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Imagining Difference

Legend, Curse, and Spectacle in a Canadian Mining Town

by (author) Leslie Robertson

UBC Press
Initial publish date
Jul 2005
Cultural, Popular Culture, British Columbia (BC), Post-Confederation (1867-)
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2005
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  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2004
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  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2007
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Imagining Difference is an ethnography about historical and contemporary ideas of human difference expressed by residents of Fernie, BC – a coal-mining town transforming into an international ski resort. Focusing on diverse experiences of people from the European diaspora, Robertson analyzes expressions of difference from the multiple locations of age, ethnicity, gender, class, and religion. Her starting point is a popular local legend about an indigenous curse cast on the valley and its residents in the nineteenth century. Successive interpretations of the story reveal a complicated landscape of memory and silence, mapping out official and contested histories, social and scientific theories as well as the edicts of political discourse. Cursing becomes a metaphor for discursive power resonating in political, popular, and cultural contexts, transmitting ideas of difference across generations and geographies.


Stories are powerful imaginative resources in the contexts of colonialism, war, immigration, labour strife, natural disaster, treaty-making, and globalization.This study suggests that while criteria may shift, ideas of “race” and “foreignness,” expressions of regionalism, and class and religious identity remain fixed in the social imagination.


The author draws from folklore, media imagery, historical records, and interviews; field notes and verbatim accounts provide readers with a sense of the ethnographic process. While situated historically and socially in Fernie, BC, this work will appeal to those in anthropology, women’s studies, Native studies, and history, as well as to regional readers and anyone interested in life in resource towns in North America.

About the author

Leslie Robertson completed her Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, where she currently teaches anthropology. She worked as a researcher on the Health and Home Project—directed by Dara Culhane—for two years and is currently working for a community organization in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. She has conducted cross-cultural research in various social contexts, and her work examines the construction of meaning through oral histories and life stories. Robertson is also the author of Imagining Difference: Legend, Curse and Spectacle in a BC Mining Town, published by the University of British Columbia Press in 2004.

Leslie Robertson's profile page

Editorial Reviews

With its 25-page bibliograhy, most of Imagining Difference won’t pass for popular history, but this work has an intriguing premise and Robertson deserves credit for an original undertaking.

BC Bookworld, Vol. 19, No. 4, Winter 2005

Robertson is an ethnographer and a specialist in “urban anthropology” with a storytelling talent exceptional among the theory-riddled academics who tend to infest her field. She’s just mindful enough of the intellectual blinders that so preoccupy deconstructionist academics that she glides rather gracefully through the hash and gets to the beating heart of her chosen subject… Robinson spent three years in Fernie, visiting old Italian ladies and such, talking about curses, hanging out with the locals, taking notes. The result is brilliant.

Georgia Straight

One is continually aware of, and intrigued by, the ethnographic process. The subject matter under investigation, however, delves deeper into the realm of stories and storytelling as vehicles for articulating perceptions of human difference. The legend of the curse – and its many different versions – often led to discussions of curse beliefs, religion, class, race, sexuality, gender, age, history, and geography. These various strands of text are ably woven together by Robertson; in the end she suggests “ideas about human difference remain intact across generations” (p. 246). Her study invites the reader to engage in a kind of translation of the Fernitian inquest and examine our own surroundings. Though the volume looks at an old coal-mining town/now international ski destination in southern British Columbia, the study will be of interest to anthropologists, historians, and Canadianists as well as those interested in Native Studies, Women’s Studies, Cultural and Ethnic Studies.

Canadian Ethnic Studies, Vol XXXVII, No. 2, 2005

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