It’s the end of an era for the Fernie Museum. With longtime director Mike Pennock stepping down to retire, the Fernie District and Historical Society was tasked with finding a replacement. Needing to fill some rather large shoes, the society began the daunting process of interviewing and meeting with a number of strong candidates. After an extensive search, they are pleased to announce Ron Ulrich has been hired to take on the role of director/curator.
“Ron brings extensive experience, a strong vision and a holistic understanding of the arts, heritage and tourism fields to the role,” commented Laura Nelson, chair of the Search Committee. “Replacing Mike Pennock, who was such a driving force behind the museum, was not going to be easy. In hiring Ron, the committee felt we had someone with both the historical and museum practice background that would be able to take the museum’s programming and operations to the next level.”
Ulrich first began working in museums when he was just 14-years-old. He was involved in the start up of the Crowsnest Museum in 1983, where after many years of volunteering, he eventually became the president. Ulrich went on to work at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, Leitch Collieries Provincial Historic Site, the Galt Museum in Lethbridge and the Fort Macloed Museum. He has also done contract work with several other museums over the years.
“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years now, non-stop,” remarked Ulrich. “It’s given me a real appreciation for community museums and the stories that they tell, and how museums can help build a sense of community.”
With strong professional and family ties to the Crowsnest Pass and Elk Valley, Ulrich is no stranger to the area.
“I’m a fourth generation Crowsnest Pass-Elk Valley resident. My great-grandparents moved and immigrated to Canada and settled in Fernie. They got married in Fernie, they had their first kids in Fernie, my grandfather was born in Fernie,” he said. “Coming back to Fernie is really about coming full circle and it’s about coming home.”
In fact, Ulrich previously worked closely with the Fernie and District Historical Society on the Year of the Coalminer – a project spearheaded by the Galt Museum.
“I know Fernie, I know some of the players, I know some of the collections and I know the spirit that’s driving the museum as well,” said Ulrich. “There’s a real optimism, and I know people like Randal [Macnair] and Mike [Pennock] and Laura [Nelson] are really driven by excellence.”
“The story of Fernie has been embedded into my family history,” he added. “It’s a story that I’m very passionate about, it’s a story I’m very familiar with and… I thought this is something I really want to be a part of.”
Ulrich is excited to begin working with a museum and board that is already well-established in the community.
“What’s already been done has been so good,” he stated. “The board is very forward thinking and where they’ve brought the museum, along with Mike, to this point, is quite impressive. I’m looking to be able to launch forward with that.”
Ulrich went on to say, “What I’m looking forward to doing is really engaging the community. I have a lot of ideas I’m working through and I’m doing a lot of research and reading right now to prep myself for the job. We need to implement some new systems for the museum to manage the growth moving forward, and for me, it’s about how I can make this museum as accessible as I possibly can to the public.”
Ulrich will take over as director/curator of the Fernie Museum on August 5.