The Great Elephant Hunt
In the summer of 1926, the Sells Floto Circus arrived to perform in Cranbrook. While unloading the circus animals from the train, something spooked the elephants. Some speculated that it was heavy smoke from forest fires in the region that made the animals nervous. All 14 pachyderms stampeded out of the railway yard. Circus hands and citizens alike ran for cover as the animals charged through the streets of town and out into the countryside. Within hours, one of Canada's strangest telegraph messages was sent out warning CPR crews: "All trains east: Keep lookout for elephants on track." Before morning, seven of the animals were re-captured. During the following days the remaining elephants were rounded up. Three were found eating apples in an orchard. One died of pneumonia and gunshot wounds. The last elephant, Charlie Ed, eluded capture long enough to make him a local favourite. He was exhibited at the Annual Fall Fair and renamed Cranbrook Ed. The elephant rampage was estimated to have cost the Sells Floto Circus $50,000. For those few weeks in 1926, Cranbrook made international headlines as the world read of the progress of Canada's Great Elephant Hunt.
Historic Cranbrook Businesses
The Cranbrook Hotel
The first commercial hotel developed in the fledgling community of Cranbrook was the Cranbrook Hotel. It opened in 1897 in anticipation of the arrival of the railroad. Well situated at the corner of Baker and Van Horne Streets, it was directly across the street from the railway station and the railway gardens. The Cranbrook Hotel, the community's oldest continuous enterprise, remains in active business today.
Canadian Pacific Railway
The Crowsnest Pass Railway arrived in Cranbrook in 1898. The first train was under the control of engineer Hugh Brock. The station, track, rail yard, and roundhouse have all been improved over the years but have remained in generally the same locations. For over a century, the railway has been an integral part of the Cranbrook economy.
This business was begun in Fort Steele in 1897 as Beale and Elwell Insurance. As business activity began to decline, the office was moved out of Ft. Steele and into Cranbrook. In 1943, Jack Falkins took over the agency and changed the name to Falkins Insurance. The company operated for many years in the Hanson Block and then the Phoenix building at the corner of Baker and 10th Avenue. Recently the company renovated and restored the original Fink Mercantile Building (1906) on Baker Street as their head office. Today Falkins Insurance has branch offices throughout the Kootenays.
The largest forestry company in the area had its beginnings in 1898 as a partnership mill between Tom Leask and Jim Slater. That company soon became Cranbrook Sash and Door. This company operated under this name through the many ups and downs of two world wars, the Great Depression, forest fires, and beetle infestations. In 1956, the lumber interests of Cranbrook Sash and Door merged with the company owned by Creston lumbermen Burns and Farstad to become Crestbrook. In 1966 Crestbrook formed a joint venture with Japanese companies Mitsubishi Ltd. and Honshu Paper Manufacturing Ltd. to build a pulp mill at Skookumchuk. In the 1990s the company expanded its influence into Alberta with the Alberta Pacific Pulp Mill. In April of 1999 Crestbrook was purchased by a Quebec-based company and became Tembec.
The Plane Crash
What started out as a routine flight from Ft. McMurray, Alberta to Vancouver would end in fiery tragedy at the Cranbrook-Kimberley Airport on Feb. 11, 1978. It would cost 42 lives, 22 of whom were local, vibrant members of our communities. This would be one of the darkest days of Cranbrook & Kimberley's history. My day started as so many others this Saturday morning as being very routine. It was snowing very heavily but that was not unusual for this time of year. One of my friends had brought his camera in for me to send away for servicing and during this process he told me of his mother coming on a flight from Calgary on her way home to Rossland. She would have a layover here before proceeding to Castlegar and he was hoping to meet her at the terminal here for lunch. Shortly after he left I received a phone call that a "737 had gone down off the end of our runway". My friend returned a short time later very distraught as he was not able to get to the airport. At our place of business he tried unsuccessfully to reach the RCMP or the hospital to find out the status of his mother. Just prior to this I had booked a helicopter to photograph the crash site and was torn with my feelings for him and a job I had to do. This proved very difficult for me as I weighed my professional and emotional responsibilities.
It was not until the following Tuesday that Brian Robinson's mother's body would be identified.
Central School Restoration
In the early 1980s it became clear that CFI needed more office space. Their office near the mill entrance on Industrial Road #1 was bursting at the seams. At the same time, School District #2 (Cranbrook) had a facility problem. Central School, open since 1909, had outlived its useful life as a school. This 45,000 square foot building was too costly to maintain. CFI and the School District eventually worked out a land and building swap.
CFI spent over $1.5 million on the project. The company preserved an important heritage asset of the community and created an exciting workspace for its employees. The new corporate headquarters was opened on May 1, 1985. In 1986, the company received an award from the Heritage Society of BC for their adaptive re-use of the historic building.
The Key City Theatre
In the 1970s a dedicated group of Cranbrook citizens dreamed of a performing arts center. This was the original Project Society. In 1978 a referendum to approve such a facility was defeated by the electorate. But the dream lived on. In the 1980s another group of Cranbrook citizens dreamed of a performing arts center. With an Expo '86 Legacy Fund Grant from the Province of BC, the support of the City, and of East Kootenay Community College, a facility was planned for the college campus. The planning committee went to tender. The lowest tender was much higher than the budget available. The EKCC plan was abandoned. But the dream lived on. A partnership between the City of Cranbrook and School District #2 (Cranbrook) was formed to consider a performing arts center adjacent to Mount Baker Secondary School. A new gymnasium was being built on the east end of the school and the existing gym on the west end could be available. The dream was revived.
The plan was to use the Expo '86 Legacy Fund Grant, capital money from the City of Cranbrook and School District #2, combined with a capital grant from the BC Ministry of Education. Architect David Brockington designed the project. Whyte Construction of Cranbrook was the general contractor. Many local sub-contracting firms took part. The project was the conversion of an old gymnasium into a theatre, construction of a new lobby on the north side of the gym, and the creation of new music and drama spaces in the west wing of the school. The dream was underway.
The Key City Theatre held its grand opening On With The Show February 11, 1992. The facility is managed by the Key City Theatre Society and continues to serve the cultural needs of the area. The dream is a reality!