An integral part of the Fernie Museum’s new exhibit is a feature introducing visitors to five historic figures from Fernie’s past. In the group are a politician, an explorer, a European immigrant, a youngster and an artist. The artist - Grace Dvorak (nee Arbuckle) spent her childhood in Coal Creek. She married Frank Dvorak and raised three children in Fernie. Grace was fascinated by history and kept her memories of Fernie and Coal Creek alive through her poems. Grace passed away in 2010.
Here is a small sampling of the stories and poetry you can hear in Grace’s own words through the Fernie Faces interactive program at the museum.
In Coal Creek, the 1920s and 1930s were a particularly hard time. Strengthened by our church and our faith, we survived the nine-month strike of 1924, the fire and evacuation of the town in 1929, and the Depression of the 1930s. If you’re aware of the Ghostrider Legend, you know that some people blame Fernie’s many hardships on the “Indian Curse.” Here is a poem I wrote about the Ghostrider Legend in 1998, to commemorate the lifting of the curse.
Fernie Endured the Curse!
In 100 years of the life of our town
So many events of history we’ve known;
Never could things have been much worse
And we’ve blamed it all on the “Indian Curse.”
Long ago in the dark days of yore,
We cannot remember, it happened before
Settlers came from over the sea,
And built up a town ‘tween mountains and trees.
A white man came and promises broke;
In a voice like thunder, a great chief spoke
And threatened the people with consequence dire
Cursed them with famine, with flood, and with fire.
We didn’t believe until that famous date:
Fire ravaged the town in 1908;
Homes and buildings and mountains were burned,
Because of a lady whose love had been scorned.
Then in the thirties, a great famine, indeed,
The valley around was in desperate need:
There was little to eat, no work to do:
Surely that curse was not coming true!
When the river rose twice, the town was engaged
In building dykes, as the water raged
Through the town, when homes and land the great flood claimed;
The curse rose again, with disaster its aim!
Now we don’t see events as evil omens,
Deep dark forebodings as we saw them then.
We’ll remember the curse; it’s gone, let it be.
We’re survivors, we’re builders, we’re the folks of Fernie!
The gravestones of some of the miners can be seen in our cemetery. I wrote this poem to commemorate the miners who lost their lives helping to build our community.
Memories Borne on the Wind
In the early morn the sun’s gold rays,
Herald now another day;
All is silent, all is still
‘Til the breeze ‘gins to move through the valley and hill.
Now that which we hear as it sighs through the pine,
Is the sound of the men as they enter the mine:
And faintly, more faintly, the murmur of prayer
That the miners be safe in His special care.
The gusts that tremble the earth, we know
As explosions and bumps in the pits far below:
Then the gentle and persistent rain
Is tears for men who return not again.
Now the breeze is light and the breeze is brisk,
Miners return from their dangerous shift
Lighter steps take them to their kitchen door,
To the safety and comfort they have waited for.
The evening breezes will now caress
Each weary worker who seeks his rest,
All motion, all sounds will suddenly cease
And the valley’s enclosed in darkness and peace.
Natural beauty is another facet of the Fernie experience that fueled me throughout my adult life, while I raised my three children and worked as chief cook and bottle washer for my husband’s guiding outfit. It is in Fernie’s mountains and rivers and forests that I found the inspiration for my large body of poetry. I celebrate that natural splendour in these closing stanzas of my poem “Something to Sing About.”
Hear an Elk bugle cry, up on a mountain high
This is the home of the famous big horn sheep!
There’s moose in the boggy snags,
Goats on the rocky crags,
We’ve got something to sing about –
Take it from me.
Come to our slopes to ski,
There’s fish in our streams, you’ll see
And on our streets there’ll be
Our friendly hospitality
We’ve something to sing about—
Take it from me!