A couple weeks back, my dear friend and her son generously invited me to accompany them on a Canadian adventure. The last time I was in Canada was years ago on a whirlwind trip to Toronto (to see my Gill). Now, Canada is truly our neighbor to the north, the border resting only an hour and some away. This is a very different sort of Canada.
We drive a couple hours north, hit the border, and are quickly swallowed up by mountains. The highway is the only thing that reminds us that we’re not fully in the wild. My friend navigates the slick roads that wind through the mountains en route to our destination: Fernie.
Fernie, British Columbia: the sweetest town no one has heard of, outside the ski circuit that is. It is ski town living at its finest. Parents pull their small children along in sleds before sticking the vehicle in the snow and going inside the beautiful post office-turned- library. Meanwhile downtown is lively with tourists and residents alike doing their shopping and just enjoying the scene. We wander mostly, but this Heritage Walk covers the beautifully historic highlights we spotted along the way.
We start our visit with a quick tour of the Fernie Museum. It presents a well-curated overview of the history of the town, complete with a beautiful array of photographs from the early-1900s. These are my favorite. I love being transported back to a time where only the most adventurous people made this journey, made a life here. Upstairs is a “Treasures and Curiosities” exhibit of lifestyle items like weddings gowns and toys and physician paraphernalia. You could spend as little or as long as you liked and get a snapshot of this place. I like that.
We continue down 2nd Avenue, “Main Street,” if you will, and pop over to Clawhammer Letterpress just as it’s opening. This is just one of the many, many art studios and galleries located along second street. In fact, there’s a suggested Art Walk that directs you. From my experience, art and mountain life go hand and hand. Maybe it’s the solitude or the long winters that can seemingly force creativity. Whatever it is, it works.
Speaking of creativity, next stop after a little stroll farther down 2nd street is Beanpod Chocolate. Their shop smells like heaven (or the shops in Paris, same thing) and is a treat just to sit in. In the back is the kitchen where they turn pure cacao beans into their beautiful creations.
For lunch we head to the Blue Toque Gastro Diner. I would live here for this place. It is located in the old Canadian Pacific Railway Station, also home to the arts council, which means you meander through a little gallery of sorts before arriving to the restaurant itself. The menu is plentiful, catering to whatever you’re in the mood for and food restrictions. I settle on a Lotus Bowl, filled with rice noodles and vegetables and topped with five-spice duck. The waitstaff is kind and accommodating, and even go so far as to bring my friend’s son books and an Etch-a-Sketch. We can’t wait to return.
As we find our way back to the car, I spot a little butcher across from the library. You should know, local butchers are my favorite, and this one is no different. Born-and-raised in Fernie, he’s the first true local I meet on the visit (a honorable distinction out west). He’s as kind as you’d imagine, in love with his town, and so generous with advice. There’s homemade sausage and jerky on offer in addition to many cuts of meat. Another time.
On our way out of town, en route to Crowsnest Pass, we’re socked in by fog and shielded from the dramatic mountain views around us. But it makes no difference to me. The spirit of the place is special and more than enough for me, but if those mountains feel like showing off a little next time, I won’t complain.
Fernie is located in southeast British Columbia. It’s approximately 2 hours from Kalispell, MT, and 3 hours from Calgary, Alberta.
For help planning a visit, check out the tourism bureaus site HERE.