Blacksmithing Barretts introduce a noble trade to the Elk Valley

Submitted by Fernie Free Press on Wed, August 24, 2005

by Chris Marchand

HOSMER – The centuries-old trade of blacksmithing has a new home in Hosmer.

The Fernie Forge, operated by husband and wife team David and Sandra Barrett, hopes to find common ground between art and industry as they offer their unique metal-working skills to local residents.

The Barretts recently immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom. David is a fifth-generation blacksmith whose family has operated a shop in village near Swindon in Wiltshire since 1893. Both alumni of the British National School of Blacksmithing, Sandra is an accomplished metal-worker with a flair for the artistic. Joining them in British Columbia are daughter Flo and son Henry.

David says their move to Canada was part of an evolution in the family business, a way to keep practicing their trade while broadening the scope of their clientele – from farmers to homeowners and perhaps even the tourist trade.

“About 10 years ago, Sandra and I had to look for other ways, or other openings for what we were going to do with the skills that we have,” said David. “We’ve now gone into the more artistic, decorative and domestic type of work. In days gone by, everything in my family has done for the farming and agricultural industry, as most village blacksmiths would have done. In the last 15 or 20 years in England we’ve had the BSE and the fall in wheat prices, which meant that the farming industry has taken a hell of a knock and likewise businesses like ours.”

In April, David packed a shipping container with his family’s rather heavy tools of the trade, including his grandfather’s anvil, for the trip overseas.

In recent weeks, the Barrett’s have nearly completed their new forge, a large barn-like structure, next to their Hosmer home on Hwy. 3. Just the door hinges remain, a feature David prefers to fashion himself. By October, they hope to be open for business, addressing the custom blacksmithing needs of the Elk Valley.

But what exactly is that? David says the forge can fabricate just about anything you ask for. “Traditionally, we would make gates, railings, staircases, said David. “We’re very much open to whatever people want us to do. We’re not set in any particular mode. Over the years we’ve done a lot of different things for a lot of different industries.” Their versatility is apparent in their past projects – from stands for Polaris missiles, to decorative copper plates on church doors.

David describes himself as primarily and engineer blacksmith, while Sandra particularly enjoys the intricacies of fine metal work and has extended her knowledge into working with copper and gold leaf. Discovering the Elk Valley on a ski vacation, David says the area was an attractive locale to consider moving the family business. “One of the reasons why we thought this was a good area is that there is industry here,” says David. “There’s the logging industry, mining industry, plus the fact that there are the tourists and the people from Calgary with second homes. We didn’t wnat to be in a pure tourist type of area.” “We’re a working forge,” says Sandra. “We don’t want to end up like Fort Steele and just demonstrate to people, we can do some larger jobs as well.”

Once in operation, Sandra says they hope to set aside Wednesday and Sunday afternoons to welcome guests into their shop and demonstrate their craft.

In the process of their move to Canada, the family took advantage of British Columbia’s Provincial Nominee Program, which helps to accelerate the immigration process for highly-skilled workers from other countries. The Barretts are the eighth family of blacksmiths to come to Canada, the fourth family from the UK. “It was just a chance remark one day by somebody in the United Church in Fernie, they said “Why don’t you do what you do out here?,” said Sandra. “This particular scheme is pretty new to British Columbia. We chose Fernie because we love the town and we identified Hwy. 3 as a good shop window.

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