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Rod & Gun Club celebrates 100th birthday - The Free Press Turns 115 Years Old

February 2 1999

Free Press Files

The Fernie Rod and Gun Club celebrated their 100th anniversary at the Community Centre Saturday.

The celebration started in the middle of the morning with numerous displays – trophy heads, virtual fishing, and display fly ties, for example – an afternoon awards presentation, and an historical overview of the club’s history by member George Wilson.

“Six weeks I’ve been working on these notes,” he said, holding a pile of hand-written papers.

After pouring through scores of old newspapers and reading meeting minutes for 1939 to the present, Wilson found a few interesting facts.

“The Fernie Free Press covered the first meeting,” he said. “Which is good, because I don’t have the minutes.”

Not only did the Free Press cover the news story on March 4, 1899, they were part of the story. The inaugural meeting of the Fernie Gun and Rifle Club was held at the newspaper office. And the publisher, George Henderson, was an active member. In

April, he was elected secretary-treasurer.

They went through a tremendous transition,” said Wilson. “They started out as a shooting club and in five years they turned into a conservation club. That’s amazing.”

His evidence: A book written in 1905 by William Hornady entitled Campfires in the Canadian Rockies. A portion of the book details how Hornady visited Fernie from Pennsylvania, was met at the train station by prominent lawyer and member Harry Herchmer, and whisked to the bushes for a 30-day hunting trip during the month of September.

By then, the club was already called the Game Protective Association. According to the book, Hornady met with the club members after his month-long trek and discussed the need for new hunting regulations.

The laws were much too liberal, he explained. There was and unlimited bag limit on grizzly bears; he recommended one. The bag limit on goats was five. He suggested reducing the count to three. His plan called for more restrictive hunting limits on caribou, deer, mountain sheep, moose, and black bear.

“Obviously, somewhere in the transition, they were adopted,” said Wilson, who also gleaned some interesting facts by reading through the meeting minutes.

In 1940, they supported an option from the Kimberley Rod and Gun Club to protect green timber for 100 yards from the shore of any lake in the region.

“Here’s a classic,” he said. “We still have those arguments today.”

Or in Feb.. 1942, when the club discussed dissolving the club due to lack of interest. Obviously the motion was defeated. And the club thrives with 100 members although finding women to join has been a continuing struggle.

The Free Press reported in 1899 that “an effort will be made to induce ladies to join the club…. One lady has already signified her intention to join.”

“We still don’t have a lady member in the club,” Wilson said, laughing. “We’ve had lady members but they’re few and far between.”

And in Nov. 1946, the club sent a telegram to BC’s Attorney General recommending an immediate hunting closure due to a “recent blizzard.” Their plea was ignored.

Of course, there was the battle for the Flathead in 1982, when Sage Creek Coal threatened to take coal out of the region’s “true wilderness.” The bid was trounced.

It was the Fernie Rod and Gun Club that mounted the protest, Wilson said. A lifelong coal miner, he conceded other factors forced the government to discount the mining proposal. Worldwide prices for thermal coal were already starting to plummet, he admitted. But he still feels the club played a part.

The Fernie Rod and Gun Club wasn’t just gloating about their history. There’s the grasslands restoration project in the Mt. Broadwood Heritage Conservation Area near Elko.

The slash project, removing forest ingrowth, restores the grassland to its natural state for birds and mammals. The BC Wildlife Federation awarded the club with a Dr. Louis Lemieux award )and $1,000 prize) and finished in third place for the Roderick Haig-Brown award.

The club has also been removing noxious weeds, sometimes pulling the hated knapweed by hand from the region. Conservationists still aren’t certain how much harm is caused by the weed, admitted Past President Brian  Fantuz.

And two weeks ago, members including Mario Rocca, were placing radio collars on nine sheep in the Wigwam River area. It’s part of five-year, one-half million dollar project to find a scientific answer for declining sheep herds in the region. (The study also includes sheep in Bow River Area and Canal Flats.)

Apparently, sheep populations historically drop suddenly and periodically, and rebound. But never fully. There are plenty of theories (discounting over-hunting), but the Rod and Gun Club, working with a biologist, wants some answers.

Of course, Wilson admitted, the biggest question has nothing to do with declining sheep numbers. The real question he’s been asked repeatedly, is why do hunters spend so much time protecting the animals?

Simple, he says. Protecting the animals ensures there’s something left to hunt the following season. And each of the following seasons. It sure beats extinction.

“If it wasn’t for hunters, I don’t know where our wildlife would be today,” he said.

For more great stories that ran in The Free Press in the past 115 years http://issuu.com/thefreepress/docs/115_the_free_press/1

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