Haunting mountain legend inspires B.C. artist to visit Kootenay town
Roy Henry Vickers shares the story and a print inspired by local lore of Fernie, B.C.
Every autumn, B.C. artist Roy Henry Vickers heads to Fernie, a small resort town in B.C.'s East Kootenays, to hunt elk and gaze at Mount Hosmer, which is the scene of a haunting First Nation legend.
Vickers is best known for his limited-edition prints. He also recently illustrated the children's book Peace Dancer about a flood in the Tsimshian village of Kitkatla — which he will discuss at the upcoming Vancouver Writers Festival.
He says there are hundreds of picturesque B.C. spots that have inspired his imagination and art, including the northwest coast near Prince Rupert where he grew up, but every fall, Vickers, 70, is drawn to the Elk River.
"When you drive into Fernie into the fall, it is just a splash of colours of yellow and red and gold and brown wood of the cottonwood trees — and this beautiful river that runs through it all," he said.
Mount Hosmer, northeast of town, always commands Vickers' attention. When the afternoon sun hits the face of the mountain, a shadow emerges that resembles a horse rider.
That figure is known as the Ghostrider, a legend told by tourists, townspeople and First Nations about an angry chief who placed a curse on the town.
According to Vickers, the legend lays out how the town's founder, William Fernie, was travelling through the region in the late 19th century when he met up with a group of First Nations, including a chief and his daughter.
The young woman wore a black, stone necklace, which Fernie immediately recognized as coal.
When he asked the chief where he could find the coal, the chief said he'd only tell him if Fernie married his daughter. Fernie agreed and the chief divulged the source of the coal.
Lifting the curse
But Fernie reneged on the deal and refused to marry the daughter.
Enraged, the chief put a curse on the town, according to the legend. Indeed, in the early part of the 20th century, the town was beset with one tragedy after another, including two fires, a flood and a mining disaster.
Fearing the curse was real, town leaders in 1964 approached local Ktunaxa tribes and asked them to lift it. Chief Ambrose Gravelle, agreed. Gravelle was the grandfather of two friends of Vickers.
"And it's been a prosperous beautiful little town in the Rocky Mountains to this day," said Vickers.
Whenever Vickers returns to Fernie, he looks to Mount Hosmer in the late afternoon to catch a glimpse of the haunting shadow, which appears to depict a horse, a rider and a figure walking beside it.
The figure atop the horse is believed to be the jilted daughter while the person beside the horse is believed to be the angry chief leading his daughter home.
"The horse and rider are there to remind the people of what happened in that town years and years ago," said Vickers
The legend inspired Vickers to design his own print of the mountain, pictured above.
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This story is part of the series My B.C. Hideaway. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks to hear from other local personalities about their favourite places in the province.
With files from Maryse Zeidler