“I just have to get out of this place,” is a phrase we’ve all heard, likely said, and certainly thought. Who really wants to stay in the same place forever? Not a teenager who was born and raised in a town of 5,000 people. Not me.
I mean, I’d always liked Fernie, a little ski/mining community nestled in the Canadian Rockies, in the heart of the Elk Valley. Or at least had a formal respect for it, but I never fully appreciated it. It just wasn’t, you know, cool.
Downtown didn’t feel like much. Nothing that a proper city could provide somebody with, anyway. While friendly, the community never seemed vibrant or hip, and the old-school local flavour of grizzled ski-bum meets 21st century coal miner just never appealed to me. And the outdoor recreation? Meh, been there, done that. The city seemed empty, as if it were… missing something.
“I just have to get out of this place.”
So I graduated high school, got out, and thought I’d never look back.
It’s twelve years later and, without me around, my hometown has gotten cool.
Like many of the small towns in the Kootenays, Fernie has seen a resurgence of culture and relevance. Young families are moving in, they’re starting businesses, they’re making it into a place they want to live. They’re making my hometown cool.
The downtown shops are cool.
Gone are the empty storefronts in Fernie’s downtown. Main street is back, with new and established businesses building up healthy customer bases and loyalty. The extensive recreation around Fernie has given rise to multiple gear and rec shops that supply top-quality equipment, staffed by perennially goggle-tanned adventure junkies. There’s a local coffee roastery, started by a teenage wonderkid with a passion for single origin coffee, that will literally bring the fresh-roasted beans to your front door. There’s cool restaurants and café, happening bars, and a healthy fleet of food trucks.
The people are cool.
People are moving to Fernie because they want to live in Fernie, not because they have to. And with people comes culture. Fernie is now home to Wapiti Music Festival, which brings in some of the best Canadian Indie you can find on the CBC. The city was also the incubator that hatched BC’s favourite stoke-folkers Shred Kelly, who continue to channel Fernie’s adventurous idiosyncrasies into floor-stomping rock music. And the town has weekly “Wednesday Socials” during the summer, closing off part of downtown to traffic and supplying beer, music, and food. That’s cool.
The outdoors are cool.
I’m not just talking about it being cool in the winter time. Since I left, the city’s mountain biking club has transformed the forests surrounding Fernie into a mecca of biking trails, featuring everything from easy, family-friendly rides to epic death drops. For trail runners, there’s the Elk Valley Ultra, a gruelling, intensely-picturesque mountain marathon put on by the fledgling powerhouse Stag Leap Running Co. And I don’t even need to mention the world-class skiing, which you can read about on any tourism blog. There’s also a growing network of winter trails for nordic skiers and fat bikers. So cool.
Since my hometown got cool, I’ve been visiting more often. Summers I go to Wapiti, trail run in the mountains, and camp at Elk Lake Provincial Park. Winters I ski at Fernie Alpine Resort, do my Christmas shopping at the Gear Hut and Polar Peek Books, skate on the outdoor ice rink. With a young family of my own, it’s important they know how cool I am. And being from a place like Fernie is definitely helping.
Eli Geddis is writer, educator and cool dad based in Nelson, BC. Read his previous blog: Forget your FOMO. You can live in the Kootenays and still have it all!