Jump to content.

Photo of Spalding

Capturing History

Joseph Frederick Spalding: Photographer—Tourist—Visionary

Snapshots of a Community


From 1904 –1924 Joseph Frederick Spalding documented the community of Fernie. Like other industry towns of the period, Fernie had a diverse population that shaped its social and cultural character through clubs, associations, festivals, sporting events [virtualmuseum.ca], and theatricals. In this gallery, carefully posed studio photographs that document many of the clubs and sports teams find context alongside the more spontaneous images of community events and the natural disasters that seem to have plagued the town, including heavy winter snowfalls, floods, and two fires.

While many of Spalding’s landscape photographs depict the mountains surrounding Fernie as a sublime backdrop to the industry of the burgeoning town, the images in this gallery also provide a glimpse into what life was like in Fernie at the level of human interaction. A photograph of Spalding’s mountaineering club (fig.13 [0533]), triumphantly posing on a snow-capped summit, conveys the sense of camaraderie and pride experienced by the men and women of Fernie as they discovered the surrounding wilderness. In contrast, a photograph of interned German and Austrian residents (fig.17 [1183]) during WWI, some of whom had likely only recently immigrated to Canada in search of a better life, reveals their uncertainty and fear as they stand looking glumly toward the camera against the background of a perimeter fence.

From images of main street shoppers to patriotic carnivals to the devastating Great Fire of 1908, Spalding’s photographs reveal the vitality and resilience of Fernie residents. As he wrote on a photograph of refugees who had lost everything in the Great Fire, the people of Fernie were “down but not out.” Above all, Spalding’s photographs of community events serve to remind us that Fernie thrived, not only because of the coal industry, but because of the people who made the town their home.