City of Cranbrook

World War 2

When war was declared on Hitler's Axis in 1939, Cranbrook's young men and women again answered the call to fight in Europe. By this time Cranbrook and was firmly involved in the trends of the province and the country. During the 1940s, local lumber companies continued their consolidations. Cranbrook Sash and Door bought BC Spruce Mills operation at Lumberton, at one time the largest mill in Interior British Columbia. It was the first in a series of purchases of area mills by that company. Businesses grew. The post office provided airmail service, and the federal government opened an office for Unemployment Insurance and Employment services. The provincial government began testing before issuing driver's licenses. Control of the ambulance went to the city, and citizens formed an ambulance association of volunteers. Millar and Brown, later to become one of the largest trucking firms in western Canada, bought out a delivery service with a garage-phone number 90-and began their expansion. Streets were given numbers instead of names. And the first official passenger flight landed in September of 1947.
The Cranbrook Girls' Bugle Band was formed in 1941 as part of the Canadian Women's Training Corps activities, but moved to sponsorship by the high school in 1944. The closure of the nursing school was announced in 1948, and the last grads in 1950 were trained in their final year at St. Paul's hospital in Vancouver. Girl Guides were formed in 1940; Boy Scouts had been operating since the turn of the century. Mount Baker High School was built late in the decade. The Rod and Gun Club closed their second fish hatchery on 2nd St. S and bought the South Ward school. This is where I wanted to know if the South Ward School was also used as a fish hatchery until the Bull River hatchery was opened-in the '60s, I believe. In 1949, Leo Nimsick was first elected with a margin of 43 votes. Re-elected 8 times over 26 years, he became one of BC's longest-sitting MLAs.

Transportation patterns continued to change in the1950s. The airport was extended to 5000 feet in 1950: in with the new. The next year, the Kershaw Stage between Fort Steele and Cranbrook was discontinued: out with the old. Surface mail was taken off rail and moved by truck. Provincial voting age was reduced from 21 to 19, the same age necessary to enlist in the armed forces.

As the BC Provincial Police force was disbanded, the RCMP was contracted to police the city. The local brewery was absorbed into the same company as the Fernie brewery and the Cranbrook plant closed. The Armond theatre opened, as did our first drive-in, the Rex, but the Star Theatre closed. The golf course was moved to its current location from its original location in the north of the city.

Finning installed the first welding shop with automatic roller rebuild equipment in the BC Interior in 1952, and two years later it built, for local lumber operators Jostad and Nelson, a Caterpillar DW-10 skidder. The machine was designed from ideas presented by local logging operators, and it took the place of three crawler tractors on the job at Gold Creek. The local Courier reported, "The main feature of the skidder is its remarkable simplicity and the ability to work through all kinds of terrain and weather conditions."

Cranbrook Sash and Door continued to grow, and changed its name to Crestbrook Timber Ltd. BC Tel bought out the local telephone company. And Joyce Metcalfe agreed to take over leadership of the Girls' Bugle Band "temporarily." She stayed some 30 years.

The decade ended with a fire at the longstanding Hanson Block on Baker Street, which closed a half dozen businesses for some weeks before they could re-establish. The building that replaced it, opening in 1961, was named the Phoenix Building. Other beginnings were celebrated. The first draft of the Columbia River Treaty was signed between Canada and the USA. Crestbrook opened its $42 million pulp mill at Skookumchuck. The provincial government opened a fish hatchery at Bull River. The new airport was opened on land that had belonged to the Kootenay Indian Area Council. The Townsman started publication as a weekly advertiser. Home mail delivery started in 1966. The province designated Fort Steele a Heritage Park and began to develop it as a prime tourist attraction. People throughout the East Kootenay treasured Fort Steele and the story it told of the area's development in the 1890s. They brought their artifacts to help the restoration, they volunteered, and they brought their family visitors to enjoy the ambience and the theatrical productions. The first Sam Steele Days was celebrated in 1968, and the Sam Steele Sweetheart Pageant took the stage for the first time. A vigorous committee was putting together the Cranbrook Royals, who would be part of the Western Hockey League. The new hospital in the northeast corner of the city also opened in 1968. A newborn was admitted as the first patient. Born at St. Eugene, she was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Lehto. Two days later, another baby girl arrived, born in the new Cranbrook and District Hospital, Dianna Leigh Serediuk. Finning celebrated twenty-five years and tripling in size by hosting open house celebrations. To impress upon the community the contributions that its payroll made to the city, it arranged the "Silver Dollar Pay Parade." Twenty-five hundred silver dollars, weighing one hundred and fifty pounds, were flown in and held in the Royal Bank till payday morning, when the RCMP escorted the package to Finning's premises. There, employees made up a military pay parade to collect their pay in silver dollars.

Citizens voted to close the Baker Park swimming pool in 1964, the same year that passenger rail ended on the CPR. But the CPR was about to capitalize on another major development-call it a re-development-of the coalfields in the Elk Valley. Having nearly died under home heating competition with oil and gas, the coal industry found new markets for its low-sulphur coking coal at steel mills in Japan, Korea and eventually Taiwan. Coal mining re-ignited, expanding to five operating coalmines, all shipping via unit trains to the Pacific Ocean. Cranbrook benefited as the regional service centre.

In 1970, the Three Sisters of Providence who had agreed to move to the new Cranbrook and District Hospital left, finding that the new premises did not work well for those wanting to live a life of some retreat. The Sisters had helped provide health services to the community for 70 years. The new post office opened, and the sod was turned for the Balment Park swimming pool. Safeway was back, in the new Cranbrook Mall. The mall, built where the graceful provincial government building had been, blocked traffic along Baker Street to the east, as the previous roads around the provincial building were taken out. Muriel Reade retired, after forty-seven years with the local telephone service, most of it as head operator. Her last act was to turn the sod for a new BC Telephone building. A copper mine opened at Bull River to diversify the mineral production of the East Kootenay. Regional Districts were being formed in the province, and one of the Regional District of East Kootenay's first tasks was an "urban renewal" project, the establishment of the community of Sparwood, as Michel, Natal and Middletown were levelled. Elizabeth Lake was finally recognized and designated as a protected wildlife sanctuary.

Cranbrook got its own ski hill in 1972, when Akloo opened as a feeder hill to the Kimberley ski resort. The idea was that beginners, who might not begin to ski if they had to face the lower slope at Kimberley-"the face"-might do so if they learned first on the easy slope of Cranbrook Mountain. After three years of disastrous no-snow weather, the hill closed, but it had put about 1,200 school children through their program and provided many, many nights of skiing to the older crowd. The land was sold to the Scandinavian Brotherhood, whose hall, the Bluebird Inn, had burned down. The Brotherhood used Akloo's day lodge as their new hall.

By 1973, when the Cranbrook Royals went to the Allan Cup finals, the new swimming pool and library were open at Balment Park, the golf course had been expanded to eighteen holes, and artificial ice was installed in the skating and curling rinks. The Rex drive-in was sold in 1973, and the city bought the Masonic Hall and turned it into a theatre and a dance studio/meeting area. The next year a new curling rink opened in the Balment Park complex. The long-time grocery provider, the Cranbrook Trading Company, closed down. The Catholic fathers withdrew from the St. Eugene Mission building after an attempt to make it into a residence for the mentally challenged, and the Kootenay Indian Area Council was formed to manage that property and do much of the work that the fathers had done. The province took over ambulance service, and the Junior A Colts went to the provincial championships and won. The landmark building at the west end of Baker Street, the YMCA building that had become an Armories, was torn down because it was no longer in a state to be used by the public. It had, in its last years, been used for a Boys' and Girls' Club. A new terminal went into operation at the airport. Today Publications took over The Townsman and made it a daily newspaper.

By mid-decade, girls were allowed to join Cadets. The Rod and Gun Club had 300 members. The Cranbrook Archives, Museum and Landmarks Foundation was begun; it developed the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel over the next quarter century and involved the citizens in a host of heritage activities. A provincial election in 1975 was the first in which candidates were required to file disclosure statements of their assets and liabilities. In 1976, Mount Baker graduated 142 girls and 118 boys, compared to the 11 students the high school graduated fifty years earlier. Agitation for a post-secondary facility finally resulted in the beginning of the East Kootenay extension of Selkirk College, five full-time and some part-time instructors travelling all over the area to offer classes in schools, vacant offices, homes-wherever there was room. The next year, East Kootenay Community College became its own institution. The Cranbrook Foundry closed after 71 years at the heart of the area's resource extraction. The Foundry had been the site of many inventions and innovations in the machines that the lumber and mining industries used.
1978 marked the end of the Merc department store, originally the Fink Mercantile that moved to Cranbrook from Fort Steele in 1898. Parks Hardware, known for nearly 75 years to carry the largest stock between Calgary and Vancouver, closed in 1979. The second drug store to come to town, 50 years before, became Shoppers Drug Mart in the new, second shopping mall, the Tamarack, where Overwaitea became the anchor grocery store. Downtown merchants banded together to compete, the result being a series of downtown revitalization plans, including the planting of trees on Baker Street, competitions between the merchants in the unit blocks south of the downtown, and the provision of large parking lots. One friendly competition in beautification resulted in a new red concrete sidewalk on the west side of 10th Avenue.

The largest air crash in Canadian history until 1978 happened in February as a snowplow was clearing the runway for the landing of a Pacific Western Airways passenger plane. The tail section broke off the Boeing 737; only five passengers and a stewardess in it survived. Forty-two died. Bodies were taken to McPherson's Funeral Home and the hospital for autopsies, 24 at the hospital, 18 at the funeral home. Some of the survivors suffered severe injuries; others escaped with minor hurt. It was a major exercise for civil defence workers.

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