Rich in folklore and campfire tales, Fernie can spin a yarn to entertain any visitor. Visit the Fernie Museum for more engaging stories.
Do you believe in curses? It is said that in the late 1800's William Fernie, on a prospecting trip, noticed a young woman of the local Ktunaxa people wearing a necklace of shining black stones. Knowing that these stones were coal, he asked about their source. The girl's father, the Chief, agreed to show Fernie the location of the coal on the condition that Fernie married the Chief's daughter. After learning the location of the coal deposits, Fernie backed out of the deal. Angered by this, the Chief cast a curse on the valley—it would suffer from fire, flood, and famine. Though the city did suffer from horrific fires (1904 & 1908), flooding, and one of Canada's largest mining disasters that killed 128 miners in 1902, there is no evidence of the story’s veracity.
The roots of the Ghostrider story may be found in the Ktunaxa tradition of avoiding the Elk Valley and considering it a “bad place.” Early Ktunaxa legends told of a Squirrel and his wife who controlled the entrances to the Elk Valley with their accomplices Raven and Ram, letting trails become overgrown and impassable. The would kill or entrap any who tried to enter and for years no-one was allowed safe passage through the valley. Eventually, a Ktunaxa youth of Olympian stature was able to trick his way past Ram and kill Squirrel, overcoming Squirrel's wife and Raven, who were not expecting an ambush from within the valley. The youth, Yau Ke'Kam decreed that any others who displayed such greed would meet the same fateful end.
Another source for the legend may be gleaned from a 1908 newspaper article; “We have been requested to say that William Fernie denies the little after dinner stunt about him and the Indian maiden. We are glad Mr Fernie does deny it for the future safety of our city.” Did the story develop from a joke among the city fathers?
No matter the source the curse seemed real enough that on August 15, 1964, at the City’s request, members of the Ktunaxa Nation, headed by Chief Ambrose Gravelle, assembled in Fernie for a ceremonial lifting of the Fernie Curse. Whether the curse raising was successful remains to be seen, however, Fernie is now a prosperous and vibrant community having suffered few hardships since that day.
The Ghostrider 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 the ghostly shadow.
According to legend, many years ago a young Ktunaxa Chief found great difficulty in choosing a bride. There were three very talented and beautiful maidens to choose from. The older Chiefs asked the gods to aid them. The gods considered indecision a grievous sin; therefore, the punishment dealt out was severe. The young Chief was turned into a mountain where, each day, he could look at what he could never have.
The maidens' grief was so great that all three maidens prayed that they might also be turned into mountains. Their prayers were answered, and today we look to the North to see the young chief slumbering as Mount Proctor, with the Three Sisters standing proudly beside him.
Learn more about the Ktunaxa First Nations
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.