Jim Smith Lake park is undergoing major upgrades to its upper and lower day use areas — the work is expected to extend into late summer. David Humphrey photo

Jim Smith Lake park is undergoing major upgrades to its upper and lower day use areas — the work is expected to extend into late summer. David Humphrey photo

Jim Smith Lake Park: What’s happening there today (and what was happening in 1925)

For almost 100 years, Jim Smith Lake — formerly known as Smith Lake and, for a while, Cranbrook Beach, has been Cranbrook’s own bit of waterfront, a go-to cooling off spot and picnic area in the summer, with a sumptuous provincial campground nearby.

These days, the park, seven kilometres from Cranbrook, is undergoing major upgrades to its upper and lower day use areas. This work, undertaken by the Province, is expected to extend into late summer, and the majority of day use areas will be closed for extended periods while heavy machinery is working in the area.

“The project team weighed many factors to determine the best timing for the construction phase,” read a statement from BC Parks. “Ultimately, spring was chosen to give the new sod in the beach area the best chance to survive and grow. A fall construction schedule would have required the upper beach area stay as unfinished dirt over the wintertime, which posed significant erosion and public safety risks given the amount of winter use the site receives.”

BC Parks said the project was initiated in response to several facility issues in the day use areas of the park and will address concerns from the public around the steepness and useability concerns of the beach and day use area below the parking lot.

The upgrades will also improve accessibility in the day use area which were identified by a recent accessibility review, and a new playground will be built in the space about the parking lot.

Other upgrades include:

• Grading and pathway resurfacing (both asphalt and compacted gravel sections) on existing pathways will provide improved access to the lower portion of the beach and fishing dock;

• New accessible pathway linking the parking lot with the upper day use area (site of new playground) and the campground;

• New accessible picnic tables (six in total, four around the new playground, and two down by the beach);

• A new accessible outhouse in upper day use area, linked to the new pathway;

• Two consolidated service pods (accessible water tap, garbage can, recycling can), one in the parking lot, and one up by the new playground, linked with accessible surfacing;

• New playground with pour in place rubber surfacing, and a range of play features for all users, linked to the new pathway.

“Access to the lower parking and boat launch area will remain available during the improvements,” BC Parks said. “The new parking lot stall configuration will include accessible parking stalls.”

* * *

Back in the summer of 1925, in the heart of the roaring ‘20s, a similar major project was also undertaken, to turn the lakefront into the park whose basic shape we enjoy a century later.

“Under the new management of Mr. Engbright, Smith Lake is becoming the most popular of all lakes,” announced the Cranbrook Herald newspaper in July, 1925.

“Just four miles from Cranbrook, half an hour’s ride on improved roads, the place is within easy reach of the city. Thanks to Mr. Jack Taylor, the government road superintendent, there is to be a gravelled road around the lake front.”

The beach was being cleaned, gravelled and sanded in preparation for the expected influx of visitors from home and afar.

“A long walk has been provided to the diving board, and the next improvement to the lake will be a chute,” the Herald reported. “Boats and bathing suits are already available for hire, and a bath house for both men and women is being built.”

As well, the old mill site adjacent to the lake was being made into an “up-to-date camp — with your immediate support and encouragement.”

That campground is still in use and popular today.

The Herald article of July, 1925, closed with a poetic paean to the good times to come:

Come one, come all

Come short or tall

To dive or swim

With all your vim.

The lake is warm

The people swarm

Upon the shore

Then swim some more.

Hot dogs or ice

It’s very nice

The day’s nigh done

The lake has won.

Three cheers!

But the centrepiece of the new park was to be its dance pavilion, which, through income generated from “musical events” and dances, would provide operating costs and pay for further upgrades.

However, a few months after opening, the dance pavilion was yet to turn a profit, which Mr. Engbright lamented in a piece in the Herald of October, 1925.

“Smith Lake, just on the outskirts of Cranbrook, with a government road leading up to it, is a beautiful little lake with a splendid bathing beach and park-like surroundings,” wrote P.J.Engbright, about his first glimpse of Smith Lake, and his decision to buy it and turn it into a park.

“If the beach were sanded, and the immediate frontage, with the old stumps removed, levelled and put into lawn grass, and a few shade trees put in where the stumps are now, and the old rotted logs removed from the park-like lands, and benches provided for the use of picnic parties, where would it be possible to find a better located or more beautiful spot that Smith Lake?

“This thought came to me when I first saw Smith Lake a few months ago, and arrangements were immediately made to purchase the property. I realized that there had to be some source of income to improve the place, and it would be unfair to the public to make any charges for the use of the grounds or beach, and so a dance pavilion was built, where a charge could be made for entertainments and the profits to go towards improving the grounds and beach.

“So far, the pavilion has not brought any returns. It hasn’t as much paid for the music that has been hired for these entertainments. Is it lack of proper management, or is it lack of support?”

At this moment in time, the nearby campground was under construction. Mr. Engbright praised the tourist camp as a draw for tourists to Cranbrook, but added that once here, the tourists needed something to do.

“Cranbrook has a very nice tourist park, but when that is said it is all said. There are no other attractions to hold the tourist. We ought to be able to hold many of the wealthy tourists that are out and ready to spend their money for a good time and enjoyment not only overnight but possibly for days and weeks.

“And if so, these tourists must live. They must buy groceries, butter, eggs meats, bread and refreshments of all kinds. They must buy clothes, gas and oil. Wouldn’t it mean a lot in dollars and cents to every business man in Cranbrook?”

P.J. Engbright added that the proper name for the new resort should be Cranbrook Beach, “and it’s going to be called that hereafter. It rightfully belongs to Cranbrook. But Cranbrook Beach needs a lot of improving, and these improvements will have to be made between now and the opening season next spring. I have planned a series of dance entertainments [for later in the month]. Music for these three dates will be furnished by special orchestras from outside points, a musical treat for all. The total receipts go towards improving Cranbrook Beach.”

Mr. Engbright said “if you love good music or love good dancing, you’ll be here on one of more of the dates. If you don’t dance, you will be entertained. There will be ample seating capacity for those who don’t dance. You will be warm and comfortable. Come and give us a boost.”

Ninety-eight years later, the fabulous dance pavilion at Cranbrook Beach has long since vanished, but the park itself has endured. The new upgrades will perhaps ensure it lasts for another century.

The Province has allocated approximately $824,000 to this year’s project scope from two separate budgets. $619,000 comes from the Kootenay Section Regular Capital budget, $205,000 comes from the newly announced accessibility funding uplift.

Visitors should continue to check the park page to ensure areas are open for visitation.

By Barry Coulter, with files from Dave Humphrey