Late last year, our Fernie family lost someone dear to our hearts. He was always there, at every gathering, every pow day, every bike ride, every holiday. Unbeknown to us, he was suffering from mental illness and in November he died by suicide. Since the moment we heard, I have watched as his closest friends have struggled to come to terms with this, wishing there was more available to assist in processing and grieving.
At the time, Fernie Women’s Centre had recently begun a men’s support group called Fellaship - a safe and inclusive group for men to connect and support one another. In December an individual at hospice started asking, “what’s going on?” recognizing the mental health crisis in the Valley. After having reached out to resources, three individuals (Eveliene Eijsermans of Victim’s Services, Chris Charbonneau of Fellaship and Tyla Charbonneau of Alpine Pathways Psychological Services) decided to form the Elk Valley Suicide Task Force. This brought a sense of relief to me, and I Immediately reached out to learn more about the Task Force and one of its founding members, Eveliene Eijsermans.
Eveliene (Ev) is originally from the Netherlands, where she attended university studying criminology. “I wasn’t considering anything but finishing school, finding a job and getting a career,” she tells me. “Then I met Rob, and he showed me that there was more to life than following ‘the herd’ and society’s expectations.”
The couple decided to travel to Canada, so they worked towards that over a year and with a one way ticket and a one-year work permit, they were on their way.
“We gave up everything, moving here with just a backpack of our left-over belongings.”
Landing in Vancouver, they travelled to many ski resorts and applied here and there, and in the process met a Fernie local (Matt Brazeau) who tipped them off on this great mountain town. “He said ‘don’t miss Fernie!’ and after a few weeks of travelling we ended up here.”
Ev was ambitious, knowing that she would likely need a management position to receive sponsorship. She applied for the position of Manager at the Fernie Pub, taking a chance as she had no management experience. The Sombrowskis were looking for someone with two years experience, but saw the masters degree on her resume and gave her the benefit of the doubt.
Having come to Fernie for the summer, they were both surprised by and enamoured with winter. “I stayed for the winter, and have come to embrace it because of its endless opportunities and backcountry access… something I had no idea existed. Like, a whole other world opened up to me.“
In the the Spring of 2018, Ev received residency due to the sponsorship from the Pub. “I knew hospitality wasn’t my answer or goal, so I quit and decided that I want to live here, I’m a resident, I have this experience, but I want to pursue my degree and career again. I gave myself a year to figure it out.”
Within a week, a friend informed Ev of the Victim Services position with the RCMP. “I thought about it for a month, and didn’t think I could get it with a masters from the Netherlands. Two days before the deadline (on my birthday!) I realized I would never forgive myself if I didn’t try. I ended up getting to the job, and to date it is still mind blowing. To land a job like this, where I want to live. A job that is very meaningful to me.”
Ev has been in this position since the fall of 2019, and admits that it is a whirlwind, learning as she goes. “It’s been a positive experience so far. If you’re a victim of a crime, you are grateful for any help, information, and support. It makes a huge difference.” This position covers Jaffray to Elkford. “Any crime-related victim is offered this support by the constable who shows up to their incident. A sudden death, suicide, or assault requires me to be there right away or the day after. It’s not mandatory to accept help, but it can take stress off of them.”
This position has helped Ev to recognize that many in our community have no idea what else goes on here. “Fernie is a community like any other, there is domestic violence, deep depression… these past six months have been challenging as I’m suddenly hearing life stories I had never come across prior.”
It was a few months into this new position that the member of Hospice reached out. Ev and Tyla had both considered starting something independently but the weight of it was too much to bare on their own, and thus the Elk Valley Suicide Task Force was born.
“Our first goal is the information event this February 12, to show people that it’s okay to talk about suicide and to open up the conversation and let people know what the resources currently are. From this evening we will see what the need is. We want to create resources like crisis lines, a critical incident debrief group. We could take so many different roads, this is just the first step.”
This willingness to be involved is not new to Ev - she has put her hand up to give back to our community since the day she arrived. But she admits it is not always easy and there can be challenges living in Fernie.
“Our community is so inspiring and I am very involved, whether it be Wapiti, the run and bike scene or in past through hospitality. It is in my nature to listen to my human drive for connection. Besides or even despite this, Fernie and the Valley can also be an incredibly lonely place. This is a place where people come and go, have moved to away from their family. It can be hard to establish those connections. You can be as involved in the community as you want, but it won’t take away that sometimes it feels like it’s just you.”
Ev and the Elk Valley Suicide Task Force invite you all to attend the Information Evening this February 12, 6:30 pm in the Cedar Room at the Parkplace Lodge. Be a part of the conversation and help them to provide resources to support residents in the Elk Valley through mental illness and suicide.
1. When did you first arrive in the Valley and what brought you here? In May, 2014 and what brought me here was the search for a different lifestyle and definitely the outdoors.
2. Who did you first meet? Technically Matt Brazeau, but not in Fernie. In Fernie… Gordon Sombrowski.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? Ya, because of the interview at the Parkplace on the highway I didn’t realize there was a downtown. Coming from Europe and its market squares and old buildings… I wasn’t quite sure. I didn’t see Fernie’s potential as I had no clue.
4. What keeps you here? Well my outdoor lifestyle together with the connections I’ve made and the involvement I’ve created for myself. And the fact that the main things that keeps me here is that here it is important who you are and what you stand for - you can be yourself.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie pastime? Riding my bike. I love riding my bike.
6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? I think the spring because that means I can run and bike again!
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years? You know what, I really hope to see that it continues to evolve… I know it needs to grow, but I hope to see it solve some of its current issues in regards to housing and employment. And to remain the vibrant place it is, where locals can live their year-round outdoor lifestyle… that we attract the tourism in the seasons that we need it, but also enjoy the off seasons where the town is ours.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? I don’t really have a routine, but one thing I do on a daily basis is workout… crossfit, ski tour, run…
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. That I’ve been trying to figure out sarcasm since I was born, and moving to an English speaking country means I have to start all over again. Six years in Fernie, and I’m slowly getting there. Let’s just say it’s the most hilarious thing to my friends.
10. Quote to live by:Carpe Diem. It’s something my dad would always say when I was little.