The Elk Valley has been inhabited for over 10,000 years by the people of the Ktunaxa Nation. Their traditional territory stretches over 70,000 square kilometres including most of southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta, and extends down into the modern United States, including chunks of Idaho, Washington and Montana.
As European traders, missionaries, ranchers, and miners poured into the region over the course of the 19th Century, the Ktunaxa were largely dispossessed of their land. The discovery of coal in the region led several entrepreneurs, including William Fernie, to successfully advocate for the construction of a railway into the Elk Valley. After the railway was completed in 1897, the town of Fernie became the hub for mining operations in the valley, and it grew rapidly until the outbreak of the First World War.
In the summer of 1915 the growing public pressure led the government to arrest miners that originated from nations Canada was at war with, and interned them at the town's ice rink. In the autumn they were moved to the abandoned townsite of Morrissey just south of Fernie, which was repurposed as an internment camp.
*Video credit: Armistice Films*
This project has been made possible by a grant from the Endowment Council of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.
We respectfully acknowledge that Fernie lies within the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territory of the Ktunaxa First Nation.
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The Victoria Hotel in 1898, shortly after the founding of the town. A crowd of people brave the winter temperatures to pose for a photo out front of the hotel. Scaffolding all around the hotel indicates it was still under construction at the time. The hotel would be burned down in one of the several gigantic fires that swept through Fernie in the 1900s.
A large crowd of pedestrians crowd the sidewalks of Victoria Ave. On the right is P. Burns & Co. Meats. The rancher turned businessman Pat Burns was one of the richest men and most successful entrepreneurs in British Columbia at the time.
This shows the temporary train depot quickly built just after the great fire of 1908. The station and water tower haven't been painted and have clearly just been constructed. The scaffolding around the water tower indicates that it hasn't been finished yet. These would be replaced shortly after once relief efforts had been completed.
Flooding on the Elk River has left Fernie's Ice Rink half submerged. The ice rink was used as a temporary internment camp in the summer of 1915 for miners from the Elk Valley and Crowsnest Pass who were deemed 'enemy aliens.'
A train departs Fernie's station carrying men local men off to fight in France. The banner on the car indicates that they are from the 8th Platoon of B Company of the Kootenay Battalion. Smiling men poke their heads out of the windows, unaware of the horrors that await them in the trenches.
A funeral procession proceeds from the Holy Family Catholic Church. It is led by a horsedrawn hearst and a number of men walking alongside, and followed by a long convoy of cars. At right is Fernie's Meat Market.