Navigating the snow- and ice-covered streets is difficult for any Elk Valley resident, but for people with mobility challenges it can be near impossible.
Grace Brulotte was born and raised in Fernie, and every winter struggles with snow removal.
The young woman has a rare neuromuscular disorder called arthrogryposis, as well as the spinal condition scoliosis, and is wheelchair-bound.
Brulotte said before discovering adaptive skiing, she hated winter because it made her feel trapped and cut off from the rest of the world.
“I wanted to go outside but literally could not because the sidewalks, especially the ends of the sidewalks, were never cleared properly,” she told The Free Press.
“My wheelchair cost $30,000 and every time I put it through deep snow, I risk having it damaged. But beyond that, I feel closed off from society – less than human. I am a very busy individual, I support many local initiatives and I have a basic human right to access what Fernie has to offer just like everyone else.”
On November 27, Brulotte took to Facebook to vent her frustration about not being able to access the sidewalk, which forced her to park down the street and made her 30 minutes late for an appointment.
“I have a right to access buildings in town just like everyone else, but unlike everyone else I don’t have the luxury of stepping over snow piles,” she wrote.
The post quickly gained traction, garnering more than 130 likes, 31 comments and 11 shares by Friday.
Brulotte said the response to her post was “overwhelming and surprising”.
“The community really rallied and supported me with this issue,” she said. “…the common thought was that snow removal needs to improve in this town as it affects so many different lives on a daily basis.”
Brulotte plans to meet with the Mayor to discuss the issue further and attend a council meeting in the future.
However, she admits this presents a challenge in itself with no wheelchair access at City Hall.
Brulotte said she wrote the Facebook post not to complain but in the hope of achieving two outcomes: “One being that a solution is presented that can be implemented this year to aide in better snow removal, but I also want to raise awareness in the community that there are people being confined to their houses and forced to compromise their safety and wellbeing,” she said.
“We are a strong community and it’s time we started acting like one by giving extra support to those who need it.
“A little effort from all of us can impact so many lives. I hope to work with council and the community itself to achieve this goal.”
The City is responsible for maintaining snow and ice removal on roadways, and sidewalks in Fernie. However, business property owners, apartment complex owners and managing occupants are also obligated to keep sidewalks free of snow and ice under City bylaws.
The issue of snow on the curb in downtown Fernie was raised by another member of the public during the public input period at the November 26 regular meeting of council.
The City is in the process of updating its snow removal policy, however, Chief Administrative Office Norm McInnis said there has been no change in method from previous years.
“An updated policy will come back to council and the level of service will be reviewed annually as part of a service level review,” he said.