1908 RPPC postcard photo looking down Victoria Street in Fernie B.C. Burnt buildings both sides of street. Some rebuilding started. In foreground men gathered around cart with sign on side “Lunch Wagon”. Attached to wagon small sign on stick ‘LEMONADE 5¢’.
Photo by local photographer Joseph Spalding.
Printed on negative:
‘3. VICTORIA AVENUE 3 DAYS AFTER THE FIRE OF AUG 1ST 08 Photo Spalding'
Toning on back
(Red text is an electronic watermark that is not physically part of the photo for sale)
Born in London in 1877, Joseph Frederick Spalding immigrated to Canada in 1898, possibly wooed by the same sort of images he would later spend a lifetime preserving in photographs. When he arrived in Fernie in March of 1904, the town of 1,400 residents was only six years old. Its rapid economic growth was based on the discovery of coal seams in the Elk Valley area, which subsequently brought both the railway and the logging industry to Fernie.
In 1908, Spalding invested over $1000 to modernize his studio, furnishing it with new backdrops and accessories. Spalding’s ties to the community were strengthened when he, along with the other residents of Fernie, lost his home and business in the Great Fire later that year. Despite his own loss, Spalding relentlessly documented the eerie aftermath of the fire. Many of his photographs depict the charred remains of buildings against the ashen wasteland of what had been a thriving town, while tiny shadowed figures stare in amazement at the ruins
The Great Fire of 1908 was a dramatic, defining moment for Fernie that saw the community obliterated by fire in less than 90 minutes on August 1st, 1908. The fire claimed no lives, but the property loss was valued at over $5 million dollars, a staggering amount at the time. It was the second major fire in four years. In 1904, a fire destroyed much of Fernie’s commercial core and led to the incorporation of the City of Fernie and the formation of the Fernie Fire Department.
The efforts of the firemen were no match for the 1908 firestorm; they surrendered where The Brickhouse Bar is today. People fled for the river. A Great Northern train passing through Fernie rescued many and took them to Hosmer. Surprisingly, over 16 homes survived, all at the far west end of Fernie. The Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Co. offices (Fernie’s City Hall today) also survived and became the place where refugees from the fire could obtain food and clothing. Nearby towns offered shelter, and supplies came from across Canada.