Fernie | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Fernie, British Columbia, incorporated as a city in 1904, population 5,249 (2016 census), 4,448 (2011 census). The city of Fernie lies in the narrow valley of the Elk River, amidst the Rocky Mountains. It is located on the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa people.

Settlement and Development

Originally called Coal Creek, the city was later named for a prospector named William Fernie. It was founded in 1898 with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s line through Crowsnest Pass. Wiped out by fire in 1908, it was rebuilt in impressive fashion. Referred to in its early years as the “Pittsburgh of the West,” it became the centre for the region’s coal mines, particularly Coal Creek Mines. At the end of the First World War, 4,500 people lived in Fernie.


A recession followed the First World War. It was prolonged by the switch from coal to oil on American railroads and intensified by the Great Depression. The first coal was shipped to Japanese steel makers in 1970. Fernie’s economy today is diversifying in the areas of tourism and recreation, while its residential base is sustained in part by coal mines operating in the Elk Valley. The Snow Valley ski area is a popular attraction for local people and tourists from Alberta.

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