Dawn Deydey

When I think about individuals in our community who have had a positive effect on our awareness and impact on the environment, Dawn Deydey is top of mind. Knowledgeable, passionate, dedicated and hardworking, I always walk away from our conversations energized and hopeful, which was definitely the case after this interview. 

Initially we met to discuss some exciting developments at the Eco Garden, namely a hydroponic farm, but as always I sat back in awe as I learned of the many environmental piles she has had and currently has a hand in, and how it all began.

Dawn was born in Calgary, AB. 

“We were a skiing family. We had a school bus that was camperized and did a lot of camping trips and a pile of skiing,” Dawn tells me. 

After high school, Dawn attended Mount Royal College with the intent to study sciences. 

“It was a lot of physics and math, and I thought this is too detailed for me. A lot of my friends were moving to Vancouver, so I went with them for a couple of years but realized I needed to snowboard, to spend the entire season doing it. I started thinking about how I could fund this, and I moved to the Caymen Islands,” Dawn says. 

“I was there one and a half years, working as a waitress, it was hilarious. I would work in a bathing suit on the beach during the day, and in a tuxedo serving champagne at night. Then I would come back to ski.” 

She decided to come to Fernie for the snow for six months, and like so many, has never left. 

Dawn’s first employment was at Island Lake Lodge. 

“It was a dream job. I would clean, help with breakfast and change beds. It was so lovely as some skiers would get tired mid-day when my shift was done, and they would snowmobile up to get them. I would take the lift up and ride the last part of the day before coming home!”

She also worked on the beer cart at the Fernie Golf Club, at Kelsey’s at Fernie Alpine Resort, “for the pass… and basically a lot of small jobs just to keep me snowboarding,” she adds.

It didn’t take Dawn long to get involved in the community. Her first project was the Fernie Mountain Market at Rotary Park. 

“Four of us had a similar interest, so we got together and approached the City,” she tells me. “We started off with three vendors and growth has been mostly organic. 5-10 years in, we no longer had to promote it,” she recalls. From there it was only natural to develop a community garden. 

“I connected with Casey Brennan of Wildsight and talked with the City. If we could show there was interest, the City said they had land,” Dawn tells me. Alongside another passionate community member, they received the support from residents and Wildsight, and attracted an army of volunteers who donated wood, built plots and so much more. “It’s crazy to see where it has come.”

In the beginning there were 12 plots, and today there are 36 plots of various sizes, a green house, composting, a covered outdoor learning / gathering area… and soon, a container farm. “A hydroponic grow unit!” Dawn specifies, with such a glow in her eyes I wish you could see her face. 

“Casey said a decade ago that we should have a grocery store,” Dawn says. There is such a dedication to the market, but as it’s on the weekend a lot of people miss it. During COVID, they started to recognize people went online to order food, but they wanted a space.

“Local producers needed a way to get their food to people, and people needed easier access. We wanted there to be low-cost barriers for small producers. We started Local on a small scale, and it is exciting to see how much it has grown in three years!”

The container farm will not only be an asset to Local, but to the community in general. Local is a social enterprise, meaning it is a business that has a positive effect on community, it generates a profit to do good. The hydroponic farm will allow them to expand and also ensures we have access to local food. 

“We will have greens year-round, as it can produce 500 heads of lettuce a week,” Dawn adds. “This has been five years in the making, and the goal is to support vulnerable community members, to donate to people in need, to sell our greens at grocery stores, restaurants and at Local. Year-round local produce is a big deal!” Her excitement is definitely rubbing off on me. 

Dawn is grateful for the support she has received from Wildsight, and for their investment in people who are passionate about making change. 

“It’s been so wonderful, and it’s how I learned how to grant write and to raise funds. Basically for the last 20 years I have self-funded my work through grant writing. I think of projects that I want to do, and I get to do them! It is so lovely to be able to work in the community, make change and create great projects that support people,” Dawn says. And I can’t help thinking of how lucky we are to have Dawn and people like her in our community. 

Fernie Mountain Market, Advocates for Local Living, Think Tank Cinema, the Ride Board, the Eco Garden, Little Sprouts, Beyond Recycling Environmental Education Program, Local… honestly, this list of successful and impactful work and projects is a true testament to the difference one individual can make, a difference that was recognized in 2013 with Dawn being named the National Hometown Hero on Earth Day in Canada. 

Of course, like most people who work tirelessly to help and support others, Dawn is the first to say that the support of others was fundamental to the success of these projects.  

“Thankfully, there are so many amazing people in our community who are also passionate about making a difference!” 

Dawn is dedicated to continuing this work, with the goal of developing a stronger food system in Fernie.

“Producing leafy greens is the project right now, and what I’m focused on for the next little while. But we have lots of great ideas on how to grow that. More local food is where I’m headed.”

Thank you, Dawn. We are very excited to share the journey of Fernie’s Hydroponic Grow Unit when it begins! 

1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here?
I came to Fernie to snowboard in ‘98. I planned to come for six months but have been here for over 25 years now.

2. Who do you remember first meeting?
My first Fernie friend was Mark Carver Gibb - rest in peace. He was co-owner of Board Stiff back in the day and is missed dearly by so many. 

3. Do you remember your first general impression of the Valley?
The first few weeks I was here it was overcast, cloudy and snowy. The snowbanks were so huge you couldn’t see the houses as you drove down the highway. Then the clouds broke, and I saw the mountains and I was hooked. 

4. What keeps you here?
The mountains. The trees. The snow. My friends. The community.  

5. Do you have a favourite pastime?
I’m all about roller skating. I skate with Avalanche City Roller Derby, but also park skate and dance skate too.  

6. What time of the year do you love most and why?
I love winter - the crazy Fernie snowfalls. Then add in sky blue skies with the snowy mountains - it’s magic.

7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years?
I dream of a climate-resilient future for Fernie with a strong local food system.

8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals?  
The cooler months, I usually start my day by stoking my wood stove.

9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.
My parents got married on a ski hill - Sunshine Village. It’s not a surprise that 3/4 of my siblings now live near ski hills.

10. Quote to live by: Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.