This summer will bring a monumental anniversary to celebrate; almost 50 years ago, the legendary Fernie curse was lifted. On August 15, 1964, former mayor James White came together with members of the Kootenai Indians in a ceremony to remove the curse that had brought misfortune on Fernie since it became a town.
There are many different versions of the curse that have been told over the years, but they all follow the same storyline. As legend has it, on one of his prospecting trips, William Fernie noticed an Indian Chief’s daughter wearing a necklace of shining black stones. Knowing that the stones were coal, he asked where they came from. The Chief agreed to show Fernie where the coal was located on the condition that he marry his daughter. But after learning where the coal deposits were, Fernie backed out of the deal. The Chief was angered and caste a curse on the valley – swearing it would suffer from fire, flood, and famine.
Whether you believe in the curse or not, the lifting of it was cause for celebration 50 years ago, and the Fernie Historical Society is getting ready to celebrate all over again. The society is gearing up for a community celebration to take place August 15, 16, and 17.
“We want to have a weekend of fun activities to commemorate this whole thing,” remarked Lori Bradish with the Historical Society.
She went on to say, “In the 20’s and 30’s people blamed the curse for all sorts of good and bad things, but now, it’s really morphed into almost a tourist vehicle. It makes it that much more interesting for people when they come visit to see it’s not just a sporty little town, it’s actually got some really cool history.”
The weekend’s festivities will include a family street dance, a play presentation, a curse-themed Downtown Sunday Social, and everything will revolve around a unique exhibit at the Fernie Museum. Gwen Macgregor, who happens to be the granddaughter of former mayor James White, presented an art installation at the Southern Albert Art Gallery over 20 years ago titled “Fold it up and put it away”.
“She came to town and spent the course of a year talking to people,” explained Bradish. “Talking to the Ktunaxa, talking to families that were involved in the ceremony, and of course talking to her own relatives like her aunts and uncles who were actually there, and made it into this art installation.”
Macgregor is bringing the audio visual installation to the Fernie Museum where it will serve as the basis for an expanded exhibit during the summer months. In addition, Oolichan Books will be republishing the original catalogue that coincides with the exhibit.
“We’re quite excited about it,” said Bradish. “[Macgregor] is based in Toronto, but her family still has a cabin out at Rosen Lake and they come back every summer. It’s quite neat that she has maintained this connection to Fernie.”
The celebrating will last longer than just one weekend though. The society is currently working with the City of Fernie on an interpretive trail sign program.
“The signs I envision being placed on the trails around the community and the themes will be based on the curse,” said Bradish. “The plan is to use our historical pictures of views of catastrophes that were blamed on the curse.”
A speaker series is also being planned. “There are a number of people that have used the curse as the basis of their work,” commented Bradish. “What I’m hoping to do is line up four to five people to have a series of discussions over the course of the year, maybe even starting as soon as April or May, and going right through the fall, so that we can host an evening that sort of explores the curse.”
With a variety of fun events planned, the society has plenty of work ahead of them and Bradish would be happy to see anyone interested in volunteering come forward.
“At this stage it’s all planning and looking for funding, we’re busy grant writing at this stage of the game, looking for money to pay for it all,” she said. “If anybody is interested in the community in this aspect of Fernie’s history, I would love them to come and help.”