Fernie myths and legends take on many different forms, some involve curses while others involve mythical First Nation folklore, these are three Fernie myths and legends.
Fernie Myths and Legends – Who is William Fernie?
Floods, mining disasters and fire have significantly affected Fernie over the last 120 years, yet while some may put this down to the excesses of mother nature, others believe Fernie and the Elk Valley was the victim of an old First Nation curse. It all started with one man, a Scotsman by the name of William Fernie.
Born in Scotland in 1837, William Fernie made his name as a prospector. While prospecting in the Elk Valley area Fernie founded the town which bears his name. At this time, as the legend goes, Fernie met a tribe of local First Nations. He noticed one of the Chief’s daughters was a wearing a necklace of black, shining coal. As an experienced prospector, Fernie immediately recognised these stones as coal, asking about the source of this valuable commodity, the Chief agreed to show Fernie where the coal was, but only if the prospector would marry his princess daughter.
But as a proper lad, Fernie, upon learning the location of the coal deposits, refused to marry the princess. This, of course, angered the Chief beyond belief. The Chief placed a curse on the valley, saying the Elk Valley region would suffer from fire, flood and famine. Nice work Mr Fernie, nice work. Way to piss off a Chief.
As a gentle reminder of the curse, the Fernie Ghostrider on Mount Hosmer can be seen each sunny summer evening. The Ghostrider takes the shape of a Princess sitting on a horse, with her father walking beside her, no doubt chasing Fernie.
The Curse Strikes…
As with many curses, there is a reason to believe the curse placed on the town is true. This particular curse took its time to get going but it arrived with a great vengeance. A series of fires ravaged Fernie in the early 20th Century. The first fire occurred in 1904 and destroyed large swaths of the town. Yet, worse was to come, in 1908 a forest fire virtually destroyed the entire city of Fernie. Only 32 buildings were left standing.
In 1916 the Elk River overflowed its banks and flooded West Fernie, the curse continued to grip the residents of Fernie. The Great Depression also brought misery to the town, with near-famine like conditions.
The curse was eventually lifted in 1964 when members of the Kootenai tribe, led by Chief Red Eagle, gathered in Fernie for a ceremonial lifting of the curse. Mayor James White smoked a peace pipe with Chief Red Eagle, the curse was lifted and the Kootenai tribe received their apology for the actions of William Fernie.
Read on for two more Fernie myths and legends…
Fernie Myths and Legends – Legend of the Griz
On a cold, harsh night in 1879, amidst a long and bitter winter, a baby boy was born. As the legend goes, the baby boy was born in a grizzly bear’s cave, high above Fernie, in the mountains. One day after a long hibernation the local grizzly awoke in a foul and hungry mood. A battle took place between two, one fighting for his life and the other for his dinner. Who was to prevail?
The next day…
The next day townsfolk of Fernie went up into the mountain to discover the source of the tremendous noise from the previous night. As the townsfolk looked up and down the mountain, one of the men thought he saw a little boy wearing a grizzly bear coat and hat. The lad was leaping, like a mountain goat, from rock to rock on the peaks. His friends all laughed at him and said he must be seeing things.
A legend is born…
Yet a few years later some of the Snow Valley employees were touring the headwalls above the ski area in the middle of a huge snowstorm. While taking a break they happened to look up at the headwalls they were ascending. What they saw became part of Fernie folklore; before them stood a man of standard height but with shoulders six feet wide, carrying a giant musket, measuring eight-feet long. The man’s bulk was estimated to be 300 pounds, he was made to look even more fearsome by his grizzly bear coat and bear hat, which he pulled down to cover his eyes.
With the skiers looking on, the man shot his huge musket into the clouds and even more, snow fell from the sky. The skiers were buzzing, as the snow which fell was extra special, it was Fernie powder. As they made their way down the hill word spread of their experience. Some of the town’s elders remembered the tale of the little grizzly-clad boy.
To show their admiration for the man they named the Griz, the town held a festival all week. Now, every February, the festival is held, with sporting events, parades, and competitions – all to honour one man, a legend, the Griz.
Fernie Myths and Legends – The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters are three imposing peaks overlooking Fernie and the Elk Valley. Legend has it that many years ago, a young Chief was having great difficulty in choosing a bride. There were three beautiful girls to choose from, the Chiefs asked the gods to help them in their decision. This was fatal; the gods consider indecision a grave sin. The punishment was swift and severe; the young, indecisive Chief was turned into a mountain, Mount Proctor, where every day all he could see was what he could never have. The fair maidens’ grief was strong; they all prayed they could also be turned into mountains. Their prayers were answered. When you look up at the Three Sisters and Mount Proctor, you are looking at the three maidens and the young Chief.