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Fernie Faces – Grace Dvorak
By Lori Bradish
Fernie and District Historical Society
The Fernie Museum presents the valley’s history through a unique audio/visual program called Fernie Faces, featured in its main floor exhibit, This Is Our Fernie. Through five historic characters Fernie’s fascinating growth is chronicled. This article features Grace Dvorak, long time valley resident and historian.
Grace Dvorak loved the Elk Valley and was one of Fernie’s most beloved historians, writing of her youth in Coal Creek and her adult life in Fernie. Grace was born in Montana in 1919, coming to Coal Creek with her family in 1920.
Her father Tom Arbuckle worked at the mine in Coal Creek. He and his wife Aggie were born in Scotland and moved here, following the work provided by mines. They lived in Coal Creek from 1919 to 1952, raising Grace and her five sisters and four brothers. Shortly after they left, the mines closed, after 60 years of operation, in 1958. As families left Coal Creek they salvaged all the wood and nails they could from their houses there to build sheds and houses in Fernie.
Grace had to leave Fernie during the Depression to help make money for her struggling family. She moved to Creston, living with her brother Stewart, working as a waitress at the Creston Hotel. Then Grace travelled to Vancouver and worked in a cannery. She happily returned to Fernie in 1939, and married Frank Dvorak. Frank worked for CPR at the time, and they lived in the train station house. That seemed fitting for Grace since it was always the sound of the train whistle that most reminded her of home.
Work was the most rewarding aspect of her life in Fernie. She dwelled on how hard her forbearers worked to establish a community here and how many miners sacrificed their lives. She contributed in her own way, by writing local histories or commemorative poems, lobbying the government regarding environmental issues in the valley, volunteering in various community organizations, cleaning at the hospital, and working for her husband Frank Dvorak’s guiding outfit. Through the Fernie Historical Society Grace’s poetry and stories have been published in several books.
Grace Dvorak passed away in Fernie in 2010.
To learn more about Fernie’s colourful past come explore the exhibit, This Is Our Fernie, at the Fernie Museum. Open every day from 10 am to 530 pm at 491 Second Ave.