It Takes All Kinds

“You must ski a lot, eh?” More a statement than a question—it’s often the first thing people say to me when they find out I live in Fernie. Their assumption is that everyone who lives here is ski crazy. Honestly, it’s a forgivable assessment, but I have to qualify it: Almost everyone.

I grew up in Lethbridge, but I made my first snowplow turns at Snow Valley in 1979 and kept coming back for the powder until I graduated and moved to Vancouver in ‘93. Lift lines were often twenty minutes, and the chair ride seemed to be about the same as you froze your backside to the Griz Chair. It was awesome. Always Old Side for me.

In 1987 I immersed myself in mountain biking. All my summer job money went towards a new Rocky Mountain bike. $1000 on a bicycle? My friends thought I was nuts. By the time I was in my senior year at high school I was racing the Canada Cup circuit.

I’m not telling you these things because I want your admiration for my past accomplishments—I can assure you there are eight-year-olds in Fernie who are braver on bikes and boards than I ever was. What I want you to know is that I get it—the appeal of hurling yourself down a mountain attached to a hunk of wood or metal. Either of these pass-times would be great excuses to move to a sports-crazy town, but in my case, it was neither. I moved here because Fernie has the potential to be so much more than just a sports town if we can just allow ourselves to see it.

In 2018 the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimated that 40-50% of travellers undertake cultural activities on their trips. Cultural tourism creates an important distinction between why people come to Fernie, and why they come back. Because of this kind of tourism we have been able to reinvent ourselves from a scrappy little mining town into a cheerfully authentic mountain getaway. It’s the cultural clout that gives us our personality.

Have you ever been stuck in a conversation with someone who only wants to talk about one thing? It gets old fast. As we look at our next goals and growth opportunities, wouldn’t we be wise to sit down and evaluate our priorities based on what Fernie is now, and what we can become? What kind of infrastructure do we need to invest in to keep ourselves from being a one-track town?

All you have to do is wander downtown any summer Wednesday evening to see just how much impact cultural events can have. Weekly crowds have swollen to 300+ for top-quality entertainment and social fare. All of this is organized by some forward-thinking volunteers who had the tenacity to push through hard years, write grants for funding, and fight for that value. It’s truly a thing now—and it’s become part of Fernie’s winning personality for very little cost to the taxpayers’ bottom line.

Healthy people have balance. A healthy diet consists of a variety of different foods. A healthy town is made up of all kinds of people. We don’t need to be known as a ski town, or a bike town, or a mining town; we can just be a great town. People can come here for all kinds of reasons, but it’s that cultural authenticity that creates a rich experience—one that keeps Fernie at the top of the ‘must go back’ list in peoples’ minds.

Parallel to my sporty backstory runs another thread: the artsy one. I entered my first city-wide art exhibition in Grade 5. I sold my first illustrations in high school. When it came time to pick a long-term path, sports would have been the easy direction, but I realized my creative streak brought me more satisfaction and joy, so that became my focus. Now I spend my spare money on paints and canvas rather than on bicycles. Luckily it’s not an either-or proposition; I love all the things that Fernie has to offer and that makes me more whole.

In the same way, let’s not let Fernie be seen as one thing or another. While we need to invest in sports infrastructure, we need to maintain our balance by creating opportunities in the arts as well. It takes all kinds to make our valley a place we can feel proud to live in and to invite people to. We are better for it.