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Historic Fernie church gets new lease on life as a public space

Fernie’s historic Knox United Church will be preserved and stay a part of the community as a public venue, with plans to host art events and live music.

The church was purchased by the Fernie Heritage Trust Society, and possession was officially handed over today.

The building was constructed after a huge fire in August 1908 that wiped out most of the town.

“It was built in 1909 after the Great Fire to replace the wooden structure that existed before,” said Gordon Sombrowski, president of the Fernie Heritage Trust Society. “It was built out of Fernie Heritage Brick, which is a kind of brick that was made at the time.”

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Throughout its life, the Knox United Church held several different congregations.

“It was the home of the Presbyterian Church, and when the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches joined together, it became the home of the United Church of Canada ever since,” explained Sombrowski.

According to Sombrowski, the congregation attending services at the church was starting to dwindle in recent years, so discussions of selling the church began.

“The Fernie Heritage Trust Society was formed to have an organization that could potentially work with them to transition the church to something that could be a community asset, as opposed to having it turned into a housing development or it being torn down, God forbid,” said Sombrowski.

Under its new ownership, the Knox United Church will be maintained and used for a number of different events.

“Primarily, we’re looking at public access and possibly a variety of arts-related ventures in the building and certainly as a performance art and concert hall space,” explained Sombrowski. 

“It would have been a great tragedy to lose this building from our community, for one it’s just a beautiful building, two it’s in great shape, and three, it’s purpose-built for public performances as a church. It has really good acoustics.”

Sombrowski explained the importance of making sure Fernie’s historic buildings are maintained.

“Those buildings really help define the character of the community as a beautiful place to live; in part because of the environment with the amazing mountains and the geography and also because of these incredible heritage buildings,” said Sombrowski. 

“The Knox United Church is one of these magnificent buildings that reflect our history at about the turn of the last century.”

The Fernie Heritage Trust Society will open the Knox United Church’s doors for a community open house on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 5 p.m.

“This will allow people to see the church, tour the inside, give us feedback and ideas or let us know if they can volunteer or participate,” said Sombrowski.

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