Forged into Fernie’s history
On the second floor of their blacksmith’s workshop in Hosmer, Sandra and David Barrett have painstakingly hung beautiful photos of their works throughout the years. Hanging freely from wires inside frames or encased in glass displays, it becomes clear that Fernie Forge has welded itself into the town’s history.
Since the Forge opened in 2004, the Barrett’s pieces created from steel, copper and bronze can be seen at businesses, hotels and churches in Fernie.
“We obviously don’t get to keep the things we make,” said Sandra, “so we take photos of everything.”
The business was originally founded in Britain in 1893 and was passed along through five generations of blacksmiths to David in 1993. He now shares the business with wife Sandra who spent 17 years as an architectural librarian before getting into this business.
According to her, the Forge’s move across the Atlantic was “like fate.”
“Like many people, we came to Fernie for skiing and holiday,” said Sandra, “and I would go to the United Church. While I was there, the preacher after service one day recognized me and knew what I did for a living, and he said to me, ‘Why don’t you do what you do over there, over here?”
This suggestion was carried along by the provincial sponsorship for skilled workers in rural areas and by the decaying state of blacksmithing workshops in their native land, England.
“We figured if we were going to start over and rebuild something, why not really start over in a new country?” said Sandra.
So the pair purchased an acreage just outside of the city to recreate a part of the home they’d left behind.
“In England, we had a small acreage with a pig and goose and ducks,” said Sandra. “So we wanted to be able to walk to work from our home. And you can’t really do that in Downtown Fernie.”
That humble farm feel is well preserved at their Forge location just off Highway 3. A large Paul Bunyon statue stands watch over the grounds while a pack of hens and alpacas graze in the distance.
Since opening, the Forge has specialized in rails and gates for the majority of its operation.
It was only until recently that Sandra’s artistic side began to form in the steel they used and they started creating sculptures and custom pieces.
“It’s an ancient craft, but brought up to date,” Sandra says of their work.
The photos on the walls depict rails bent and twirled to represent a rushing river, with fish leaping through the steel waves. A five-legged stool that needed extra support from the design of steel twigs that made up its chair back, and many more custom pieces for local businesses.
Like the roses made from copper that hang over the sign at Stratton’s Plumbing, that represent owner Rick’s copper pipes and his wife Rose.
Sandra compares the way that the two of them work, saying, “David measures accurately; I measure with a piece of string. He plans everything out to a precise degree; I’m more organic and refine as I go along.”
Naturally, these two different processes have lent themselves well to the two sides of the business.
“Basically, we can do whatever people want us to do,” said Sandra. “Or, we make their ideas into reality.” This is where Sandra’s imagination truly shines.
“It’s really great to work with people who give us the independence and the trust to create something for them,” said Sandra.
It’s something she doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s a privilege to create something that’s going to be a part of someone’s life. A lot of our work is functional, so it’s not just an aesthetic; it’s something that’s meant to be used and the materials we make them from are meant to last,” she said.
The two annually pass along their knowledge to visitors who come to the Forge as part of the Columbia Basin Culture Tour every August.
“It’s a craft and it’s an art we like to share with people and creating a lasting connection,” said Sandra.