Story Of The Station In Two Acts
This building has played an important role in Fernie for decades. It served for nearly its first 70 years as Fernie’s hub of transportation of both people and goods and now for more than 30 years as its centre for the arts.
Act One- The Train Station
This is the third station that Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) built on the same location, the original station built in 1898 and its replacement were both destroyed by large scale fires burning all of Fernie’s downtown, the first in 1905 and again in 1908. The quick post-fire reconstruction of the station reflected Fernie’s status a centre of commerce on the CPR’s Crowsnest Branch Line (aka South Line) from Lethbridge, AB to Nelson, BC. CPR’s This Craftsman Style structure completed in 1909 is among a small group of ‘Special Stations’ designed by CPR. While a unique build, it is close in layout to both the Standard 9 and 10 Stations CPR utilized as a measure to both keep construction cost lower and to provide continuity in design along the line. CPR, contractor McDermot and Company used lumber in the station’s construction and in doing so ignored the City of Fernie’s 1908 fire prevention related by-law, prohibiting the use of wood in new construction.
As another economic design decision CPR applied in its construction was to combine all of the functions of the stop under one roof. This included working spaces space to sell services, safely monitor the trains, waiting rooms for customers, telegrams to be sent and received, office space for managing records and funds, storage space for freight and a separate private upstairs living space for the station agent and their family. Its functional design can be seen in a number of architectural features such as the bay windows on the east side of the building allowing the station agent clear views both directions on the tracks and the large double wooden doors which allowed for easy freight access. The design of building’s exterior space incorporates overhanging eves to provide shelter from mountain weather including both sun and snow.
For many years the station served as the place from which most people arrived and departed from Fernie as well as the point of entry for almost all mail, telegraphs, goods and as the exit for a high percentage of the coal and lumber being extracted from the area. By the mid 1960s as technology changed, demands of consumers and industry evolved, the functions of the railway station and the jobs that were associated with its operation became less relevant. The last passenger train stopped here in 1964. By 1979 CPR had allowed for the station to fall into disrepair and abandoned its use.
Act Two- The Arts Station
In the mid-1980s the City began to contemplate the demolition of the station. During this period the Fernie Arts Council founded in 1973 had been searching for a permanent home and saw potential in the neglected building. The City, CPR and the Arts Council undertook negotiations regarding the ownership of the building and its management. CPR made the donation to the City, of the building and a portion of property just fifty feet away from its tracks to relocate it too. The City in turn leased the building to the Arts Council. Beginning in 1987, the Arts Council, undertook a community driven, multi-year project to rehabilitate the station.
The Arts Council embarked first on raising the capital for the project beginning with local donations, obtaining grants at the municipal and provincial levels and qualifying for provincial job training programs. The physical rehabilitation of the building began with cleaning it out and preparing it to be moved out of the CPR right of way to across First Avenue, a distance of about 50 feet to its current location. The move itself took two tries before successfully placing it on the new foundation and basement. Countless hours over the next three years saw teams of volunteers, skilled tradespeople and trades in training, working alongside each other in the effort to repurpose the building while conserving its historic character.
The room which once served as the freight room for the station became a 100-seat theater. The upstairs where the station master had resided turned into workshop and classroom space, the station waiting area into a gallery and café. The offices once used by CPR employees became offices for the Arts Council and a new basement level created additional space for potters, photographers and backstage needs. The Arts Council has continuously used the building since 1990 to host art shows, classes, to provide studio space and a venue for the performing arts including a wide variety of plays and concerts.
Fernie Station Timeline
Special thanks to:
Susan Medville from Mountain Heritage.
Lynda Bird, Dave O’Haire.