City of Cranbrook

World War 1

By 1905, amid controversy, Cranbrook incorporated as a city, population 2000. It had a water system built by a consortium of the prominent businessmen and later bought by the city. Its sewer system followed the same pattern, as did telephone service.By 1905, a number of prominent citizens owned cars. In 1907 a garage opened, and citizens demanded roads smoother than wagon tracks. The first time a car participated in a funeral procession, the undertaker insisted it stay a certain distance from the horses, not to startle them and destroy the dignity of the event. By 1911, Dr. F.W. Green had become the first person to cross the Rockies by car, going through the Crows Nest Pass, through which the first Trans-Provincial highway was completed in 1912. Well, nearly completed-just one tiny stretch to do, said the highway report. That year, the first person to drive coast to coast came through Cranbrook and said the roads here were very good. When there was a gold "excitement" on St. Mary's in 1914, prospectors travelled by car to stake their claims.

By that time, the Moyie mine had closed once because of metal prices, a fire had levelled Fernie, Fort Steele was a shell of its former self because rail had decimated riverboat traffic, and Cranbrook was flying high as the transportation and government centre of the area. Some 3000 people lived here, proud of its hospital, its schools, its auditorium and its own energy as a community. Its main street, Baker Street, ran from the YMCA building next to the CPR tracks to the provincial government building on Joseph Creek. Its red light district had been burned out and moved to the east, outside the city limits. Large, well-appointed homes had been established on Baker Hill for the most successful residents. Neat frame houses with neat lush gardens housed the rest. The Bank of Commerce in 1906 built the first major brick and stone structure, using local bricks. Three brickyards did business in the city. A private school, which offered training in music, art, dance and manners, supplemented the offerings of the public schools. In 1911, a second addition was made to the hospital, and the nursing school was initiated.


The Soo-Spokane train arrived in Cranbrook on July 4, 1907 on its scheduled way from Spokane to Saint Paul, Minnesota, providing a second east-west route to travellers. Sawmills produced hundreds of thousands of board feet for construction in the district and to be shipped wherever someone on the railway wanted it. Beef cattle ranches, dairy farms, some market gardens, ice dealers and flour mills provided sustenance. A dog pulled the first milk wagon from door to door. Hotels still abounded, and the first public bath tubs were installed at a barbershop. Bars, of course, also thrived, although caution for the premises had to be observed. When the river drivers arrived in town in June to float the logs down the floods to market, hoteliers would cover the barroom floors with four inches of shavings to protect the finish from calked boots. In an age before radio or television, before movie theatres were entrenched, concerts and other entertainments offered amusement, diversion and edification. Pauline Johnson read her poetry here. Private clubs and lodges offered social interaction. Service clubs built parks. In 1912, all of Cranbrook helped residents of Chinatown celebrate the Chinese New Year and the victory of Sun Yat Sen as the new president of a Republic in China.

 

Towns competed in baseball, basketball, hockey and races of every kind. The Ktunaxa were particularly good at horse racing, which took over the main street when it occurred, often on Sunday when open-air services were not more than a block away. Hose reel races and rock-drilling contests identified world champions. St. Mary's Lake was a favourite picnic destination for Cranbrook people. They would leave home at seven in the morning and get home after eleven at night, having fished for their main meal. Tourists made their way through Cranbrook to hunt, fish, hike, and view the scenery. A golf club had been established even before incorporation, and drivers off the first tee had to hope their ball made it all the way across the highway onto the continuation of the fairway.


The Fort Steele Prospector moved to Cranbrook in 1906 and published until it folded in 1915. The bell in the tower of the brick post office/customs building was reported working in 1913, and "The banks report that merchants are meeting their drafts better since it was installed," said the Herald. The Anglican Church hall was opened in December of 1915. The bazaar in the afternoon raised $500, and Mrs. Wallinger led the orchestra for a dance in the evening. Part of the money raised was for a lending library. Another gold "excitement" erupted in 1914, this one on the St. Mary's River. A number of businessmen wondered whether to invest or not, so they hired Mr. Ban Quan, a Chinese Canadian who had done well on the Wild Horseafter the white prospectors moved on. He was running a successful pool hall on Van Horne Street, but was happy to assess the diggings for them.

Young men in Cranbrook responded quickly when World War One was declared, and a crowd of 2400 sent off a trainload of enlistees in the fall of1914. They paraded to the train station from City Hall. Vera Appleton, a Registered Nurse graduate from St. Eugene Hospital, volunteered in January of 1915 to be one of the first hundred Registered Nurses sent to the front as nursing staff for the First Canadian contingency. Those at home rallied to do the work that soldiers would have done. All the fund-raising that was done was directed to the Red Cross or to "the boys over there" by some other means. The German Kaiser was Cranbrook's Enemy Number One, and posters of him kept war support vigorous. Food restrictions were in place by 1917. A Victory Loans program raised $206,150 that year, twice as much as hoped. V. Hyde Baker returned to England in 1915, ending the presence of the Baker family that had influenced Cranbrook in person for some thirty years. Among his many accomplishments was mastery of the Ktunaxa language.

In 1916, provincial voters had approved prohibition, which was proclaimed in September of that year. They had also approved, by a majority in every constituency of the province, extending to women the franchise and the right to stand for election.

 

By mid 1918, one of the world's worst epidemics struck Cranbrook: the Spanish Flu. Every family suffered in some way. Illness and death prompted the authorities to ban all public gatherings. School was closed all fall. Children were not allowed on the streets for Hallowe'en. People were exhorted to wear gauze masks. Volunteer patrols checked houses and rooms to assure that no one was sick and unattended. The "old" Wentworth Hotel was turned into an auxiliary hospital, and the Leask home became a nursing home. Nursing was done by anyone who would. The hospitals counted 537 patients, 58 of whom died, including two Sisters of Providence.


But when the armistice was signed November 11, all rules were forgotten. People roared into Baker Street with horns and drums and pans and banners. They burned the Kaiser in effigy. They shouted and danced and hooted all night. Miraculously, the flu retreated from that time on, and bans were lifted on December 12. Schools were re-opened, and social gatherings allowed, although everyone was warned to be careful. Still, the peace celebration was postponed until July of the following year.


The Great War Veterans' Association (GWVA) had been formed in 1917 by some of the returned soldiers, and now they shifted into high gear to assure the needs of other veterans were met. This organization later became the Legion, and the Ladies Auxiliary, formed right away by the GWVA, later became the Legion Ladies' Auxiliary. They built a hall on Baker Street from which they socialized and lobbied. For example, they fought eighteen months after a veteran died in St. Eugene hospital until they finally obtained a pension for his widow, presenting her with a cheque for $1,267 as back payment. We can speculate that she continued to get that monthly pension of $78.


Fred Smyth moved to Cranbrook from Moyie, bought the old Prospector press and started the Courier in 1919. Cranbrook was a stop on the first airmail carried over the Rockies when Ernest Hoy, a former war pilot, landed here that year in his Curtis Jenny. About three thousand people greeted him as he handed Mayor Cameron his first airmail letter. Several Cranbrook air force veterans saw to his plane as he was feted before flying on to Calgary.


Several disasters affected Cranbrook as she grew. Extreme cold in 1902 froze the pipes in the new hospital, which was designed for hot water heat. The resourceful Sisters had a well dug in the back of the hospital, and they lived with that source of water for three months, during which time the pipes stayed frozen. In the prolonged winter of 1903, horses were dying because they were too weak to paw the snow away to find food. In 1905, the top storey of the CPR station collapsed onto eleven workmen who had just jacked it up to add another storey. One man died, and nine were injured, four of them seriously enough to still be in hospital three weeks later. Other disasters were at a bit of a remove. Trains brought carloads of Fernie people after the 1908 fire that destroyed their town, and Cranbrook homes, hotels and hospital were open to them. Returning trains were filled with supplies for the levelled town. Floods in 1916 affected communities all around the city. As far away as Golden, bridges, roads and railways were washed out and buildings were floating, but Cranbrook's main concern was being cut off for more than a week from the rest of the world. In 1948, the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first train, the celebration was blighted by pouring rain. Although no disaster in Cranbrook, the parade was miserable, and a ball game with Kimberley didn't take place because the Kimberley team was home dealing with a flooding Mark Creek that had cut Marysville in half. One of Cranbrook's devoted hunters remembered that some years the woodticks were so bad that bearskins weren't

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