Fernie, BC is a city of about 5000 people nestled in a basin amongst 6000-7000 foot mountains. The Elk River winds, serpentine-like, around the valley, cutting a peninsula on which the town is built. The river varies from 50 to several hundred feet wide along its way. Surrounded by rock shoals and sitting five feet below the shoreline, the river looks very calm and not at all dangerous. But that is a misconception. Fed by several sizeable creeks, the Elk River is the source of floods which have seriously damaged the little town in the past. On careful examination, one sees that most of the river is lined with five foot high dikes, in an attempt to keep any future flood waters from doing damage. On top of the dikes, almost all around the town, are walking paths, catering to the big health consciousness of the tourists and denizens.

The city of Fernie is plagued by calamities. One of the explanations is the legend of the Ghostrider. According to this legend, William Fernie, one of two brothers who came from the East to find a fortune, has promised to marry an Indian Princess to learn the source of her sacred black stone necklace (coal). It is said that after learning the location of the coal seam, Fernie stopped seeing the Princess and her father placed a curse on the Elk River valley. Although the curse was later formally lifted in 1964, the ghost of the Indian Chief riding his horse with his jilted daughter at his side can still be seen on summer evenings among the shadows of Mount Hosmer’s face.  However, within the timeframe of the curse, there have been fires, mine explosions, floods and a bank disaster in 1923. It hasn’t been too bad since the curse lifting.

Into this richly historic region, we came to visit relatives. We knew only one relative on Thursday. By the time we left we had met a dozen more.  Ralph and Lorraine welcomed us into their home like long lost relatives, which, of course, we were! Cory, their grandson, and I had been trading genealogical information for a few years. I felt like I knew him. But no one else. They kindly explained relatives’ names, relationships and pictures. I showed them what I had. Including one picture album from my grandmother.

Cory brought us to the cemetery to see relatives’ gravestones. He took us to historically significant places, old coal towns which have been bulldozed and abandoned, old coal treatment spots. But no old mines for me!  And there are many mines: Michel Mines, Morrissey Mining Company, Cold Creek Mining Company. The last one was the last to close, in the later 1950s.

One interesting gravestone found was that of Bruno DeFrancesco, the only DeFrancesco in town. I have followed him peripherally, as he was a nephew of Dominick DeFrancesco, an uncle through marriage. Bruno went to Fernie in the early 20s and died there in the late 20s at the age of 35. There were no explosions or fires at that time so I assume he may have died of black lung disease, either lung cancer or TB. Miners tended to die of those dieases.

Although I went to BC to find Giuseppe Amato, I wanted to discover the other side of the family, and I did, learning much about the personalities, quirks and diseases of these people.

But more than that, I learned so much about hospitality and recipes from Lorraine and Cory. I discovered borscht and found out that I like it. I learned that you can grill sliced potatoes.