Rich in folklore and campfire tales, Fernie can spin a yarn to entertain any visitor. Visit the Fernie Museum for more engaging stories.
Fernie has not always been graced with the fine snow conditions we now enjoy. As the legend goes, in the midst of the cruel and bitter winter of 1879, a baby boy was born in a grizzly bear's cave high in the mountains. The child grew strong in the harsh conditions and when the resident grizzly awoke, a terrible battle ensued between the two; the courageous boy fighting for his life, the ravenous bear for his dinner.
The next day, the townspeople went into the mountains to try to discover the source of all the noise from the previous night and looked high and low for signs of a struggle. One of the men thought he saw a little boy wearing a bear coat and hat nimbly leaping from rock to rock, high up on the lofty peaks. His friends laughed at him and the incident was soon forgotten.
Many years later, a group of intrepid ski tourers was boot packing on the peaks of the Lizard Range in the midst of a heavy snowstorm. When they stopped for breath, one of the men glanced up at the peak they were climbing. There on the very summit, stood a fantastic sight. A man with shoulders six feet wide, carrying a musket eight feet long. The bulk of the man's estimated 300 pounds was made to look even more awesome by the bristly, grizzly coat he wore. A bearskin hat was pulled down shadowing his eyes. As the skiers watched, the man aimed his giant musket into the clouds and fired, causing blankets of snow to fall from the sky above. This delighted the skiers who loved that special brand of powder snow.
The travellers quickly skied down the mountain and excitedly told everyone of their experience. Some of the town's elders remembered the sighting of a little grizzly-clad boy so long ago, and with the discovery of massive, barefooted tracks upon the snow-covered peaks at a later date, the legend slowly took shape.
In recognition and admiration of the man who became known as 'GRIZ,' the townspeople held a festival all week. Sporting events, competitions, parades, and gatherings marked the legend. The citizen who embodied the spirit of the GRIZ through that week was made honorary GRIZ for the rest of the year. To this day, this festival continues every March in tribute to our powder king, while the best powder skiing conditions in the west continue to blanket our mountains.
CAQAHAK – THICK FOREST
The Ktunaxa people have been in this area since Na?muq?in fulfilled his prophecy and placed the Ktunaxa people in this area to be the keepers of the land. At that time there was some disturbance caused by a huge water monster known as Yawu?nik?, who killed many of the animals. It was decided that Yawu?nik? had to be destroyed. A war party was formed. Yawu?nik? plied the Kootenay (wu·u ?aqs?maknik ?akinmituk)and Columbia (Mi??qaqas) River System. When Yawu?nik? was killed, and butchered and distributed among the animals, Yawu?nik?’s ribs were scattered throughout the region that now form the Hoodoos seen throughout the region.
When the prophecy was fulfilled the spirit animals ascended above and are now the guiding spirits of the Ktunaxa. In all the excitement Na?muq?in rose to his feet and stood upright hitting his head on the ceiling of the sky. He knocked himself dead. His feet went northward and is today known as Ya·k?iki, in the Yellowhead Pass vicinity. Na?muq?in’s head is near Yellowstone Park in the State of Montana. His body forms the Rocky Mountains.
The Ktunaxa occupied the area now recognized as ?aqahak (Fernie) for thousands of years before the arrival of the settlers. The area was known to be a winter hunting area where the Ktunaxa would hunt mountain sheep, mountain goat, moose, elk deer and other animals. They would trap and fish, and harvest natural vegetation. The Elk Valley is within Qukin ?amak?is (Land of the Raven) and was known for its mineral coal. The Ktunaxa would carry the coal with them to start their fires as they travelled to the different encampments as they followed the seasons in their homelands.
The Ktunaxa used a flint quarry near ?aqahak (Fernie) to make their weapons and tools. The Ktunaxa would also trade with other tribes from over the east mountain range now known as Alberta, the tribes being the Blackfoot and later the Stoney. The route used to join the tribes was the route the Ktunaxa used to hunt buffalo.
Many, many years ago, boastful Squirrel considered himself to be as strong and powerful as Grizzly, who is the greatest of all animals. To prove himself, Squirrel set out to close the Elk Valley and declared that no living creature should enter for as long as he remained alive.
Squirrel guarded the western entrance of the Valley from Sheep Mountain (Mount Broadwood, near Elko), while his wife watched the eastern entrance near Crow’s Nest Mountain with the help of Raven. A Bighorn Ram who lived in a cave on Mount Broadwood helped Squirrel. Whenever another creature tried to enter the Valley from the west, Ram killed it by pushing rock down the mountainside onto it. If any creatures tried to enter from the east past Squirrel’s wife and Raven, they became entangled in the dense underbrush and timber, where they starved to death. Since nobody ever trod the Valley, the growth soon became impenetrable.
After many years, Yau-Ke’Kam, a Ktunaxa youth of Olympian stature, decided to end Squirrel’s foolish pride and tyranny. He tricked Ram and killed Squirrel, then forced his way through
to the other entrance of the Valley. Squirrel’s wife and Raven, not expecting an attack from that direction, were easily overcome. Yau-Ke’Kam decreed that henceforth, any others who reached too far in greed would meet some disastrous end...
Learn more about the Ktunaxa First Nations
The Ghost Rider shadow can be seen on the face of Mt Hosmer at sunset in summer and fall—look for the striking striated rock face to the North-East of town. Many of Fernie's businesses, clubs, and even streets are named after this shadow.
A story about the origins of the ghostrider exists but its provenance is disputed. The story goes that in the late 1800's William Fernie, while on a prospecting trip, noticed a young woman wearing a necklace of shining black stones. Knowing that these stones were coal, he asked about their source. The girl's father agreed to show Fernie the location of the coal on the condition that Fernie married the girl. After learning the location of the coal deposits, Fernie backed out of the deal. The tale attributes the girl and her father to the local Ktunaxa people, who it says were angered by by Fernie's behaviour and placed a curse on the valley resulting in years of fire, flood, and famine.
The city suffered from horrific fires (1904 & 1908), flooding, and one of Canada's largest mining disasters that killed 128 miners in 1902, and in 1964, a peace ceremony was attended by the Ktunaxa Chief and Mayor White and all the townspeople.
The Ktunaxa people have refuted the claims as they have no history of curses and the story was also mentioned in an early copy of The Free Press as having no basis in fact. In all likelihood, it was a parlour tale told around the dinner table.