The Chautauqua Fall Fair 2019, held under a mix of cloud and sun, was a success. The event showcased Elk Valley culture, including music, visual art, crafts, performance, and food. Culture on The Lawn, Family Safety Day, and Art After Dark, were of particular interest, although there were many things to see and do around town. Event heroes were organizer Ron Ulrich and the many volunteers and workers who laboured to make things happen.
Culture on The Lawn participants moved around the City Hall grounds, watching artisans, buying goods, and listening to live music. Two antique cars were parked near the front steps of City Hall, surrounded by a cluster of elderly men. One in particular was eager to explain the functioning of his Model T Ford. That man was none other than Montana State Senator Mike Cuffe.
Senator Cuffe and a few friends drove their precarious looking vehicles all the way from Eureka Montana at a top speed of around 65 kilometres an hour “depending on whether you’re going uphill or downhill.”
“We drove up here this morning and it took us about an hour from four corners,” said the NRA member and former Majority Whip, in the Montana State House of Representatives. “We pull off the road when we see traffic building up behind us.”
Cuffe added, “We invite you all down to Eureka Rendezvous Days the third weekend of April. We love Fernie. I ski here a lot. We are up and down here all the time.”
Fernie Resident Rachel Behan was the music coordinator for Chautauqua, and also a performer. A member of the Hark Raving Sirens folk group, she had her hand on the pulse of this year’s fall fair.
“It’s all local music. It’s all local acts,” she said. “This is the fifth Chautauqua, and I’ve really enjoyed taking on the role and learning about what Chautauqua is, because I think everybody wonders.”
Behan has been studying the history of Chautauqua, which originated in New York at Lake Chautauqua in the 1870s.
“It came to Canada in 1917,” she explained. “It was about spreading joy and culture to small western towns and remote mountain regions. The language translations don’t make any sense, so the word Chautauqua could mean, a fish taken out of water, a bag tied in the middle, a place of easy death, or the place of foggy mists.”
Cathy Smith-Clark was busy spinning dog hair before a crowd of enthralled onlookers at Culture on The Lawn.
“I’ve spun every animal hair in the world,” she proclaimed. “I’m spinning golden retriever hair today. We are going to make mittens. [But] Dog hair has no elasticity. Dog hair is very straight, so you have to learn how to spin it.”
The Fernie Fire Department yard was filled with emergency and safety services for the Chautauqua Fall Fair. The ladder truck was extended. Children played on the antique firetruck. Members of the fire department barbecued hot dogs and educated attendees.
Paramedic Jean Boyd was part of the action.
“We brought our equipment by and our ambulance by,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of kids through talking to them about what we do as paramedics and showing them the equipment. It’s a fantastic atmosphere here.”
Avalanche technician Erich Leidums was busy explaining rescue methods to his son.
“I’m here because this is a community event going on with all the rescue organizations and first responders,” he said. “The firehall is putting on a great show here. It’s an opportunity for all the first responders to showcase what they do and how they help the community.”
Art After Dark was one of the jewels in the crown of Chautauqua. The spectacle of high fashion, costume, Circus Insomniacs performers, food, drink, as well as live music was the cultural zenith of the weekend. Drinks were provided by Fernie Distillery. Food was provided by chef Barrie Elliott.
Lynn Rogers attended Art After Dark dressed up and ready for fun.
“I’m enjoying all the different people, and the different events, and seeing all the enthusiasm for Chautauqua,” she said. “I’m loving it. I love that people engage in the events with their outfits and their enthusiasm, and that the City provides this amazing venue. Fernie Rocks.”
A Sunday night dinner was held to celebrate Sikh culture in southeastern B.C. and southern Alberta.
The event, hosted by the Himalayan Spice Bistro served up an array of ethnic food.
“One of the objectives of the cultural dinner every year is to highlight the ethnic communities in Fernie whose history may be lost or hidden,” explained Ulrich. “The talk on the Sikh community really highlighted how much we’ve learned through the Sikh Heritage Project, and how much we don’t know about the many men that came to Fernie to work in the lumber mills, the railway and in the mines.”