Having grown up in Fernie, started a business here and now raising children here, it still surprises me when I get to know somebody new. This month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sara Funk, who has been in Fernie for over 15 years. While I recognize her through the many volunteer roles she has had since the day she arrived, it is such a pleasure to officially meet and learn so much about another one of Fernie’s great community assets.
Sara and her partner Eric were living in Kaslo, BC when they decided it was time for a change. With a new baby and Sara on maternity leave, Eric applied for a job with the Credit Union soon to open in Fernie. He got the job, and they joined a new community. With Sara’s experience in advertising, design and editing there was not much available for her here, “the Fernie Fix didn’t exist yet,” she says with a laugh so she went back to school for bookkeeping and business administration and payroll as she could do it from home. She also got involved in the community from the get-go, approaching the Canadian Cancer Society, an important organization to Sara having lost her dad in her 20s. Alongside the other directors on the board and the event organizer, Chantel Souliere, they hosted the Elk Valley Relay for Life.
From there, Sara began getting involved with the Fernie Women’s Resource Centre. “I am a feminist,” she tells me. “I feel very strongly about women's rights and girls rights and wanted to help them serve a marginalized population.” Which is why she also volunteers with Days for Girls, an organization that provides menstrual supplies for girls around the world to ensure they do not have to skip school because of menstruation. “They host a monthly sew-a-thon, which has created a networking group for older people,” Sarah adds.
Most recently, Sara has co-founded the Elk Valley Pride Society with Kevin Allen. “Chantel (Souliere) came up to me and asked if I thought people would enjoy a drag show in Fernie. She had met a wonderful drag queen in Banff and was surprised Fernie had not hosted. So we threw one on! At the same time, there was a group who hosted LesBQ. Kevin went and recognized people were excited to be there together and that there was nowhere else in Fernie to do this. We decided Fernie really needed a pride society!”
The first task the Fernie Pride Society undertook was petitioning the City to put a gender-neutral bathroom in the public washrooms they were currently building in Station Square. “It was too far along so couldn’t happen,” Sara tells me. From there, they built a resource and referral page on their site to connect individuals with services. “It’s difficult in a small town to find these whether a trans or a lesbian, specific to your needs. We’ve been successful finding resources, and it’s been great as has resulted in people within the medical community and community at large tasking themselves with finding education to better serve this community. We asked ‘can you’ and they responded ‘let us try!’”
Fernie Pride became a member of Fiery Canada Pride, a national pride organization. “We support a lot of initiatives just by signing petitions and going to conferences. One being petitioning the federal government for funding forward pride organizations. We received that funding this year for the first time in Canada.”
Additionally, in town, Fernie Pride hosts monthly Beers and Queers, which is an intentional space for LGBTQ to come together and connect. “It’s been rewarding. In the beginning, most people were new to one another. Now, people come to see each other and we don’t have to facilitate. They have a group, a space,” Sara says.
Fernie Pride is developing a new group in December specific to mental health facilitation. “We’re still looking to see what that looks like, we do have someone who is keen to facilitate from the mental health community.”
Sara admits it’s been a lot of work to get the organization to this point. “Just to get a non-profit up and running takes a lot of time and effort.” This fall they are hosting the third Elk Valley Pride Festival, which has grown alongside the organization. “The first year, we didn’t know if anyone would come. What we learned was that everyone was interested, the entire community was excited to see it happen. The first two years we focused on visibility, having a good time, and spaces for people to meet and find each other. This year, we’re adding a lot including inviting people who can support the LGBTQ community such as Ankors, the Men’s Health Initiative, and Interior Health,” Sara says, adding that there are also more activities such as biking and yoga. “The focus is really self-care, and how can you do this in Fernie.”
Sara believes fun and celebration is important. “It creates visibility.” Events such as Drag Queen Story Time and Bingo with Drag Queens exposes different age groups to the LGBTQ community. “People growing up here will learn how to treat these people, and they will be good allies in the world. It’s exciting times and making a difference and change in Fernie and the Elk Valley. I hope the town is excited, too. Because… we’re here!”
So where from here? “I’d love to see the festival become somewhat of a conference, so there is a party element but an education piece people can access. I want to see the LGBTQ community embraced here… for Fernie to become a beacon for people who are LGBTQ. Canada is that place in the world, and Fernie can be part of it. And, in reality, to see the Fernie Pride Society become unnecessary… we are only here because we have to be.”
Sara and I finish by agreeing that having everyone in a community at the table makes towns better. “More vibrant, more fun, more interesting, more beautiful. If we are missing a whole group, that shouldn’t be acceptable for any of us!”
1. When did you first arrive in the Valley and what brought you here? In 2004, and we came for my partner’s job at the Credit Union.
2. Who did you first meet? I meet a lot of people, hard to pinpoint but I do think it was Chantel with the Relay for Life. And we’ve been friends ever since!
3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? So many babies! I had a baby myself, and I went to a mom’s group at the library and I met lifelong friends there. I have never seen so many people with babies in one place in my life.
4. What keeps you here? The lifestyle and my Fernie family. Life is so easy in Fernie, we all look out for each other and I love it.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory or pastime? Gardening, I love the summer season. We don’t go anywhere because we love the summer and we love our garden.
6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? Summer, see above.
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years? I’d love them to do something about affordable housing, we’re losing too many good people to other communities because of it. Otherwise, it could just be exactly the same.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? So, every morning I stretch for five minutes, meditate for five minutes, and then have tea with my family. And then I start my day. I don’t know if I could go through the day without it.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. That I’m a grandma! Granny Funk.
10. Quote to live by: I don’t have one, but if I did it would be by Louise Hay about Self Love.