Fall comes fast in Fernie. Darkness seeps up out of the ground and the trees rustle in the chill wind as though they are trying to share secrets of the past. Listen closely, and you will learn of the ghosts that haunt this hidden corner of the Kootenays…
A frontier atmosphere pervaded in the early days of Fernie’s existence. High tempers often got the better of the hardworking people who struggled against the odds. In the nearby town of Coal Creek, a miner named Benson went to his superintendent to complain that his fireboss had moved him from his place in the mine out of spite. The superintendent said that he would speak to the fireboss, named Joyce, but didn’t think there was much he could do. In a sullen rage Benson collected his revolver and set out for the mine offices where he found and shot wildly at Joyce. In terror at his actions, Benson fled to the railway tracks and took his own life with the revolver.
As it happened, the superintendent had ordered Joyce to reinstate Benson, and Joyce had only sustained a minor wound in the attack. Had Benson waited just a moment, his life would have been saved. For decades afterward, the inhabitants of Coal Creek swore that Benson haunted that section of the track. A young couple reported feeling cold hands pulling them backward and an elderly Mr Carmichael, on attempting to greet a young man at the side of the tracks found the dark figure to have only shadows below his cap. Coal Creek is now little more than a few crumbling walls but it appears that Benson’s ghost has chosen to make it home.
Back in Fernie, the 500 block between 1st and 2nd Avenue has the highest concentration of supernatural activity. At the Ingram Block (look up on the south side the middle of 2nd Avenue and find the plaque that reads ‘Ingram, 1910’), William Ingram met his unfortunate end. A pillar of the community, Ingram was a well-known and active businessman. On the night of November 21, 1939, someone was watching as Ingram made his regular walk home, stepping from the shadows to hit Ingram on the back of the head with an iron pipe, fracturing his skull. The attackers fled and Ingram died in hospital five days later. Two young men were later acquitted of murder charges, but a third was held for trial and later attempted suicide in the cells beneath the Fernie Courthouse. He was saved by a blood transfusion and later acquitted of Ingram’s murder following an appeal.
Many years later, an artist had a studio on the top floor of the Ingram building, and installed a convex mirror at the top of the stairs so that he could see anyone coming up. One afternoon he came in, locked the door, and settled in to paint. He clearly heard the faint sound of a key in the lock of the bottom door, followed by slow, heavy footsteps advancing towards him up the stairs. He looked toward the convex mirror but there was no one there. Others who worked in the building reported ghostly shapes and the pungent smell of cigar smoke. Meanwhile at the Courthouse, it seems Roy Whitehouse – the man acquitted for Ingram’s murder, may have returned to the place where he tried to take his own life. For years, workers have reported stories of pattering feet, ghostly voices and shadowy apparitions. It seems Ingram and Whitehouse may have some unfinished business in Fernie.
Around the corner from the Ingram Building on the corner of 1st Avenue, the Royal Hotel may be the most haunted building in Fernie. A crowd of ghosts were reported partying in the dining room one Christmas Day as the proprietor prepared for a busy day, seemingly alone, early in the morning. When she went to investigate the source of the ruckus, there was nobody there. A little fair-haired girl has appeared to many staff in the building and seems to have a mischievous streak. She likes to reach out a cold hand or tug on people’s hair. A little boy, dining with his family one day, appeared to be having a conversation with someone that nobody else at the table could see. Many more reports have been made of the little girl, but so far, she seems to be friendly.
A man named Julius Beach died of a stroke in one of the rooms upstairs in 1984 at the age of 85. Julius might not have left quite yet, and he seems to have a sense of humour. He likes to rock in a rocking chair and has been known to turn on music in unoccupied rooms. He must not have been friends with the Royal’s final ghost, who is said to occupy the basement and does not like loud noises. He harasses servers as they go about their work, and it is said, that if you stay very, very, quiet, he will speak to you.
Soak up the atmosphere this October with Fernie Ghost Tours, hosted by The Arts Station. Call to book a private tour or to inquire about dates. After the Halloween parties, The Royal rounds out the Hallowtide festivities with the annual Zombie walk on November 2nd.
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