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The Cowboy Trail

Fernie is an amazing place.

The countless breathtaking photos of mountains, wildlife and outdoor activities are what normally fill our inboxes when we are working with photographers.

Kim Gray from Toque & Canoe and acclaimed Canadian photographer George Webber came to us with a different idea – to shoot a road trip as part of the journey to Fernie.

Their drive took them via the Cowboy Trail from Calgary to Fernie, one of the most popular routes travelled by visitors when driving west into the mountains.

Although Fernie is spectacular, the journey to the destination is impressive it its own right. Having such an interesting and accomplished photographer to document this trip was a perfect opportunity to showcase what to expect on a Fernie getaway.

I talked to George about the experience and some of the captivating shots he took on their journey.

“The Cowboy Trail is an iconic drive in Canada and acts as a gateway to this part of the Rockies. This extraordinary stretch of highway leaves the city and transitions into a beautiful, scenic landscape. You really get a chance to relax and feel a sense of solitude in the great outdoors.”

Ranching country plays a big part of the history in Alberta. Something that is exemplified today with the Calgary Stampede celebrations.

“The interesting communities on the Cowboy Trail all have a part to play in ranching history. Towns like Longview, Black Diamond and Turner Valley offer their own piece of Canadiana and give people an insight into a true western Canadian ranching lifestyle.”

A stark contrast to the mountain lifestyle that sits just over the border in British Columbia, these ranch lands are the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. It is a breathtaking sight to see the transition from the prairies to the intimidating peaks of the Rockies, rearing out of the rolling grasslands forming a geographical border. 

As George comments, “ I see it as an appetizer to Fernie! Entering the mountains and driving through Crowsnest Pass, is really spectacular.”

When I ask George what he likes about Fernie he sums it up perfectly.

“I find there is a flavour and authenticity to the place that many ski resort towns lack. Fernie attracts a special kind of person, providing for a really interesting mix of people in the community – bringing energy and creativity to the town.”

I ask George to pick four photos from the trip that best portrayed what we had discussed.

The Cowboy – “As we drove out of Calgary the wide vista opened up. The traditions, mythology and history of this land are powerful and compelling. This was a land of opportunity, a place free of social constraint. The cowboy is a symbol deeply embedded in popular culture. This one marks the entrance to the historic Bar-U-Ranch.”

Longview Hotel – “The Long View Hotel has an old-style charm and strong connection to the area’s rich ranching traditions. Country music legend Ian Tyson lives nearby.”

Fernie Court House Statue – “This photo demonstrates the respect for tradition and recognition of the sacrifice soldiers made in WW1 as part of the British Commonwealth. On a personal level, this really interests me and enriches the experience of visiting a town like Fernie.”

Ski Hill sunrise – “Taken at the top of Polar Peak at Fernie Alpine Resort, it demonstrates the peaceful silence and solitude, which I feel speaks for the place and surrounding mountains.

As part of this trip, Kim took the initiative to introduce George further into the world of digital snapshots and social media. All these photos were taken on George’s newly acquired iPhone.

This is what George had to say in regards to the digital world and social media.

“I have shot for 30 years on film and actually have a dark room in my house so this is pretty different. I find it a very playful way to work. Incorporating social media and having the ability to reach a large audience very quickly is great.

I am embracing the experience and enjoying learning with this fun tool. I would still love to come back in the spring and shoot again with my normal cameras to really document Fernie properly.”

*George Webber has won several National Magazine Awards including a 'Gold Award' in 2010, multiple 'Awards of Excellence' from The Society For News Design (USA) and 'The International Documentary Photography Award' (Korea).

His photographs can be found in Canadian and international museum collections. In 1999, he was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in recognition of his contribution to visual arts in Canada. Want to see more of his work?

Toque & Canoe

Jack Viney – Tourism Fernie

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