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Capturing History

Joseph Frederick Spalding: Photographer—Tourist—Visionary

Fernie and District Historical Society, British Columbia, Canada.

Pictures 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.

Five girls in basketball uniforms November - Fernie High School 1922-23 Girl’s Basketball Team: from left to right, Lily Graham, Lily Dicken, Beatrice Coughlan, Agnes Culleton, and Helen Sewell.

House and walkway covered in deep snow The overwhelming blanket of snow cozily envelops this Fernie home.

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, 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.

Group of citizens pose on snow Fellow members of Spalding's very active mountaineering club pose atop their most recent summit.

Not all is rosy in Fernie. Spalding photographs a group of German and Austrian residents who were interned during World War One.

In contrast, a photograph of interned German and Austrian residents 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.

Group of women pose on a float surrounded by people in a parade Peace Day July 19, 1919 Fernie, BC. Victory Queen Miss. J. Richardson. The town rallies around its "Queen" as Fernie's citizens celebrate the official end of World War One.

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