Oddfellows and Strange Bedfellows

A long-unoccupied building in Fernie collapsed recently. Gratefully nobody was hurt, and it is now moving toward orderly demolition. 

In my memory it was a commercial storefront. When I was a boy, it was it was a Pop Shoppe, where you excitedly took your plastic crate of empties and, after returning them, you refilled the crate with a selection of your favourites like Cream Soda and Black Cherry, flavours the thought of which today make my teeth ache in my jaw. In an even earlier incarnation, one I never experienced, the building was the local Oddfellows Hall where monthly Saturday teen dances created innumerable memories for the participants. I have been thinking a lot about that building not simply because of its loss, but for the shared history and varying experience of it and what it says about our town. 

Community, like culture, is not one thing it is a multitude of things each nested inside the other all the way down to the individual. Right or wrong nations are often defined by a national culture, the pervasive norms that unite a country and around which its citizens rally, particularly in times of adversity. However, you don’t have to drill down very far to begin to see how that overarching culture is made up of a very broad array of competing perspectives and views. It is the tension between these views that drives our democratic processes. A community like Fernie is no different. 

There is an overarching picture we paint of our community, but every citizen has a highly personal perspective as to what that means to them and what it is that they get from and want from that construct, and what they are willing to do to support it. Which brings me back to the Oddfellow’s Hall. 

After several conversations about the building, it struck me how different everyone’s experience was of that one place. Ask and multiple stories emerge. This is one of the great strengths of our community, that it holds all these different experiences of what we are and what we can be. What it also reinforces for me is that we must take a deeply inclusive view of what our community can be to guide it carefully into the future. We must ensure we do not lose a very difficult to quantify aspect every citizen I have spoken to treasures: authenticity. 

That, I expect, is the question of the hour as our community struggles in the face of change and its associated pressures: a lack of attainable housing, a lack of available childcare, aging at-capacity infrastructure, increasing development pressure. 

We preserve our authenticity by doing what we have always done, keeping space for diverse points of view, and maintaining a respectful conversation about what is best for all of us in the end. We won’t agree but we can agree on the basic premise we are all working together for our shared future, then this much-loved construct we call our community will not collapse.