Public Art Piece to Commemorate Devastating 1908 Fernie Fire

Credit: Michael Hepher and Paul Reimer

A full century after Fernie was hit hard by wildfires, local artists have been commissioned to honour the tragic event.

On August 1, 1908, Tourism Fernie says it took less than 90 minutes for a fire to destroy much of the city, causing the entire community to evacuate.

While no lives were lost, they estimate the total property damages to be as high as $5 million in 1908 figures. Using the Bank of Canada's inflation calculator, that works out to more than $107 million in 2017.

Now 100 years later, Mayor Mary Giuliano says they were able to get a $50,000 grant from the BC Museums Association Canada 150 Public Art Grant.

Using historical photographs as inspiration, she says Michael Hepher and Paul Reimer came up with the successful design.

"They have what looks like walls freestanding towards each other, and then they have some curved posts going through the openings of windows to signify the smoke going through. They have some pieces on the ground to signify some of the ruins."

This monument will be installed in Fernie's Station Square, which is being redone over the next couple of years.

A council of several local artists voted on all of the submitted project proposals, but Giuliano says some were not happy with the "modern" concept Hepher and Reimer brought forward.

"I did ask council if signage could be placed next to this artwork, not only describing who the artists are, but also telling the community and other who look at it what the symbols are."

The mayor also hopes this project will inspire other artists to create more public pieces that will enhance the community visually and historically.

The grant received will cover 80% of the total costs, while the remainder will come from the city's Resort Development Strategy.

It should be open to the public sometime in May.

- David Opinko

Audio: Mary Giuliano, Mayor, City of Fernie

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