Sally Snarf didn’t know that they were creating a safe space for Vernon’s LGBTQ2S+ community until a famous Canadian drag performer told everyone to check out Furhouse: Vernon’s new queer hangout.
It was the start of April in 2022 and thick snow blanketed Silver Star village. Rebellious Unicorns, an inclusive events, broadcasting and media company, was in town to bring about the return of Peak Pride, the largest series of Winter Pride Events. After a glorious weekend celebrating LGTBQ2S+ in the North Okanagan, the community gathered on the final day of Peak Pride for the Drag Brunch and Toddy of Call Me Mother (a Canadian reality TV drag competition) and renowned two-spirit drag star Ella Lamoureux, also a Call Me Mother contestant and House Mother at Friends of Dorothy’s in Kelowna, helped Snarf realize the vision for Furhouse.
“I didn’t foresee I was creating a queer space until Toddy told everyone to check out Furhouse. I thought I just had a sewing shop,” Snarf smiles. “There are so many queer people who are ready to be loved and seen and take up space and not apologize.”
Snarf left Peak Pride energized. For eight months, Snarf had been working with Community Futures North Okanagan to bring their idea for a creative space focused on textiles, sewing and community to life.
That dedication to cultivating Vernon’s queer space took hold. With the local queer community, Snarf began planning Vernon’s Pride Week set for Aug. 8-14 and within weeks Rebellious Unicorns was back in town on June 4 for the Fruit Cake Drag and Dance Party—being hosted at Furhouse and featuring Lamoureux and Wanda Lust.
“I’ve never seen any kind of magic like that in Vernon. People danced until 1 a.m. and it was so extraordinary to see queer people feeling comfortable in this space,” says Snarf. “While it’s a textile shop, it’s also become this other thing I didn’t anticipate. Furhouse has become a recipe for healing in the community. It’s a space where people can just gather and be.”
During the pandemic after losing their job as a tattoo artist in Vancouver, Snarf started an online store to share their handmade jewellery, prints and accessories. As restrictions began to ease, chronic pain from tattooing and a diagnosis of depression, anxiety and ADHD forced Snarf to make a change and return to the Okanagan.
“Furhouse happened because of challenges I didn’t expect,” Snarf recalls. “It was really hard for me. I needed a studio to thrive. I needed a place to create.”
Situated in the heart of downtown Vernon, Snarf secured the location in May 2021 and soon after met Community Futures North Okanagan’s Business Services Manager, Kazia Mullin, who introduced them to the self-employment program.
“I grew up being told by society that I wasn’t supposed to ask for help, and that’s just not the reality for a lot of people. It took a lot to be able to say that I need help,” says Snarf. “Community Futures helped me to see that I need to do things differently. They were really encouraging and made me realize that I’m not alone.”
For the first 13 weeks of the self-employment program, Snarf worked with Community Futures and professional editor Janice Love to develop their business plan before officially opening the doors in January.
“Every little piece of understanding myself and letting go of what people think has helped me take care of myself in a way that I need to run a business,” says Snarf. “It has been a wild ride and there has been no shortage of curveballs.”
Snarf says Furhouse wouldn’t be what it is without the help of Community Futures, Janice Love, Mel Schmidt of The Simple Clothing Company, their family, the community and, especially, their partner April Olson.
“Furhouse made no sense to anybody for a long time. It was so chaotic and a direct representation of my struggle with mental health and finding a place for my creativity within the community,” Snarf says. “Now, when people see the bright colours and queer people see the rainbows, they feel good here. It’s a space for everyone no matter where they come from.”
With supplies, classes, restoration services and more, the retail aspect of the business has grown and evolved over time. And, throughout Furhouse’s growth, Snarf’s dedication to creating a safe and creative space has thrived.
“People still say they don’t get it, but in a positive way,” Snarf smiles. “I don’t think you need to get it. Just come inside and experience it for yourself.”
Want to learn more about the self-employment program? Visit Community Futures North Okanagan at futuresbc.com.