A Close-knit Community

In June of 2016, world-class banjomakers and Juno award-winning musicians Pharis & Jason Romero woke up to the sound of their lives going up in flames—literally. What they discovered on that terrible morning as their studio burned to the ground, is that their most valuable skill had nothing to do with banjos: it was their gift for building community.

When the ash settled, their insurance didn’t cover the replacement cost of the building. Fortunately, their hometown took that opportunity to pour community equity back into their lives. As they started from scratch with a new building, people spontaneously showed up—with food, support, time and expertise. In less than a year, with the help of those surrounding them, they were back building banjos again.

Like the Romeros’ small-town home of Horsefly, BC, we have found ourselves drawn to Fernie for a myriad of reasons, but why have we all decided to stay? The answer to that question lies under
the surface of our community. By living shoulder to shoulder in this little town we’ve agreed that despite all of our surface differences, we share enough overlapping values to make a functional whole—we operate (more or less) as an organic entity. There is no question we have our struggles, but moving together we limp (mostly) forward with the knowledge that as a group we are stronger than we would be alone.

It’s when the tests come along that the true strength of our community is revealed. More than a century ago the two fires exposed a hardy people, committed to rebuilding—twice. More recently, three serious industrial accidents have shown that we still have that same mettle: we care, and we know how to lift each other up. When I had to move Clawhammer Press from our first location, it was a daunting task. A regular customer, Dan came by one afternoon, saw the terror in my eyes, and said, “How can I help?” He came back every afternoon for ten straight days to help me sort and pack and haul. I didn’t know Dan very well before that, but I would have been lost without his help. With a simple action, Dan earned my eternal gratitude (and nice bottle of Scotch). As a bonus, I gained a friend. These small stories and acts of personal involvement are the needles that draw the invisible thread of connection through us. When these connecting threads become dense enough they become the fabric that holds us together.

As an artist, I’m not particularly fond of following the pack or working within the system, but I love being part of a community. A healthy community is a flexible fabric that operates more like a bouncy castle than a fishing net. Its forgiving nature allows for all kinds of people to be themselves, to move laterally, and to thrive. In Fernie, I have found a supportive, encouraging group of makers, business people, and art lovers that remain a lifeline to me since the Clawhammer Family skidded to a stop here eight years ago with a trailer full of printing presses. I’m not saying you should stop paying your insurance bills—that action gives us peace of mind. The goal is to weave our community safety net tighter, patch the holes, and make sure there is no one falling through.

For Pharis and Jason, there were many dark days on their journey. Having a community did not make it easy for the Romeros to rebuild, what a community did was make it possible. Our simple actions can have concrete and deep-reaching effects on our neighbours. I hope we don’t have to test the safety net very often but we can all help push the strands through the fabric until a beautiful tapestry is revealed.