Fernie & Elk Valley Culture Guide Issue 6 - Fall 2017 - Page 7

A BRIEF HISTORY OF FERNIE Fernie is named after William Fernie who, alongside Colonel James Baker, was the early driving force behind coal mining in the Elk Valley. For ten long years they struggled to raise the money necessary to build not only the mines but also the railway needed to transport the coal to the outside world. In 1897, thanks to government subsidy, Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) agreed to build the railway if Fernie and Baker agreed to develop mines and supply coal at reasonable prices. With the arrival of the CPR in the Elk Valley in 1898, local production of coal began in earnest and the new town of Fernie took shape alongside the tracks. The construction of Fernie generated the development of sawmills, hardware stores, blacksmith shops and other suppliers. In April 1904, a fire destroyed Fernie’s commercial district and later that year Fernie was incorporated as a municipality. Then on August 1, 1908, a second firestorm visited the City and razed the town in less than 90 minutes. The resulting reconstruction (brick instead of wood) dramatically transformed the city’s landscape. By 1910, Fernie’s businesses and their buildings were firmly established and the population had grown to over 6,000 residents. The Great Depression brought Fernie to its knees, reducing both population and prosperity. Only government subsidies kept the stagnant coal industry alive until the 1960’s, when Japanese markets revitalized mining and coal became used for steel making. This led to the resurgence of coal mining that continues to this day. Tourism also played a part in Fernie's past. As early as 1919 Joseph Spalding was touting Fernie’s charms far and wide, and by 1963, Snow Valley Ski Development—a locally owned company—had opened the ski hill at its present site. Fernie’s bid for the 1968 Winter Olympics helped lay the foundation for today’s Fernie Alpine Resort and secure Fernie’s future as a winter sports destination. 7