Laura Nelson and the Fernie Museum

While many know Laura Nelson as the face behind Polar Peek Books (which she recently sold), as a talented local artist, and/or as a born and raised Fernie girl (previously Laura Kennedy), many are not aware of her recent success as the President of the Fernie & District Historical Society.

Over the last year I have had the opportunity of witnessing this side of Laura. Having watched over the last four months as she nearly single handedly orchestrated the development of the new museum in the BC Hydro Building is inspiring to say the least. Her energy, determination and hard work have many singing her praise, something sure to continue in the future as the Museum opens its doors to share history, art, visitor information and connecting us all to this place we call home or visit – Fernie.

The Fernie & District Historical Society signed a 25 year lease with the City of Fernie in February of 2009. This heritage building is an optimal location for Fernie's Museum and Information Centre. The museum will allow the society to enhance the programming, services and exhibits. It will also create a beautiful gallery space for local, regional, and touring art. It’s come a long way since its inception. The process has been a tough one starting with fundraising efforts, (an ongoing process), and moving to opening up the main floor, removing florescent lights and ceiling fans, puling up carpet, old linoleum, demolition of the 2nd floor office to facilitate reconfiguration of duct work and new electrical, tile removal, oak floor installation, plumbing, drywall, sanding, restoring, painting, and so much more!

When asked why she stepped up to the plate, Laura quickly answers, “We needed someone – Bill Quail had been the president for a long time but had passed away. With the project coming up, and the recent sale of my bookstore, all eyes pointed towards me. ‘I’ll do my best, but I’ll be winging it as I haven’t done anything like it before,’ I told them.”

Laura felt confident with the resources we have in the community, and that they could draw on these and ask for advice and support. She also saw huge potential as far as stories that need to be told and the different ways to present them, drawing in a different demographic with new technology and being really creative with exhibits.

“ I think this is really important as Fernie grows and changes as it will help to ensure that our distinct character is preserved. A deeper understanding of the history and community enriches everyone’s experience. It will create a space where we can celebrate our diversity and discover our shared connections - a venue that will draw people of all backgrounds in and help us to realize that we are all connected through this magnificent landscape we live in.”

To date the work that has been completed meets the occupancy code requirements of phase one. The final items of phase one include the installation of a handicap lift and energy efficient windows, scheduled to be completed this spring/summer.

These amazing accomplishments orchestrated by Laura were completed in just four months. They would not have been possible without monetary funding provided by:

- Columbia Basin Trust $92,000
- FAR Community Summit Fund $21,000 (over three years)
- Island Lake Resort Group $15,000
- The Sombrowski Family $10,000
- Fernie Rotary $8,000- 9,000 (over two years)
- BC Hydro $5,000 (over two years)
- RDEK $2500
- BP $2,000

These funds were used in addition to the FDHS building fund of $80,000.

Provincial cutbacks to grants available to non-profits through the Gaming Branch undermined the Historical Society’s ability to leverage existing building funds. Despite this setback, they were able to stretch the money they received but only because of the incredible generosity and capability of individuals and businesses in the community.

IGOR'S CONSTRUCTION – Igor Landa removed old tiles and prepared the floor for oak to match the existing oak flooring. He also installed new mosaic tiles to match the original in the front entry, two washrooms and at the base of the staircase, all as a donation!

STRATTON PLUMBING AND HEATING – Donation of work on removing and replacing lead pipes, proper venting installation, water shut off in basement improved, and plans for new water service in the spring put into place. Stratton also generously donated a handicap sink and toilet for the main floor bathroom.

COOKS ELECTRIC - Andy Buchan of Cooks Electric provided a 10% discount on work done by his company. He has also charged only his cost for all materials used in the project. This translates to roughly a $3,000 donation.

DARREN HATINA OF D'S Drywall - Darren took on the drywall job at the museum and provided a generous discount, arranged a 40% discount on materials, and spent much extra time helping with various wall finishing details.

TARA HIGGINS OF PAINTED AND PLASTERED - Tara Higgins stepped up to help with the painting at the Museum Project. Her efforts resulted in a top quality paint job on the beautifully detailed plaster mouldings and ceiling tiles on 2nd floor, and a huge savings of time and effort for the volunteers.

NUFLOORS - Dennis and Steve of Nufloors charged only cost on all materials needed for the museum project, providing huge savings.

JARED ROBINSON FLOOR REFINISHING- Jared provided a very good price for refinishing the oak floors on the main floor and the maple floors on the 2nd level.

CAMERON ENTERPRIZES – Randy donated an outhouse until the toilets were of use.

DUANE JANZEN - Duane donated oak flooring removed from his home during recent renovations. The oak is from a similar era, and is the same width as the museum building's floor.

MOW AND SNOW - They volunteered to haul away the pile of debris that came from the tile removal.

JOSH ARCHIBALD – Helped with carpentry and code details at a reduced rate as they raced to the finish.

RIVER CITY WOODWORKS – Reconfigured and resorted the front and rear oak doors at cost.

Additional key volunteers include Kevin Knight, Julie Langille, Allan Mitchel, Lori Bradish, Dee Hattina, Vanessa Raber and particularly Terry Nelson and Brian Davies whom were fundamental to the projects’ completion. It is also important to acknowledge the individuals who helped in the early planning stage of the project, including Nick Vale, Arthur Sombrowski, Andrew Buchan, Sylvia Ayers, Marko Maryniak, Angela Morgan, Patti Emmerson, and Randal Macnair.

Those listed and additional volunteers can be seen at Visit the image gallery of the museum project to witness these volunteers in action.

“This kind of community minded spirit and generosity is what makes Fernie such an amazing place to live,” says Laura. “We will need to raise additional funds to complete phase two and three of the project which include the Core Exhibit in the main floor exhibit hall, and the repair and restoration of the building's exterior.”
To make a tax deductible contribution, volunteer time or services, or to become a member, visit or contact the society at 250-423-7016 or .

1. When did you arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? My mom and dad brought me here. I was born at the old Fernie hospital (where the Parkplace lodge is now).

2. Where did you first live in Fernie? West Fernie, McLeod Avenue.

3. What was your first impression? Well to be honest I hated it as a teenager and it was truthfully through traveling and through the eyes of newcomers that I started to become proud, realizing what a gem it was. That was in the early ‘80s. And then opening the store, every day people would tell me how lucky I was to live and work here.

4. What keeps you in Fernie? The community - there is an amazing group of people in Fernie. And the landscape.

5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory? Riding my horse up on Proctor Mountain and swimming in the Elk River on horseback, and my parents never asking where I had been! I also remember my mom had a certain call for us. When all the kids in West Fernie would be out playing up and down the street, all the mom’s or dad’s would make their specific call or whistle, and my mom’s was like Tarzan.

6. What is your favourite time of the year in Fernie and why? The fall – the colours, the light, and the smells.

7. Where do you see Fernie in 5 to 10 years? I see it not too far from where it is right now, a little bit more build out but with the trail systems enhanced and maintained, just a real lifestyle community. People appreciate it, like what they have and are willing to work hard to keep it that way.

8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? Back maintenance – stretching, breathing, and stepping out the door ready to face whatever the day holds.

9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I used to be a cowgirl. Horse shows, barrel racing, chaps, hat – the whole deal.

Quote to live by: When faced with challenges I tell myself “It’s not life threatening!” and deal with it. Always keep a positive attitude no matter the circumstance.