by Mike Pennock

From 1904 to 1958, the year of his death, Joseph Frederick Spalding was a prolific commercial photographer, active around British Columbia and beyond. From 1904 to 1924, Mr. Spalding worked from his studio and photo-documented the comings-and-goings of Fernie. This work, captioned Photo: Spalding, was the most common ‘by-line’ for documenting life in Fernie back then. If that was all Spalding accomplished, the citizens of Fernie would have been well-served – luckily for them, it wasn’t.

In autumn of 1913, Spalding left Vancouver, travelling by car to Fernie, then into Alberta and Saskatchewan. Not content just to make the long trip, he also published the Official Automobile Road Guide for British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 1918, encouraged by the success of his first book, he embarked on another tour with a view to publishing an account of his new travels. In the spring of 1919, after his return to Fernie, he challenged the citizens of Fernie in a letter to the Free Press newspaper:

My recent trip of well over 12,000 miles through the states of Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California as far south as Mexico, and my previous trip of 23,000 miles in which I covered the whole of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, have convinced me more firmly than ever of the correctness of my oft made assertion that in this district and within a radius of 50 miles from Fernie, we have absolutely the finest scenery there is in the whole of the North American continent.

Fernie is the logical centre for tourists visiting the East Kootenay; we can give them everything they are looking for, fishing, hunting, climbing, golf, hotel accommodations, garage service, movies and churches, even hard stuff too, if they want it. Everywhere I have been I have boosted all I knew how for Fernie and district, but an individual cannot do it all, it needs concentrated effort and it is nearly time the people of Fernie woke up to what we have here, and get busy and let it be known outside.

The challenge worked. In 1919, the Fernie Board of Trade had added 184 new members, an information bureau and 10,000 illustrated pamphlets promoting tourism in Fernie had been produced and distributed. In 1921, Fernie and other area towns formed the Tourist Association of Southern Alberta and Southeastern British Columbia. Headed by Spalding and based in Fernie, the association’s mission was to lure tourists to the region by distributing pamphlets that presented the area as “a Paradise for Motorists, Anglers, Huntsmen and Health and Vacation Seekers.”

As you peruse the Fernie Guide, be reminded of the path blazed over 80 years ago by Joseph Frederick Spalding: Photographer – Tourist – Visionary.

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