City of Cranbrook

The Railway

Once rail was assured through Cranbrook, people bought lots, built buildings and started businesses. The Leitch sawmill had been set up in 1878 near the Baker property. Now another, later to become Tembec, started in 1898. A third built the millpond below today's Pine Crest and set up in 1899. Before the end of 1898, businessmen had formed a Board of Trade. The "population" totalled 75. In 1899, the Herald reported that half the male population of Cranbrook went to Fort Steele to attend the St. Patrick's Day ball, but only one wagon was needed to transport them. By the time the first train rolled into town in September of 1898, there was a Mrs. Donahue's boarding house/hotel, the frame for the Leitch brothers' store, the hotel stables, and a blacksmith shop, as well as the Cranbrook Hotel. People began building residences as the century turned, so that in 1902, the population was pushing -----. Fort Steele no longer waited for the spur line they had confidently anticipated, and many of its merchants moved to Cranbrook. J.P. Fink, owner of the main department store in Fort Steele, opened in Cranbrook in 1898. When the Customs staff came to town in 1897, they set up in the second floor of the Cranbrook Hotel and on December 25, served the first public Christmas dinner in the settlement. Who was there to eat it, you may ask? The men who worked at the lumber mill. Col. Baker's coup, the terms he got when he won a charter for the Crows Nest Pass Railway, assured Cranbrook's future. Fort Steele was undeniably the biggest settlement in the East Kootenay, but without rail it had to defer to Cranbrook, particularly after the riverboats succumbed to rail's competitive advantage. The engineers who built the rail wanted the divisional point at Wardner, but the agreement said Cranbrook. Wardner was one of three towns early speculators had seen as probable big centres. The others were Fernie and Moyie. Cranbrook, as a look down main street would confirm, was barely there before the railway came through, even though it did have the advantage of being a crossroads for land-based travel by horse. Once it was the divisional point on the railway, it attracted services for the rail employees who lived in the town, businesses that served the companies who extracted resources, and investors with an eye to the future.

White women had been coming into the East Kootenay since 1857, but they were a small percentage of the population. However, they moved into Cranbrook in a surprisingly short time after the town was identified. Some, but not all, of the intermarriage between white men and Indian women was precluded by importing European or Eastern Canadian women as wives, or, surprisingly often, by young men marrying the daughters of the older settlers. While the white men dug and hewed and talked their living, the women told the stories in letters, established the cultural events, nursed the sick, taught the children and raised their families in tents, hotels or houses. Intermingling between the immigrants and the Ktunaxa was minimal, and mainly for trade.

There is some question about the first white baby born in Cranbrook. Some say she was born August 24, 1898 to Mr. and Mrs. Jack Turnbull. He was the CPR construction superintendent, and the baby was born in a railway car set up as their dwelling. Others say the car was not within the townsite limits, and the John Leask baby, Lottie, born early in 1899 in their home on Garden Avenue, was the first. The Turnbull baby was given a Cranbrook lot as a birth gift by Col. Baker and one of his business partners. A later story says the first funeral in town was that of the baby and its mother. However, another story says the first death was that of a woman, Anna Brown, who died of pneumonia in a tent late in 1898. The first marriage was late in 1898; the happy couple were Mr. and Mrs. John Hutchinson. The first murder victim was Edward Ryan, the builder of the Cranbrook Hotel, shot by P. Aste, who was sentenced to death but later had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment, making one think that the circumstances, like much else in our past, were not clearly black and white. It has been said that when the cemetery was laid out, the first interment, in April of 1899, was of a suicide, a man who jumped to his death in front of a train just west of Elko. He was not the first man buried in Cranbrook, however. Fred Seelye, the first Customs Officer, who came in 1874, died in 1876 and was buried near the corner of the Baker property.


To say "first" means that many followed. Births, marriages and deaths marked the lives of those who built the community. The Oddfellows Lodge established a chapter in 1899. On February 5, 1900, more than a score of men left the East Kootenay to fight in the Boer War as No. 1 Troop, C Squadron of the Strathcona Horse. Most of them returned in June of 1901. By 1900, Baker Street had been graded. By 1904, the government offices were moved to Cranbrook from Fort Steele. The Cranbrook Herald, after listing all of the activities that the eight staff members dealt with, observed, "The revenue is larger from this district than any other single government agency." The Fink Mercantile department store and a number of other merchants and professionals had preceded the government in moving from Fort Steele to the new, booming railway town.


Some darnfool editor would usually set up a press and run a newspaper in any new town in nineteenth century B.C. Fred Simpson set up in Cranbrook to print The Herald in March of 1898. There were five women in town at the time. A druggist came to town to set up a drugstore, but he had to work at the Leitch mill for his sustenance. There were, as one historian described it, no sick people and no ladies to buy toilet goods. The druggist later became the postmaster, too, but there were no mails "except such as we could get through the grace of Fort Steele and the Good Lord, not even a stage weekly or semi-weekly." The telephone line was hooked up to the telegraph, but the telephone line was "down most of the time, and the telegraph works only when it has nothing else to do." Simpson watched the arrival of rail, telegraph and telephone, banks, postal service, doctors, pharmacists, and schools. And he boosted Cranbrook in competition with Fort Steele, Moyie, Wardner, Fernie and lesser places.


Doctors came with the building of rail and stayed to staff the hospitals created at the construction sites. An outbreak of typhoid in 1898 prompted the community to build a hospital at St. Eugene Mission, five miles from Cranbrook, because the scanty resources afforded the CPR doctors and the few rooms that Father Coccola could spare at his Mission simply could not handle the numbers. Sister Superior Melitine and four or five nuns of the Sisters of Providence came, too, as the first nurses. Their St. Eugene hospital was outgrown, rebuilt at the Mission, outgrown again and replaced by the St. Eugene hospital in Cranbrook in 1901. Sister Mary of Nazareth and six nuns of the Sisters of Providence ran the hospital with the help of the Hospital Aid, organized as the hospital was built. The Aid ladies sewed sheets, raised money, organized other volunteers and generally enhanced the services to the sick. The Aid always worked closely with the Sisters. At the opening ceremonies of the hospital in 1901, the president of the Hospital Aid said with conviction, "When the sisters take hold of a work, they never fail to take it to a successful conclusion." The Hospital Aid had 110 members.


The three storey hospital, a second school, the Cranbrook Electric Light Company's building, a slaughter house and cold storage plant, mill expansions and upgrades, as well as significant residential building had brought building permits in the city in 1900 to $100,000. To compare, in 1964, when money was worth about one-tenth or less of what it was worth in 1900, building permits were fifteen times greater, at $1.5 million.


In the Cranbrook area, the Ktunaxa people outnumbered the insurgents until the turn of the century. Their natural patterns disrupted, they had begun, late in the 1890s, to live on the reserves that had been determined in the mid 1880s. A report to the Commissioner of Lands and Works by an emissary sent from Victoria to advise on setting up reserves had decided not to consult the Ktunaxa because there was an uneasiness between the races. The writer also noted that regular contact with other Ktunaxa people in the US could prove difficult for the government in its task because of the generous reserves and settlements the US government had awarded the natives there. When reserves were legislated in 1884, the chariness and suspicion of the report's writer was reflected in the size of the reserves--they were about one-tenth the size of those in the U.S.-and in the absence of much other support to the Ktunaxa in Canada. The reserve system forced the Ktunaxa into agriculture that had never been part of their culture. Because of the intrusion of the 49th parallel, traditional use was not observed. Chief David of Tobacco Plains, noting that where his people lived was above the 49th parallel, where they hunted was below, told the government he could not live with his bedroom separated from his kitchen. Besides this, the people suffered from diseases they had never before encountered: typhoid, measles, small pox, tuberculosis and venereal diseases. Their numbers began to fall as the whites' increased.


None of this new society would have run without the labourers in the mills, the mines and the small businesses. Chinese labourers brought in to build rail, stayed to pan the creeks and provide basic services in the towns. Cranbrook had a significant Chinese population that was confined to the area on Sixth and Seventh Avenues south of Baker St. Indo-Canadians, Japanese and blacks diversified the visible minorities who lived here. A traditional Hindu funeral rite, with cremation of the corpse, caused a great stir in the community. Racial prejudice thrived. Labour union organization recognized the inequities of owners and workers, and there were union actions in the mines and on the railways before the turn of the century. Nevertheless, most families in the town owned their own house. From 1899, children could attend a public school. Five churches early established a place and a presence, Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, Baptist and Anglican.


N.A. Wallinger came to Cranbrook in 1904 as Mines Recorder and Gold Commissioner. On weekends, he would walk home to Fort Steele and walk back Sunday night or Monday morning. When he and his family finally moved to Cranbrook, Mrs. Wallinger, an accomplished violinist who had been trained as a graduate of the London Academy of Music, started an orchestra and organized musical events involving song, dance and instrumental music. She was later part of the movie theatre orchestra that played for the silent movies.

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