Thursday, January 19, 2012

Requiem for a Gentle Man

It is a small town in British Columbia that is my Father's birth place. The picture really doesn't do the town justice for this photo, but the photo is taken halfway up another mountain directly south of the town. Fernie is unique, for it is the only town in North America that is completely surrounded by mountains from every direction. It is like the town and that winding, grassy green patch  (which is the golf course) is at the bottom of a bowl and to see sky you really have to look up in any direction.

The year was 1968, and a young child started a trek across Canada. I was a city boy. Ottawa Ontario was all I knew back then. As we started the trek, my Dad did his best to describe our destination, for it was to become our new home. For the most part, the trip was quite flat and normal from a child's point of view. The Canadian Prairies is one vast sea of flowing grasses, be it wheat, barley, rye, alfalfa, or whatever was planted, and that view is only mottled by black, oil pump-jacks which greatly out numbered the trees. The first part of the trip, traveling across Ontario, is really different from the Prairie Provinces. Mileage-wise, it is the longer portion, but scenery wise there is much more to see. The northern lake-head route around Lake Superior is like traveling the coastline of any ocean, for all you can see is water at the horizon. More inland, there is maples, oak, chestnut, and many other trees that I couldn't name at the time (if you take the trip in the fall, the autumn foliage is just stunning). And trough this entire trip, my Father was simply trying to describe our destination to me.

None of the scenery or visuals that I had seen on this trip helped me imagine a town completely surrounded by mountains, and you could only get there by traveling across something called a 'pass' which led to a 'summit' that is the highest point of that 'pass'.  Dad even described Fernie to me as being at the bottom of a bowl that was made out of mountains. But who was he trying to kid, not me! I was sharper than that. After going across three Prairie Provinces, and passing an 'Ocean' sized lake, I knew that it couldn't really be a bowl. If it was, you would have to go down the side of the bowl to get to the town, and not up through a pass as Dad would have me believe. And his bowl would have to hold water, for the amount of rain and snow that we get up here in Canada, there couldn't be a town at the 'bottom' for it would now be a lake as big as Superior, or even the Mediterranean Sea (I had just learned about the Mediterranean Sea in school that year). I even told him that he must be kidding me, and I was a keen 9 year old that just wouldn't be had. But he insisted on his description of the town. As we did get closer to Fernie, I did start to get a little uneasy for lack of any real comparisons that could help me make sense of his description.

Then the mountains started to form in the horizon, and my nervousness got a little more intense. Dad was getting more excited as we got closer to them. He would start naming mountains that were unique or special in some way. Then he told me about Turtle Mountain, or as the Native Indians from the area called it "Walking Mountain." I asked him why they called it Walking Mountain, and he told me of the local superstitions that Turtle Mountain is slowly moving and has been moving for hundreds of years. It moved so much that in 1903 part of the mountain broke apart and destroyed the small town of Frank Alberta.

"Frank Slide," he called it. So, one of the first sights that I do see is an immense rock slide that covers many square miles and destroyed a town that had the same name as me. Now, Fernie, the town at the bottom of a bowl of mountains was really starting to get me rattled.

"Now," Dad said. "We are really going to start heading up the pass. Crow's Nest pass is what its called. And just before we start heading up it, we will pass Crow's Nest Lake. Did I mention it was bottomless? Yes, a train derailed going around the lake, and they still haven't found it after many many divers tried to reach it."

His stories about the area just kept flowing. Even though I was only 9,  I could tell that he really loved the area, and especially Fernie. He told be of the Lost Lemon Mine near Coleman Alberta, and the temperate tunnel just west of Fernie, which is a tunnel carved in the mountain that is about the length of two city blocks, but the weather can be different on either side of it. He told me of the Coal Creek Mining Disaster on Castle Mountain at Fernie's southern edge, where there was a huge coal mine that caught fire, and when he was younger you could see that mountain glow at night. He told me of the legend of the Ghost Rider, which now forms a shadow formation on Mount Hosmer that is clearly visible on Fernie's east side.


This shadow is clearly visible during sundown throughout the summer. The photos do not give this any justice, for it is amazing to watch form as the day draws to an end.

Dad continued his tales as we got closer, and I got more antsy. Then he dropped the big bomb, "Fernie was cursed by the Indian Cheif, and all of them happened. Fires, floods, and famine he cursed the town with." I knew Dad wasn't trying to scare me with all these tales of Fernie's rich history, for he was actually trying to share all that he knew of a town that he loved so much. He even went into detail of our families role in the founding of Fernie. My Great Uncle, Phillip Misisco and my Grand Father Francisco Sirianni played major roles in the town's founding.

Then we entered Fernie from the east side. I was pleased to find out that instead of falling down the side of a bowl, the mountains simply rose up and completely engulfed you in their beauty.

We made our home there for four years, and some of my best childhood memories occurred in that little town at the bottom of a mountain bowl. And Dad was right, all the mountains in the area seem to have their own personality, which he explained as "The Friendliest Mountains in the World." But one mountain always stood out to me, and that is Fernie Mountain itself.


It seems to flow right down into Fernie. I never knew why this mountain held me in so much awe until now. For this summer, Lola, my son, Jason, my daughter, Jodi,  and son-in-law, George, with Grand Daughter. Lily in tow, my Mother and myself are making a trip to Fernie. Once there, the boys and myself are going on a hike up Fernie Mountain to a spot called the Moccasin. It is a spot two thirds up the mountain where trees do not seem to grow so it looks like a bare spot on the mountain. The Indians say that it is a footprint left by a great chief. That foot-print-like-look of that spot is why it's called the Moccasin and it looks right over the town of Fernie. That is the spot where I am spreading my Dad's Ashes.

William Forester Sirianni
Sept. 13, 1930 - Jan. 15 2012
Dad We're Going Home.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...