The Horseman Rides Forever

The Fernie Ghostrider

If you believe in legends you’ll want to know about the shadowy figure that lurks in the Elk Valley near the mountain town of Fernie, British Columbia. According to local lore William Fernie, the man the town is named after, was on a prospecting trip in the late 1800’s when he observed a young Ktunaxa woman wearing a necklace made from shiny black stones. Immediately recognizing that the stones were coal he began a romantic relationship with the woman hoping of discovering their origin. The Ktunaxa Chief, who was also the woman’s father, promised to show Fernie the coal seam if he would marry his daughter. Fernie agreed to the terms, but ultimately rebuffed the arrangement after learning of the coal’s whereabouts. Fernie’s refusal to marry his daughter angered the Chief and he placed a curse on the entire valley for all eternity.

Here you can see the shadowy Ghostrider on the face of Mount Hosmer. Photo Credit: Tourism Fernie/Matt Kuhn

Many residents didn’t give much thought to the alleged curse until adversity began to transpire within the valley. In 1902 one of Canada’s worst mining disasters devastated the town when 128 men were killed. Then two dreadful fires, one in 1904 and another in 1908, left the town smouldering. Finally, the Elk River flooded its banks in 1916 and again ravaged the distressed community.

This photo highlights the mysterious shadow for a clearer view. Photo from

Traditionally the Ktunaxa people avoided the Elk Valley altogether, believing it to be a bad place. Their legends speak of a Squirrel and his wife who mercilessly controlled the valley with their allies Raven and Ram. Together they would kill any who tried to enter their valley and refused safe passage to all. One day a young Ktunaxa boy with warrior-like strength manoeuvred his way into the valley where he eventually killed Squirrel and overpowered the others. The young boy, known as Yau Ke’Kam, felt the creatures were selfish for keeping the valley to themselves, so he declared any other who possessed such greed would meet the same fate. This tale may have helped shape the folklore surrounding the aforementioned curse.

Artist Roy Henry Vickers used the Ghostrider legend and Mount Hosmer as inspiration for this amazing print.

Although no hard evidence exists to prove the authenticity of the curse it was real enough in the minds of the town’s people to request the curse be lifted. On August 15, 1964 Chief Ambrose Gravelle with members of the Ktunaxa Nation assembled together with Mayor James White and other town officials for a ceremony to officially remove the Fernie Curse. The authentic mountain town, with a penchant for incredible outdoor recreational opportunities, has been a flourishing community ever since.

This photo was captured during the curse lifting ceremony. Photo Credit: Tourism Fernie

Perhaps as a stark reminder of a darker time or simply an obscure illusion, the striking face of Mount Hosmer is the canvas that displays the eerie Ghostrider shadow at sunset on clear nights each summer and autumn. There are a  number of interpretations of this phenomenon, but likely the two most popular are as follows. Some believe the shadowy character on horseback is the forsaken daughter being led home by her father, the irate Chief. Others conclude that the figure riding the horse is actually the incensed Chief keeping a vengeful eye on the valley below while his heartbroken daughter stands at his side. Whether the curse was real and the stories were true or its simply a fable inspired by unexplainable events their legends will live on in the shadows of the Rockies.

*featured image (top) is Mount Hosmer with the Ghostrider shadow visible from a distance. Photo Credit: Tourism Fernie/Matt Kuhn
Tyler Dixon
About Tyler Dixon 70 Articles
Tyler is originally from Saskatchewan, and yes he cheers for the Roughriders, but don’t hold that against him as Calgary has been his home for the past eight years. He is a teacher working at a wilderness- based treatment program for youth working to overcome addiction. Tyler is also a volunteer with the GOT Parks initiative, which aims at reconnecting Canada’s youth with our national, provincial, and territorial parks. During his time away from work, Tyler enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and snowboarding, team sports, travelling, photography, spending time with good friends, and being at home with his wife and German Shepherd, Rome.