By Centine Wilbers
The shops of historic downtown know there is only one name in the business of authentic and quality woodwork repairs in the Elk Valley: River City Woodworks. Originating in 1989, building houses around Fernie and the snowfields, owner Willard Ripley streamlined the business in 2000 to focus on specialty woodwork.
Adorning the fronts of the United Church, the Vogue Theatre, Ski Base, the Fernie Museum, the Fernie Tea and Coffee House, the General Store and Livery, River City’s doors contribute to the look and feel of Fernie’s turn of the century architecture. “What we produce is customised and unique,” says Willard. “For the doors of Second Avenue, this means sturdy solid wood doors, aged to match the aesthetic of the neighbourhood.” Hailing from New Brunswick, Willard fell in love with Fernie in the late 1980s. A long-time skier and recent graduate from Art and Design school, Willard says, “I needed to find a way to stay here. The formation of River City Woodworks seemed a logical step.”
Brad Graystock, River City’s architectural technologist, is responsible for the historical accuracy of the doors of Second Avenue. “We use magazines and books and even catalogues from old mill houses,” says Brad. “We search for and collect any image that can inform the design and look of our doors.” However, the skilled journeymen carpenters of River City have designed and created a host of additional products. “We’ve made pony walls, coffered ceilings, built-in cabinets. We have even carved ornate beer pulls. If it’s made from wood, we can make it!”
By focusing on tradition, experience, craftsmanship and expertise, River City has created a niche in quality woodworks. “Our products are of high demand, particularly in ranch homes and acreages,” says Willard. “In 2008 we opened a show room in Calgary. But all our production and design remains in Fernie. Our business model is lifestyle oriented, and centres around Fernie. With a staff of 15, we are too big to rely on the Elk Valley for commissions. Instead, we create things here that we can sell elsewhere.”
The reputation for customisation and quality of their products is such that clients as far away as Japan order products through River City Woodworks. “The quality of our woodwork is such that the doors could outlast the buildings,” says Willard. “As long as they are protected from the rain and snow, there is no reason our doors couldn’t last 100 years, or more.” Architectural features such as alcoves and protective overhangs are a common feature of older buildings, particularly in the Elk Valley. In addition, Willard claims his products are environmentally friendly, as they are often formed from reclaimed wood, and require relatively little energy to produce. “Our creations are not only good for you, they’re good for the earth too.”