Sharon Switzer was born and raised in Manitoba. Her dad, a contractor, moved to the Elk Valley to help build the mine at Fording along with her mom and brothers, but Sharon who was in Grade 12 at the time, decided to stay with her neighbour to finish the year. Soon after, she was visiting her family in Fernie and during that visit, she spent a day at Surveyors Lake. Not being able to swim, her brothers pulled her to the dock in a tube and while she was on the dock, some boys from the opposite beach came to retrieve it. “Not being able to swim, I couldn’t get off,” she remembers. One of the boys was her future husband, Ken Switzer. “He sat next to me, with his curly dark hair and braces, and that was it.”
Sharon had plans of attending nursing school, but decided on dental school in Cranbrook to make the move to Fernie possible. Sharon and Ken were married and raised two children in Fernie, which is where her passion for the environment began.
When her eldest Trent went to Kindergarten, Sharon became acutely aware of the lack of recycling opportunities in the school. She put together a grant to have recycling bins in the classroom. In 1993, Sharon alongside Kathleen Graham, Gale Vallance and Bunny Samuelson created Circle Recycling Family and ran it as a non-profit.
“We were nominated as citizens of the year in 95. In 1997, we pitched it to the City to take it over and offer curbside recycling. That’s how I first started with the city. I was working with them on this project.” She is going on 19 years with the City of Fernie.
Sharon was first motivated to get involved with Wildsight when British Petroleum was interested in placing 500 Coal-bed Methane wells up Coal Creek through to Sparwood. “When Coal Bed Methane came onto the scene, I became really active,” Sharon says. “I love the organization (Wildsight) because it cares about the future of the valley.” She thinks it’s important to be involved with a group like this because she believes in speaking out for environmental change. “Habits, good or bad define people and speak to their values.”
More recently, Sharon has been concerned with waste produced and improperly disposed of at events and on construction sites. As acting President of Wildsight, she lobbied the City Council for support in creating a strong policy around these large impact areas on community life.
“Wapiti did it last year with 90 percent waste recovery at a sold out event, and internally in the Leisure Services Department we are working toward similar waste recovery in our buildings and at City events. Some construction sites have recycling for wood and cardboard but if they could be required to create a waste reduction plan at the permitting stage of a build, I believe the waste recovery rates would increase significantly.”
Sharon adds that the RDEK needs to include a Free Store for construction materials at the local landfill.
On March 14, 2017 Wildsight received a letter of support from Mayor Giuliano in leading this initiative alongside event planners, the local construction industry, the RDEK and other stakeholders.
Sharon continues to fight the good fight, but admits that she’s still really afraid. “But I’m also hopeful that we can turn it around. There are a lot of issues that people gloss over.
Because it’s so beautiful here, we think it’s always going to be that way.” But it won’t always be, unless we all become stewards to our environment. Speak up about what we believe in. And learn from community leaders. Thanks you, Sharon.
1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? I grew up in Manitoba, I was here for a vacation to visit my family when I met my husband at Surveyors Lake.
2. Where did you first live in town? The Ridgemont Apartments, but I’ve been on 12th Ave. in the Annex for 34 years.
3. What was your first impression? Being a prairie girl it took me about 5 years to get use to the lack of sunshine in the winter, but the summers and the mountains made up for it.
4. What keeps you in Fernie? I love that I can get into nature just walking out my door but my love and appreciation of family and home is what I hold most dear. They are here so I’m here.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory? My best day in Fernie is a bluebird sky with my dog Summit and my grand-dog Timber walking in nature. I can honestly say that is almost every day for me.
6. What is your favourite time of the year in Fernie and why? I love the summer in Fernie. Our backyard is our sanctuary with a big garden and a water feature - no travel required! My house overlooks the river and the view is so green, we rarely leave town in the summer.
7. Where do you see Fernie in 5 to 10 years? I’m involved with Wildsight because I’m concerned about the future of Fernie. That said I’m hopeful that food security will move forward and we will be growing more food in our cold climate than ever before. Systems will be put in place to get our waste percentages down to acceptable levels. We will take action and make creative new solutions to address in a real way the affordable housing issues that young families face today, and enjoy continued good water and fresh mountain air.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? Every morning I read with a cup of good coffee, then I mediate, and walk my dog.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I’m a gardener, I hang my clothes on the line until winter, and I’m not a big consumer, 90 percent of my clothing I buy used.
10. Quote to live by: Lead with your heart, let your inner compass be your guide.