Local historian, Kevin Allen, has released a new book on the history of West Fernie and its unusual situation as an independent locality surrounded by neighbouring Fernie.
‘The Big Bend: A History of West Fernie’ is the result of years of research by Allen into West Fernie and it’s journey towards annexation into the City of Fernie, which happened in 2018.
Commissioned by outgoing Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Area A director, Mike Sosnowski, the book turns historical research done to advise policy on the eventual annexation of the community, into a consumable (and coffee-table appropriate) book for the community to reminisce about the history of the area.
“I wrote a big report which was published in 2009 talking about how West Fernie was languishing and needed to be incorporated into the city, but there was a lot of resistance in West Fernie that built up over the decades,” said Allen. He did a master’s thesis on the subject, so had plenty of notes.
“It was a really complicated public policy problem, and because it was so thorny people kept kicking the can down the road because they didn’t want to deal with it. So I did a deep-dive then into the history of the file.”
Allen said that Sosnowski had recognised the work (which informed the eventual decision to incorporate West Fernie into the city) and had taken steps to ensure the story could be told by securing a grant.
Asked about the research process, Allen said there was an abundance of sources for the Elk Valley.
“Historians go down these rabbit holes, and Fernie and the Elk Valley was really well-documented because we had two newspapers at the time – the Free Press and the District Ledger – and there’s been a lot of professional and armchair historians over the decades doing work in Fernie.”
He said he had more than enough to fill-out a coffee-table book of history, and a first draft had been closer to a coffee-table tome.
“One of the greatest things I learned is the very first settler who was an American ex-soldier was in West Fernie. (his house was) the first structure built in the area, 10-15 years before the mines started going at Coal Creek.
“There’s one citation that he was a drug smuggler,” he said, “There was a contraband route from Golden down to the states and this (may have been) one of the outposts.
“There’s some really interesting tales.”
The book, ‘The Big Bend: A History of West Fernie’ will be on sale at the Fernie Museum, with 100 percent of all proceeds to go to supporting the Fernie and District Historical Society.
The public are invited to attend the book launch on Thursday (October 20) at the Fernie Museum, at 7pm. There will be complimentary appetizers and drinks by donation.
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