By Jennifer CroninFree Press Staff
The Elk Valley is a vast area, but even so, the family ties often are interwoven from community to community. This has perhaps never been truer than with this week’s “face of the Valley”.
Corlyn Haarstad, nee Worthington was born in 1968 in the “old” Fernie Hospital to father John and mother Marie (nee Domin).
With family ties to names in the valley such as Warshawsky, Mattersdorfer, Joinson, Simmons, Domin, Oakely, Barnes, Almond and Ingham, the roots of Corlyn’s family tree spread the length of the Valley, from Jaffray to Michel.
Corlyn’s maternal grandparents, Albert and Lizzie Ingham settled Sheep Mountain in 1897. John Domin came to Michel in 1902 and to Morrissey in 1908. Her paternal great grandfather, Joe Worthington settled first in Michel in 1907, moving to Carbanado in 1909. That same year with the mine closure, he moved on to Coal Creek. In about 1944 he purchased the Waldorf Hotel in Fernie.
Corlyn’s first home was above “Old Johnny Rahal’s” on 2nd Ave. in Fernie, and at the age of two, the family relocated to Jaffray and then two years later on to Galloway where the family would remain until Corlyn was 19.
Father John worked as a millwright, and mother was a stay-at-home mom until the children were older at which time she took over the Galloway post office. She subsequently bought the store and post office and worked there for about 27 years before retiring.
Corlyn attended the Jaffray School from kindergarten through to grade 10, and was bused to Fernie for her final two years of school.
As was typical of the time, Corlyn together with sisters Bernice and Stephanie would entertain themselves as children by picking berries, hiking and fishing.
At 19, Corlyn was married to her high school sweetheart, Dean Haarstad, at the Anglican Church in Fernie. Together they welcomed their two daughters, Anissa and Kaitlyn (Katie).
In 1995, Corlyn had a chance meeting which would define her career path and spark a passion she might not have otherwise found. This is when, in Elko, at the bottom of a grave, she met John Gawryluk. As Corlyn describes it, John was digging with a shovel, and he asked Corlyn to pull him out and she refused. “I thought he was going to pull me in,” she laughed. “We started chatting and at the end of the conversation he said, ‘you need to come and work for me.’ I thought he was absolutely crazy!”
Corlyn started working, at Cherished Memories Funeral Services (CMFS), in what she refers to as “baptism by fire.” Originally doing paperwork, and now 20 years later, assisting in all aspects of the business.
In about 1999, Corlyn recalls getting inquiries from people looking for the resting place of loved ones. Following up she started to recognize a gap in the records from 1899 to 1911. To fill in the pieces of the puzzle, she obtained the records from the City of Fernie, and realized the same gap (the burial records of some 400 people) existed in their records. This prompted her to start a database which launched “The Lost Souls Society”. In discussion, it becomes evident that Corlyn has also found her passion in this project that has grown to include the area from the B.C./Alberta border to Wardner.
Discussing the changes in the Valley over the years, Corlyn shares that when she was starting out, “We didn’t have to go far from home. They (young people) want more out of life now. They don’t want to work in coal etc. The world around us is changing, not the valley, not the people.” She continues by saying, “they always come back to their roots.”
Corlyn feels she will continue working until her client’s become a number. “If you can’t have a piece of your heart set aside for everyone that comes there, (CMFS), you don’t belong. Every one (of the clients) belongs to someone, may not be my uncle, brother or father, but they are somebody’s.”
“I love my job, can’t put it any other way. I love helping people who come to us in a time of need.”
Driven by compassion, motivated through caring, Corlyn Haarstad is a benevolent “face of the Valley”.