Over the last while, I have encountered Kevin Allen regularly. During this fall’s civil election. When researching an upcoming conference the Fernie Pride Society is hosting. While perusing the REEL Canadian Film Festival and Columbia Basin Trust sites. And most recently, in a press release from a new society, the Fernie Heritage Trust Society.
They say if you want something done, ask a busy person. In this case, if you want someone to volunteer their time and vast knowledge and experience with your non-profit, ask Kevin. So, just how did Kevin’s passion for non-profits begin?
Kevin is a fourth generation born and raised Calgarian.
“I am very fond of Calgary, growing up in the 70s / 80s as a suburban kid like many people. I had a very normal childhood. Coming out in my late teens was a stressful time, as AIDS was a big deal and it caused a lot of anxiety. In my early twenties I got into the gay community as an activist,” he shares with me.
After Kevin graduated from high school, he attended University and completed a degree in Zoology, then moved to Greece, fell in love with the arts and attended film school.
“I got involved with various arts organizations, and when I started spending time in Fernie recognized that there was not a lot of film programming,” Kevin says. He approached the Arts Station and started Indie Films Fernie, which screened independent films at the Vogue Theatre twice a month. This spun into the Reel Canadian Film Festival.
Kevin admits he is not a 9-5 kind of person, “but I like to work on things that I am passionate about.” For example, Kevin is a big fan of democracy and has been working as an election official for the City of Fernie, Elections Canada and Elections Alberta since 2007. Additionally, he is passionate about Calgary and the gay community, which led him to research Calgary’s gay history and to begin the Gay History Project – an ongoing initiative to document the lived history of Calgary’s LGBTQ2+ community, publish Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary, and to be the first historian-in-residence at Calgary’s Central Public Library.
“I’m not a real historian,” he tells me. “But I have been doing it for ten years.”
Kevin has actually looked into Fernie’s gay history and found that in 2000 city council was approached to proclaim an official LGBT Pride Day. The Free Press headline said, ‘City Reluctant to Endorse People’s Sexual Preferences’ and refused the request. While I’m shocked, I’m also not and feel very grateful to see how our small town has changed. The Fernie Pride Society was recently approached by the government to apply for a grant to host a conference in the Columbia Basin.
“It’s an interesting time, with a focus on reconciliation on all levels. Gay community has historically been underfunded, and there is this notion nationally that we need to build up these minority communities,” he tells me. “Rural queers are in a different situation, and the hope is that this conference creates a Basin network of the different people doing pride work.”
Prior to moving to Fernie full time, Kevin was the Executive Director of the Alberta Media Arts Alliance. He met Gordon Sombrowski in 1999 while he was in Calgary for work. “And in 2006 we got married and I gave up full-time work to move to Fernie,” he says, adding that he still has a foot in both places and Gordon and Kevin call themselves “Ferngarians.” Kevin realized in Fernie he needed to find work. “I couldn’t retire in my 30s!” he says. This is what led him to becoming a non-profit advisor with the Columbia Basin Trust. “Elections and the CBT are my two biggest passions,” he tells me. Along with being a professional volunteer, of course.
Not surprisingly, Kevin also completed a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Victoria. Allan Chabot was the CAO of Fernie at the time, and suggested Kevin complete his thesis on West Fernie water distribution.
“I interviewed 50 people, and it was a jigsaw puzzle,” he tells me. “Government and citizens kicking the can down the road,” he adds. In 2009, Kevin presented his thesis to council and left it there. When Mike Sosnowski got funding to bring West Fernie into the City, he approached Kevin. “Now you have to finish the last chapter of this story,” he said. But Kevin had just finished Our Past Matters and a Federal Election was coming up, so he told Mike to talk to him in the New Year. “It was in early 2020 when we chatted, and it became my pandemic project,” Kevin says.
In October of 2022, The Big Bend: A History of West Fernie by Kevin Allen was launched at the Fernie Museum. This beautifully written and designed (designed by Vanessa Croome, my partner in crime) book is worth reading and having on the shelf.
Just a month later, I received a press release from Gordon about the purchase of the Knox United Church. Many in our community have been talking about this stunning building and space, particularly because of its historical relevance and amazing acoustics. How thrilled were
we to learn the Fernie Heritage Trust Society, with the support of an interest free loan from the Sombrowski family, had purchased it to become a community hub and performing art space?
Incorporated in March, the Fernie Heritage Trust Society is in the process of developing its online presence and will be forming various committees dedicated to programming, fundraising, facilities and more. “We will be looking for help,” he says. “The building needs a little bit of love.” Keen to get involved? Email email@example.com, follow them on FB or visit their site at fernieheritagetrust.ca.
What does the future hold for the multi-faceted Kevin?
“Knox is going to be my main squeeze,” he says. “I have the Alberta provincial election in spring, and my term with Fernie Pride is ending,” he adds with a look of relief. “It’s going to take some effort to get Knox off the ground.” Fortunately, he is surrounded by a great team, including Patty Vadnais, Courtney Baker, Mary Giuliano, Gordon Sombrowski and Jill Palamarek.
Thank you, Kevin. We look forward to the future of the Knox and are ready to help where we can.
1. When did you first arrive in the Elk Valley and what brought you here?
I had been partially here for seven years, but moved here in December of 2006 to commit more fully to Gordon.
2. Who did you first meet/remember knowing?
On my third date with Gordon, it was New Year’s 1999/2000 I met his brother, Arthur. We were driving down Pine Avenue and he passed us on the road. They did the Fernie thing where they stopped and rolled down the windows.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of the Elk Valley?
4. What keeps you here?
5. Do you have a favourite pastime?
I would say reading and swimming and hiking.
6. What time of the year do you love most and why?
It used to be winter but now I think it’s fall. I love Fernie in the fall, the colours are so fantastic. Particularly this year, with the warm days in October. It was gorgeous.
7. Where do you see or hope to see the Elk Valley in five years?
With a fully functioning performance hall in the Knox building.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals?
A pot of tea and probably reading something, often The Economist.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.
I am non-conformist – I don’t like to fit in. Ever since I was a little kid.
10. Quote to live by: How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing. ~ Annie Dillard