The refurbished Fernie Museum has plenty for you to explore including 15 letters dated back as early as 1880 written by William Fernie. Detailed descriptions paint a picture of the life as a pioneer with mail arriving only six times per year. These letters are a snapshot in time and an example of treasures you can find in the refurbished museum. The grand opening will be celebrated on September 28 with three sittings of a Heritage Tea plus a cake and ribbon cutting ceremony later that afternoon.
Transcript of letter from William Fernie to his sister Mary Fernie from Kootenay BC, dated February 20, 1880.
Your letter of October just arrived, it has been four months on the way. We only get six mails here a year, so that letters are frequently a long time getting here. Our mail in the winter has to be carried 600 miles on snowshoes packed on men’s backs. We have experienced some very cold weather this winter almost Arctic weather, for three days the thermometer registered 30° below zero and for two days as low as 35° below zero. It is a difficult matter to enjoy oneself in such weather.
You tell me that you think it would not take much persuasion to induce Cathie to come to me as wife but to tell the truth I am almost afraid to ask her, for this reason that I fear she might not be satisfied with my mode of living and the kind of a country and society she would meet with. I should never forgive myself if I induced her to come and then found she was dissatisfied and regretted the step she had taken. I should very much like to have her and would try my best to make her as comfortable as I could of course, but the difference in the mode of my living and the style she has been used to is so great that I fear she might repent. I will try and describe my mode of living as well as I can.
As far as food and clothing is concerned there is always plenty but I do my own cooking and generally contrive to spoil and waste a good deal of the food. I shall never attain any great proficiency as a cook. Our food of course is rough but wholesome. I do nearly all my own washing of clothes as I can get no one to wash for me that suits me. There are few women here except Indian women and what women are here do not care to wash clothes for other parties. I cannot afford to keep a servant as it costs to feed and pay a servant about £100 a year.
The houses we live in are nearly all made of rough logs piled up one above another and with wooden roofs and plastered with mud between the logs to keep out the cold. They are not much to look at, but are generally warm and comfortable enough inside, and do not often have more than two rooms or three and only the ground floor. There are no brick or stone buildings here. We have no doctor or clergyman, no church.
There is a Catholic Mission here for the Indians. Our mode of living probably by you will be considered rough and perhaps vulgar. But there is a charm about it nevertheless we are free and independent and can make an easy living, never fear want as long as health remains. Do not fear what Mrs. Grundy will say and enjoy ourselves in our own way. In fact I have lived so long on the Frontiers I feel myself unfitted for life in civilisation and never expect to live in a thickly settled community.
I often wonder, so many people stay at home and nearly starve when there is so much better chance for them in the Colonies to get homes of their own rent free which they never can have in England. There are millions of acres of good land in the Dominion of Canada waiting for the plough and as good land as any in England and to be had for nothing, only to come and settle on it and Government gives the land after three years residence. Think how much better off a man can be on a farm of his own than he can be when he is at the beck and call of an upstart landlord and has to do as his landlord wants him. Give me the rough life and freedom from restraint before the life of one half the farmers in England. The farmers in England will have for the future a hard time of it as the Dominion of Canada and the American States will flood the country with cheap provisions as they can afford to raise it so much cheaper having no rent to pay and very few taxes and splendid land to raise crops. I think Beau would do better to come to the North West than to stay at Ellington and never own a foot of land in his life. If I could get away from here I think I would go to some place in the North West but I cannot leave here for two years at least as I have some money invested which I cannot get before that time. However I never make calculations much ahead as things change very rapidly in these new countries. Towns spring up as if by magic and others are deserted. The mining population is essentially a floating population. I do not know whether you will get much idea of our mode of living from this letter but I do not know that I can tell you much more about it I am no great hand at description. You must try and imagine for yourself what it is like. There is only one thing to be said in its favour and that is its freedom and independence. I have seen men come here and make money and go back to civilization to live but they never stop, they always come back and say the people are so much changed whilst they have been gone they did not recognize the places again. They forget the change is more in them and their habits and thoughts than in the people and places they left. I feel satisfied now if I should come home, my high toned relatives would consider me decidedly vulgar and uncouth and I know I should feel like a fish out of water. However I do not expect to ever set my foot in England again unless something extraordinary happens. I intend as soon as I can either to go into the cattle raising business or take up a farm and make me a good comfortable home on the outskirts of civilisation. As regards any Govt. situation there is no stability about it as a change of Ministry is liable to change nearly all the officers. The motto seems to be to the victors belong the spoils and whichever party is in power puts its friends in office. I do not mind losing my billet whenever the time comes as I am prepared for it.
After reading this long effusion and digesting it you still think that Cathie would come to me let me know and then I will know what to do in the matter.
Peter is going to write to you by this mail he says. I wrote to you by the last mail stating I had sent you some money. I expect you will have received it before you get this.
Give my love to all relations and friends and believe me to be
Your affectionate brother