About 113 years ago, an eccentric Englishman, who was befuddled by the vast Canadian wilderness, came across a prospector named George Edwards and two of his pals, all heavily armed and concealing weapons.
Neither party was who they seemed to be, but only one was the wiser.
The man was not George Edwards. He was the infamous train robber Billy Miner.
And the Englishman? Not eccentric and not befuddled. He was expert tracker and B.C. Provincial Police officer William Fernie, who recognized an outlaw when he saw one.
Fernie had been tasked with finding the bandit Miner, who was said to have committed B.C.’s first train robbery — and only the second in Canada — on a Canadian Pacific Railway train in Silverdale, outside Vancouver. He was also the suspect in a train robbery on another CPR train between Kamloops and Monte Creek.
After the chance encounter with the man he’d been tracking, Fernie, who was armed only with his pistol, alerted the Northwest Mounted Police, who pursued and arrested Miner.
Fernie, who often employed and relied on local Indigenous trackers, including from Tk’emlups, also had a hand in catching the Haney brothers, who robbed a train near Pritchard, and tracking a pair of murderers near Clinton.
But there’s more to the man than his penchant for pursuit, and details of the Fernie’s life have come to light in a new book by Kamloops author Ron Hatch.
Perseverance: The Life of William Fernie, the Man Who Caught Billy Miner was published in November, and soon Hatch will hold a book signing in Kamloops this weekend to mark the occasion.
“I don’t know why we’re attracted to the less desirable elements of our community, but Fernie was the provincial police officer who tracked and caught Billy Miner and nobody knows about it,” Hatch told KTW.
His new book is the second in recent years. The other is Kamloops: Trading Post to Tournament Capital, which he co-authored with former Kamloops Museum supervisor Elisabeth Duckworth.
In that book, Hatch said the names of all the outlaws were omitted — Miner’s reference in that book was something along the lines of “that train robber guy.”
“That, I guess, was the seed that was planted in my mind,” he said.
The book explores the life of Fernie and the various effects he had on Kamloops and the province as a whole. Hatch called him a Renaissance man.
Along with his police work, Fernie was also a horse breeder, producing trusty steeds for local militia groups like the Rocky Mountain Rangers and B.C. Horse regiment, using land that bordered the city’s Chinese cemetery and stretched into the West End.
“And that’s where the only memory Kamloops has given him is, Fernie Road,” Hatch said.
Fernie was also an early conservationist, an intelligence officer in the First World War and a sketch artist — whose work ranges from local wildlife and an early rendering of the newly constructed Halston rail bridge to Belgian cityscapes.
He was also an avid sportsman, playing on city soccer and polo teams.
Hatch said Fernie’s relationship with local First Nations was also notable.
“This was very unusual for a man who was raised, until he was 19, in Victorian England, with the whole British Empire mentality. He learned the Chilcotin trade language and picked up quite a bit of Secwepemctsin. He always acknowledged his debt to these people,” Hatch said.
The author has a number of events around town, including his book signing at Kamloops Chapters on Saturday, Dec. 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
He will also deliver free lectures on Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 2 p.m. at Cottonwood Manor and on Thursday, Dec. 12, at 3 p.m. at Kamloops Seniors Village.