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Blue Toque eviction generates controversy

A new lease agreement has led to the eviction of Blue Toque Diner from the Arts Station
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Blue Toque Diner was not included on a new five-year Arts Station lease that Fernie and District Arts Council signed with the City, and was given a month to vacate. The community has pushed back against this decision and a petition is circulating in support of Blue Toque (Photo courtesy of Blue Toque Diner)

A decision made by the Fernie and District Arts Council and the City of Fernie to expand community art and culture programs has led to the eviction of a long-term Arts Station tenant Blue Toque Diner, and has generated push-back from the community.

Blue Toque Diner was not included on a new five-year lease of the Arts Station that the arts council signed with The City, which gives the business no choice but to relocate.

Both signees have indicated the decision was influenced by a need for more space to expand Arts Station programs, but some members of the community have indicated they are displeased with the decision and a petition is circulating in support of Blue Toque.

Petition co-creator Jonathan MacGregor said the Blue Toque Diner is a 17-year-long sub-lease tenant of the Arts Station and that it was only given one month’s notice to vacate. He thinks the business was treated unfairly and that it deserves more respect.

He said he plans to take the petition to council once he gathers 1,000 signatures.

“They have to show some respect for the Blue Toque as a stakeholder there. They should either be acknowledging writing a separate lease agreement with the Blue Toque or acknowledging that there’s a current sub-lease in that existing facility,” he said.

“Years is a long time for them to not recognize them as a stakeholder in that facility,” he added.

The Free Press reached out to Blue Toque owner Tanya Carre for additional comment, but she declined and stated that her lawyer had advised her not to comment.

Mayor Nic Milligan issued a statement on Feb. 9 that said the intent of the new lease was to allow the arts council to take full occupancy of the facility in order to expand its programs.

“The updated lease supports the arts council in enhancing the community’s access to arts and culture by expanding to occupy the full facility in response to their growing popularity as home to all-ages accessible programming, exhibits and activities that animate our community,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“Council is committed to leveraging our public facilities and limited indoor community space to enhance public programming offerings and extend delivery of community services,” he noted.

The arts council released a similar statement on Feb. 6.

“Community space is at a premium in Fernie and the decision not to execute a new sublease with the Blue Toque restaurant was made to support expanded community programming and public uses,” it stated in a press release.

Milligan mentioned that legal teams representing the arts council and Blue Toque Diner, are currently engaged in discussion.

“The City of Fernie understands that the respective legal counsels for the Fernie and District Arts Council and the Blue Toque restaurant are in discussions at this time with a view to reaching a mutually acceptable resolution of the matter,” he stated.

Fernie Chamber of Commerce announced in an e-mail on Feb. 8 that it was supporting the Blue Toque Diner in its quest to find a new home.

“Mandated to vacate their current location by March 1, 2024, the owners are now faced with the daunting task of securing a new space and making swift impactful decisions. As a chamber, we believe in advocating for local businesses through challenging situations,” it stated.

The Chamber suggests that anyone with knowledge of commercial space that the Blue Toque Diner could move to or available resources that could help the business, should reach out to Carre.

MacGregor said that ultimately, he’s pleased the community has offered so much support.

“I’m happy that people are coming out to support the toque. They’ve been a big part of the downtown community for a long time. They put their heart and soul in to the business and they’ve put a lot of character into that facility and I think that needs to be respected,” he said.