Chautauquas were held annually in Fernie from 1918 to the late 1920s.
Chautauqua was a travelling institution begun at Chautauqua Lake, NY with roots in Canadian Methodist Temperance rallies. Chautauquas carried education, inspiration and entertainment across North America.
John M. Erickson brought the idea from the US to Alberta in 1917. He established Dominion Chautauquas (Canadian Chautauquas after 1926) with headquarters in Calgary. With the help of his wife, Nola, Erickson spread a network of tent circuits across Canada from the Pacific to Quebec to the northern fringes of prairie settlement until 1935.
Chautauqua programs consisted of 4 to 6 days of musical numbers, lectures, dramatic productions and magic or puppet shows. Chautauqua was good family entertainment and the people loved it. To many it provided their only opportunity for a cultural experience. Its end in 1935 can be attributed to changes in popular taste, the increasing availability of movies and the spread of radio, as well as to an easing of Depression conditions.
The Fernie Museum is bringing back this tradition by hosting an annual festival celebrating Fernie’s rich history and culture. This annual event for the whole family will feature musical entertainment, lectures, dramatic productions, and demonstrations. Food vendors provide a taste of Fernie’s culinary traditions.
The Fernie Museum’s next Chautauqua event is being held on September 19, 2015 in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit, An Immigrant Story: The Rise and Fall of Emilio Picariello.