When I entered High School, Ange Qualizza was part of the class of ’93 that us newbies were in complete awe of. To get a “hello” from anyone in this crew, a nod in your general direction, even brief eye contact would have you lifting your head a little higher.
Today, Ange and I are part of a cohort of FSS graduates who moved back to Fernie to work, raise a family, and enjoy its many recreational opportunities. We’ve seen Fernie change and evolve, and want to be a part of where it is going. And it’s been amazing to get to know these individuals on a different level.
I remember seeing Ange with her wee twin daughters and getting to know her through the Fernie Trails Alliance. I watched as she stepped forward to be on council, and spoke with her regarding concerns I had to get advice. And then, I felt an immense amount of respect when she once again put her name forward, this time for mayor. You see for me, that takes a lot of guts and a lot of passion. It’s something we all should appreciate from anyone in our community, the desire to represent Fernie and work hard to make it better.
Ange was born in Edmonton, and moved here with her family when she was four. Her dad was in the construction industry which resulted in the Qualizza family moving for work. In 1980, he was part of the Line Creek Housing project, building houses throughout the three communities in the Elk Valley.
“Growing up here was magical,” Ange tells me the Monday after she has been voted in as Mayor. “I lived both in Fernie and Elkford and I loved both. We had so much freedom. It was such a great place to grow up.”
When Ange finished High School, she went to the ‘University of the Ski Hill’ for one season, followed by a year in Australia on a work visa. From there she worked in Forestry in the Yukon, until at 23 she decided to head back to school where she studied economics for six years, completing her BA and Masters. Interestingly, Ange’s thesis valuated recreational use on the Bull River.
Ange never anticipated coming back to Fernie… until she and her husband Mark saw the second baby on their first ultrasound. “Raising girls in Calgary with a husband out of town made me feel sad, I wanted to come back here because I knew it would be easier with more support.” Within six months of their daughters being born, they made the move to Fernie. “Soon after, I was at the post office with my babies buckled in the mini van and Dr. East was watching me struggle. He said, ‘just leave the children and get your mail, I’ll watch them.’ I knew then that I couldn’t have made a better decision.”
Involved with various organisations, once her girls were registered in school Ange was approached by Dave Richards to be a part of the Trails Alliance. He had learned of her background and thought she could help them move forward. “It was a good opportunity for me to do something different in the community,” she recalls. Ange also worked on the City’s Official Community Plan, and from there it was a natural segue to go for council.
“I think I just saw an opportunity for engagement. Instead of being a part of five or six boards, you have more opportunity to do as good as work but on a more meaningful platform with more impact. I released my board engagements and joined the City and don’t regret it for a second.”
What’s really interesting to learn is that Ange knew within six months of being on council that she wanted to be mayor, and started building towards that goal.
“To be successful, you need strong relationships. Running for the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments was the first step,” she says. Being on this association meant working with other mayors, councillors and regional directors. They discuss issues communities are facing, and share how they solved them. “You can bring this back and use it to inform a Fernie solution. Most communities are facing the same problems, and we don’t need to start from ground zero. It’s something I’m really passionate about.”
When asked what her first move as Mayor is, Ange is dedicated to investing in council.
“I want to bring in an outside consultant to do a day’s worth of training and reset as a team. This is a bright group of people, and I want to make sure that they understand as early as possible how to move in this organisation. If they don’t, I worry they won’t be interested and want them to have as much opportunity as possible to participate.”
She adds that she is so excited to work with this team.
“The energy around this election cycle has been amazing, and everyone is bringing something different to the table. Fernie voted in a diverse council and it’s magic to me. I think that the goal of this council will be to keep this community engaged - we don’t want to lose what just happened. We will work as a team to make sure the community that supported us still feels a part of this process.”
Ange recognises that her biggest job is enabling council to feel useful. She realises that it can be challenging by the fourth year to continue to be engaged so will work to ensure all councillors know their contribution is valued. “It’s a representational role, I work for them and want to make sure they feel good and safe! Employee retention is the same, people need to feel like the process is going to support them… that they have been heard.”
There is excitement in Ange’s eyes, and I can see she is ready to dive in. As I sit across from her, there is still a feeling of awe. But it’s not the kind of awe a 13 year old has for an 18 year old. It’s the kind of awe one has for their peer, who is out there making magic happen.
“I think the future is bright, a diverse council is going to be a gift to the community and want to thank Fernie for showing up, and putting our feet to the fire. Fernie has elected a strong council prepared for the job.”
1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? My parents brought me here when I was five.
2. Who did you first meet in town? Lance Gravelle.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? Oh I just loved it. I love the mountains.
4. What keeps you here? Our community, and how strong it is.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory or pastime? Randy Polacik pushing me down the snow hill at IDES.
6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? Recently, the dead of winter because I have become addicted to Skate Skiing.
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years? I hope that we have worked as a team to manage some of the pressures fernie is facing right now. 18% population growth and all those issues that come along with being a fabulous resort community.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? Five Am, cup of coffee!
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I love Tae Kwon Do so much that I recently got my black belt!
10. Quote to live by: Be kind.