Some thoughts about the words “Edwardian Era” and “Edwardian Fernie”:
Using the name of a king or queen to denote a period of time has long been a practice in writing about history. For certain historical periods it makes a great deal of sense. For example in those times when a king or queen had absolute power their individual personality had an enormous impact on the period in which they ruled: laws, customs, fashions were all subject to the whims of the absolute ruler and so the whole of society in a country was defined by that ruler. This custom continued in the United Kingdom even after the king or queen no longer had absolute power because they still as head of state had enormous influence on society in all its facets including and especially the arts and culture and fashion, often reflecting, at least superficially, the ideas and ideals of what was considered best at the time.
The “Edwardian Era” area in its most tightly defined understanding refers to that time period in the United Kingdom and its Dominions and colonies that started with the death of Queen Victoria on the 22nd of January 1901 and the subsequent coronation of her son Edward VII and ended with Edward’s own death in 1910 on the 6th of May. However to confine the Edwardian Era strictly to the reign of Edward VII would be to shorten the real arc of this era. The Edwardian Era can be said to have germinated and have its roots in the middle of the Victorian era. The date for the beginning of the growth of those roots is sometime in 1860 because in that year the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, at the age of nineteen was considered to have reached sufficient maturity to travel to what was soon to be Canada. During his visit he laid the stone of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. He also visited the United States where he had a very positive impact on US-British relations. Not long after, in 1861, the death of his father, Prince Albert, led to the retreat of his mother Queen Victoria from society – though not from the position and powers of Queen. The seclusion of Queen Victoria gave the Prince of Wales a more dominant role in the society and culture of Britain, and since he was interested in, and a patron of, art, culture and science his impact went far further than it might otherwise have. Edward, his friends and their influential circles and their Edwardian ideals were permeating society in a way that is belied by the naming of the late Victorian Period as Victorian. Britain was already very much Edwardian by the death of Queen Victoria.
The end of the Edwardian Era is also not as certain as the date on which Edward VII died since the Edwardian way of living and its ideals continued to be in vogue after the king’s death. A more certain end to the Edwardian Era came with the beginning of World War I in 1914. The start of the Great War is, if not the end of the Edwardian Era, certainly the beginning of the end. And without a doubt by the end of the Great War the Edwardian Era has ended. The war, unlike any war ever seen before, changed the world and the ideas and ideals of the Edwardians were left behind in the trenches and graveyards of Europe. Nothing was the same in Europe by November of 1918!
For the purposes of this blog the Edwardian Era in Fernie begins with the wresting from the forests along the Elk River and Coal Creek of the Old Fernie Town site and Coal Creek Town site beginning around 1897. Fernie was a part of the Dominion of Canada and a part of the British Empire at this time. Therefore Fernie was governed by British-Canadian law and ruled officially and unofficially by its Anglo-Canadian residents and they imparted their values and aesthetics on the whole community in every way they could. From its humble and ramshackle start through several mine disasters and the fires of 1904 and 1908 Fernie roars on as an example of Edwardian optimism and hubris. Nothing it seems will stop Fernie from becoming “The Pittsburgh of the North.” But it was not to be. The end of the Edwardian Era arrives for Fernie during World War I and it is not long after the end of the Great War that it is evident Fernie will not become the great metropolis imagined.