Fernie Chamber of Commerce Turns 120 Years Old
We are so lucky to have such a vibrant mix of community groups serving all kinds of different needs here in Fernie. There is so much passion and dedication from these groups to making our way of life here more rich, more interesting, and more sustainable. One of the oldest community groups in the Elk Valley is the one I happen to work for – the Fernie Chamber of Commerce. Incorporated in 1902 as the Fernie Board of Trade, the Fernie Chamber of Commerce has grown to become the largest business association in the Elk Valley area and this year is celebrating 120 years since incorporation.
The Fernie Chamber’s history stretches further back than 1902 and can be traced to a “large and enthusiastic gathering of citizens at Wallace Hall” on the evening of Thursday, March 16, 1899. It was at this meeting that the Fernie Board of Trade was originally formed by a group of community-minded citizens. Thanks to the amazing work of the Fernie & District Historical Society last year, issues of the the Fernie Free Press newspaper have now been digitized all the way back to 1899 and are archived at the British Columbia Regional Digitized History website (bcrdh. ca). We now have easy online access to this repository of our community’s history and have much more of an understanding about the origins of our organization.
This meeting at Wallace Hall in early 1899 is extensively reported on in the March 18, 1899 edition of the Fernie Free Press. In the story it outlines how Mr. H. Bentley “spoke at considerable length” about the importance of a Board of Trade for Fernie, the purpose of the organization, and how the Lethbridge Board of Trade had made major accomplishments for that community. Bentley noted at the meeting that, “a Board of Trade in Fernie could bring pressure on the British Columbia government to bridge Elk River and Coal Creek, and make good roads to the CPR mill, and other necessary improvements.” That evening, the crowd voted to form the organization and elected Mr. Bentley as the first President of the Fernie Board of Trade. The new organization would be officially incorporated under the federal Board of Trade Act in 1902.
In its first few years, the Fernie Board of Trade had its hands full, dealing with a lot of matters that would usually fall to a municipal government, including road maintenance and the construction of Fernie’s first firehall – but the young town did not yet have a council or local government. In a speech a few years after formation the President said that “the Fernie Board of Trade has for nearly four years carefully guarded the interests of the town and the district in general. Many questions relating to roads, transportation, mail service, etc. have been taken up during the year, and every opportunity of pressing for incorporation has been eagerly grasped. This body is at the time of writing petitioning for incorporation…” In 1904 the group’s advocacy paid off when the City of Fernie was officially incorporated by the province of British Columbia.
Over 120 years later, the Fernie Chamber of Commerce is still a champion for this community supporting the sustainable growth of our economy, and advocating for business and community interests at all levels of government.