Russ Hanson

Recently at a City of Fernie meeting, Sylvia Ayers was presenting to council regarding a ban on plastic bags in our community. As part of the presentation, the École Isabella Dicken Elementary School (ÉIDES) Environment Club had created a video with their thoughts and concerns about plastics. 

“I let them go completely off script,” Russ Hanson tells me, a teacher at ÉIDES who runs the club. “And while it was a risk, it had so much more impact.” Yes, it did. I am sure there wasn’t a dry eye in attendance.  

How appropriate that kids are helping to initiate change in our community and around the world, as they, their children and grandchildren will be the ones left to deal with the burden of our social ‘necessities.’

I met with Russ soon after to learn more about his commitment to the environment and this important school club. 

Russ grew up in Sudbury, Ontario. “In lake country. It’s the only thing about home that I miss,” he shares. After high school, Russ attended university in his hometown as his parents had many health concerns. “I had grand visions but when it came time, I realized I loved that place.” Russ completed a degree in Physical Education and went on to teachers’ college. His first position was teaching 34 grade six students, “which was extremely challenging. My mom wouldn’t let me leave half-way through the year, asking how that would make it better. She passed away that year, and I finished the position.” 

By the end of summer Russ had moved to Fernie to work at the Guide’s Hut. Some friends Russ knew from home were working there and when a bike mechanic position opened, they suggested it to Russ. 

“I had worked at a bike shop since the age of 15, and they knew it would help me make a much-needed move.”

It was at the Guide’s Hut that Russ first met Janet Kuijt, the Vice Principal at ÉIDES. 

“She came into the shop and during our conversation discovered that I was a teacher and spoke French. Basically, she told me to get my act together and that there was a job if I wanted one. So, I did and never really looked back.” 

Janet had been in charge of the Environment club, but with the added administrative work that came with COVID asked Russ if he would be interested in taking the lead.

“I have always been passionate about the environment and nature, one way or another. I grew up in the outdoors, building canoes and going on canoe trips, Nordic skiing, and was always asking big questions. 

“With the kids we’ve taken a grassroots approach. It’s always about the big issues, so how do we arm them with tools and help them to understand the basics? So far, the focus has been on plastic and removing single use plastics as much as possible in the school. Reminding them of the importance of properly discarding waste and garbage. We have planted trees and spent time in the woods, helping them to realize the importance of these spaces so they can become life-long stewards. The newest initiative is through the Rocky Mountain Naturalists who sent us a bird house. Through donations from the Home Hardware, the club will build these homes to create safe places for birds to nest free of predators.” 

Through COVID the club took a hit, but Russ and other members of the club are hopeful that what they are doing will encourage and inspire other students to join. Working with Sylvia and creating the video was a great project, and Russ is now letting the kids take the lead on the direction the club takes next.

“Invasive species has come up, and they’re really interested in cleaning up Maiden Lake. It’s an important place for them and they want to take care of it.”

Overall, the Environment Club hopes to raise awareness in the school and to help all members of our community appreciate what we have here in the Elk Valley. 

“The short-term goal is to grow the club and reach as many kids as possible. A selfish goal is to do more with birds… as I’ve always been obsessed with them.” 

Thank you, Russ and students of the ÉIDES Environment Club. Keep up the inspiring work. 

1. When did you first arrive in Elk Valley and what brought you here?
I arrived in September of 2014 and came to work as a bike mechanic at the Guide’s Hut. I thought I would be here for two years…

2. Who did you first meet?
My friends at the Guide’s Hut were Kenny and Emily Maki, but the first person I met was Lucia Horstmann the first morning after I got here. I met no one but coworkers for a week. 

3. Do you remember your first general impression of the Elk Valley?
I couldn’t believe the fall colours. They were really different because there was no red, but they were so huge running all the way up the mountain side. I also couldn’t believe Bear was a blue run. 

4. What keeps you here?
My wife, my daughter, the home we have created for ourselves, Cut Throat Trout and Elk. 

5. Do you have a favourite pastime?
It’s changed since our daughter came around, but the perfect day of fishing is hard to beat. Even better if my daughter is there on my back with me. 

6. What time of the year do you love most and why?
I love that one fleeting week in October, when the leaves are perfect and there is frost in the morning. 

7. Where do you see or hope to see the Elk Valley in five years.
Free of plastic bags. I really hope to see user groups working together sustainably realizing we all want the best for this place. 

8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals?
I love letting Nova, our springer spaniel out before work, and on the weekend it’s nice to enjoy a second cup of coffee. 

9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.
My parents let me skip school to watch Lord of the Rings when the movies came out. 

10. Quote to live by: Patience is a virtue. It’s what my mom always said to me.