The beautification committee was formed in 2010 when Mayor Mary Giuliano, a city councillor at the time, wanted to decorate main street with hanging flowerpots. She wanted more public art and more greenery in the downtown core.
“I wanted to do more and I thought I can’t do this myself,” she said. “It was suggested we start a committee,” and the Beautification Committee was born.
The volunteer committee members come from a wide cross-section of the community. There’s Giuliano, local businesspeople Jeremiah Pauw and Sarah Deschenes, council member Jon Levesque as well as Fernie Chamber of Commerce executive director Patty Vadnais and Leisure Services Advisory Board member Jocelyn Sombrowski.
They are united by a fondness for the community and a desire to see it succeed.
“Being a resident with a business and a family I have a personal stake in Fernie and want Fernie to succeed,” said Pauw in an interview with The Free Press. “I heard the committee had an opening so I volunteered.”
The committee is responsible for making recommendations on expenditures to council for the beautification of public spaces.
Some of their past efforts include the Out of the Box Art Initiative, which saw nine waste recycle bins painted and decorated by local artists during a summer festival.
They were also instrumental in the decorative winter lighting put up along the highway corridor as well as the City’s new Tribute Program, where individuals and groups are given an opportunity to purchase and place amenities such as benches, bike racks, picnic tables, and trees in parks and along trails to commemorate life and achievement.
Now the committee is turning its attention to Station Square. The parking lot adjacent the old CPR station has been hosting a number of community events, but it could use some beautifying.
Revitalizing the square has been a topic of discussion for decades but in February, after hearing a presentation from Pauw, council agreed to create a taskforce to spearhead the redevelopment of the downtown square.
The installation of new public washrooms near the square and a new deck at The Arts Station are helping to kick-start the process.
“We want to get everyone to the table and come up with a plan that would fit Fernie’s needs,” he said. “We envision a social space that is able to hold outdoor venues with proper infrastructure to host concerts, theatre and markets. We would like public art and green space. A place for people to chill out and enjoy the outdoors.”
The final cost of the project is unknown as it is still in the planning stages but provincial grants could cover some of the cost as Fernie is lucky enough to get funding from the Resort Municipality Initiative program because of its status as a resort community. The bathrooms cost approximately $232,000, replacing The Arts Station’s deck cost approximately $83,000.
The washrooms will be opened this spring, the deck is already complete but the full revitalization of the square will be a multi-step process that could take years, said director of Leisure Services Lloyd Smith.
A veteran of municipal administration, Smith has worked for a number of governments in larger towns across Alberta including Okotoks and Canmore,
“In a lot of other communities, you’d have a hard time getting a beautification committee together,” he said. “They wouldn’t even think of it.”
When completed, Station Square could be connected into a wider system of walking trails and sidewalks to create a network for pedestrian travel downtown. In the long term such a network would turn the community into the antithesis of the urban sprawl that dominated communities he’s worked for in the past.
All of this will be good for business said Fernie Chamber of Commerce executive director Patty Vadnais.
The square is already a venue for a number of community concerts and recently hosted a number of Griz Days events. In the summer it is the site of the Wednesday concert series, which has become very popular for both locals and tourists.
With the upgrades the Beautification Committee is proposing for Station Square, it will be easier for events like that to happen and will encourage people to spend more time and money downtown.
“I’m excited to see this work done,” said Vadnais.