The Great Fire of Fernie

August 23rd, 2022 1 Minutes
Collection No. 0039.0275 by J.Fred Spalding – Victoria Avenue, two days after Fernie’s Aug. 1, 1908 fire. Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

By MBSS Student Intern Sasha Buckley

This is a picture of the town of Fernie minus 95% of the city of Fernie. This particular photo was taken after the “Great Fernie Fire” on August 1st, 1908, that effortlessly burnt the entire town down. The state of all the levelled buildings is making me ask HOW are the telephone poles still standing. During that time, fire was a big problem in Fernie. There wasn’t anything between the woods and Fernie, so any neglected bush fire could spread into downtown. There was also a fire that went through the town in 1905, although not completely levelling it as this one did.

After this fire, the town passed a bylaw outlining that all downtown buildings must be made of brick (or any other stone or non-burnable material). At the time, fire was the issue that needed fixing, and that was one of the ways they did it. As you would expect, many of Fernie’s buildings today are made of brick, which, although sturdy and fireproof, is incredibly difficult to renovate and work with while also being more vulnerable to earthquakes. Aside from that, the fire completely ravaged the entire town because, at the time, almost all buildings were made of wood entirely or partially.

Of course, there was support from the neighbouring towns who gave resources to rebuild the town while also setting up temporary food banks for all of the now homeless people. The refugees in Cranbrook had taken shelter in any hotel, store, railcar, and plot of land that wasn’t in immediate use. Cranbrook did this despite the fact they were also fighting the same fire that had flattened Fernie and was spreading toward Cranbrook.

To say 1908 was not a good year for Fernie would be a bit of an understatement, with a population of roughly 5000 people becoming homeless. Fernie recovered fairly quickly, having its infrastructure back and making a full recovery within a year. But I still need to know how those telephone poles are still standing upright.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *