosnowski. An enthusiastic Mike met with and explained to Kevin that he wanted Kevin to write a final chapter on the story of West Fernie. “This book has been my companion during the pandemic”, Kevin told the crowd, and stated that the very first house built in the 1880’s was in West Fernie.
Mike has recently retired as director of Area A after serving for 17 years. Gordon commented that Mike has been a champion of many causes including the digitization of Free Press files, supporting the renovation of the Fernie Museum and many other projects in the City and in the Regional District.
Mike extended congratulations to Nic Milligan and Thomas McDonald (new Area A director) who were both present at the launch. He commented, “If you don’t document history, someone else will write it and the factual story might never be told”. He thanked Kevin for his persistence with the story and writing his thesis on it. “Kevin’s conclusions were spot on and the biggest hurdle was getting the City of Fernie on board. It took the right Mayor to support and welcome the citizens of West Fernie into the City. He also thanked his West Fernie champions, residents Terry Bax, Lorenzo Rousselle, Steve Kijyt, Steve Whalen, and Bill Bennett (previous MLA), MP Dave Wilks, and former Mayor Mary Giuliano for working together to achieve a common goal.
Presentations of the book followed to myself (the right mayor), Lorenzo and Terry, with the comment that books would be presented to the others not in attendance. A presentation of a framed Free Press paper making headline news when West Fernie came officially into the city was made to Mike by Gordon Sombrowski.
Local history is very important, if not documented it will be lost, and connects newcomers with the community. This book is one that chronicles the history of the community and how and who were responsible for contributing to what it is today.
Congratulations to everyone for working to make the West Fernie becoming part of the City a reality, and to Mike and Kevin for the book. Working with this group of people was a pleasure and helping with the annexation was one of the best experiences of service to the people that I experienced during my tenure as Mayor.
Thank you all.
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.