Kevin Allen of Fernie helped research and untangle the relationship between West Fernie and the City of Fernie, and is now writing a book on West Fernie. (Phil McLachlan / The Free Press)

Local historian writing book on West Fernie

Kevin Allen of Fernie is compiling his research on West Fernie into a book thanks to a grant from the RDEK

The colourful and storied history of West Fernie is being immortalized by local historian Kevin Allen.

Allen, who helped untangle the backstory of West Fernie to help with its eventual amalgamation with the City of Fernie, is compiling his research and discoveries into a book on the history of the community which first began to form in the early years of the 20th Century.

The book is being written thanks to a grant from the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK), and while it’s a ways off from being completed, there was already a lot to tell.

In delving into the history of the area, Allen had even discovered that a settler had a ranch in what became West Fernie before Fernie itself existed.

“So in a way West Fernie might predate the settlement that eventually became the City of Fernie,” he said.

Previously, Allen has done a lot of research to help understand the legal relationship between West Fernie, the City of Fernie and the RDEK – and that work was all too good to not be compiled and the story told.

Despite only becoming part of the City of Fernie in recent years, West Fernie’s history is intertwined with Fernie.

“(West Fernie) started off as a working class residential district and industrial district, that supported the city.

“It was famous for a sawmill there. There was a giant fire in Fernie in 1908, and it hit West Fernie first and hit the sawmill, and made a huge conflagration that eventually burned the town to the ground.”

Allen said that even a hundred years ago Fernie was a relatively expensive place to live, so West Fernie developed as a cheaper alternative to trying to make do in the boom-town that was Fernie.

Going over historical records kept by the Fernie Museum, the City of Fernie, armchair historians and historical newspapers, Allen said he was learning a lot about the fabric that made up West Fernie both past and present.

While there’s no commemorative cenotaph or memorial, many of the street names in West Fernie are named after miners killed in the 1902 mine explosion, which remains one of Canada’s worst mining disasters, with 128 lives lost.

Allen said he was delving into a lot of bits and pieces about the area – a nordic ski club, a landslide that took out part of the town, and gangs in the 50s and 60s.

“It’s interesting how even smaller places have even more regional senses of identity – between the Annex, West Fernie and elsewhere.”

In uncovering the stories of West Fernie, Allen also discovered the story (and tragic end) of a real ‘pandemic heroine’ – Aagot “Agnes” Anderson of West Fernie, who volunteered to be a nurse during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

Agnes, who came to Fernie from Norway via the United States in 1907, died after falling ill treating those who were sick in the community, and is buried in the Fernie cemetery.

READ MORE: West Fernie Stories: A Pandemic Heroine



scott.tibballs@thefreepress.ca
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