Golly, where does the time go? It seems like only a century ago that it was the summer of 1913 here in the Brook, the last full summer before the Great War, in fact. Cranbrook was 18 years old then. The boom years were over; lumbering, mining, real estate and business in general had all settled into a comfortable, if somewhat less rewarding routine. But what of the weather, you ask?
Well, the weather was of little interest to 27-year-old Carl Johnson, the owner of one of only two motorcycles in the city and the local agent for Indian motorcycles. He took a new machine to the prairie north of town to see what it could do. As it turns out a motorcycle could do a number of things. It could go very fast. It could hit the raised roadway of the bridge just down the road from Central School (there were a lot of bridges throughout the city in 1913) thereby tossing Carl from the seat and, when Carl attempted to reseat himself and unfortunately engaged the emergency brake it could stop very, very suddenly, throwing Carl over the handlebars onto his head. He died shortly thereafter, the first local motorized casualty in what would become a long list.
Weather was of no real concern to the owners of the Cranbrook Auditorium on Norbury Avenue. The weekly schedule of performers and live theatre pulled decent crowds all summer. The City Band played weekly weather-be-darned concerts all summer on the bandstand near the Government building at the east end of Baker Street. Their fund-raising lawn social at the Catholic Church was a success with the band playing a two-and-a-half hour programme while the crowd enjoyed ice cream and strawberries, boutonnieres from the flower table, a candy booth, a fish pond for youngsters and a bean guessing contest, all amidst bunting and coloured electric lights. Lawn socials were perhaps even more popular than the cement socials of today.
Still, nothing proved as popular as that summer as the Yankee Robinson Three Ring Circus that rolled into town on June 9. Named for founder Fayette Ludovic “Yankee” Robinson and founded in 1875, it was on a rare tour of the Canadian west. The posters boasted “300 Circus Artists, 101 startling new features, Texas Bill’s Wild West with the original Deadwood Stage Coach, 100 people in ‘The Hanging of a Horse Thief”, Capt. Buck’s Sea Lions, Sioux Indians, Cossacks, Mexican bull fighters and the greatest bunch of Bucking Broncos ever exhibited. Will positively exhibit rain or shine.” Certainly the noon street parade was impressive. Led by the a large steam calliope with brass whistles followed by camels, elephants and dazzling equestrians in silver and gold, lions and bears in circus wagons, bands, Indians in full war paint, a troupe of Japanese jugglers and grotesque clowns on mules.
The Hanson brickyard a couple miles north of town began production with a crew of 12. The enterprise included three bunk houses, a stable, a cook house and office all painted bright red. Ten drying sheds held 15,000 bricks each, the factory turned out up to 10,000 per day.
The glimmerings of war on the horizon gave rise to the Cranbrook Rifle Association, guns and ammunition supplied in part by the government. The organization soon attracted 150 members. The Standard Lumber Mill north of town burned down and the St. Eugene Mission School rose up. The new tennis courts opened and the city repaired 22 leaks in the water pipes at a cost of $5101.90.
Whether or not … whoa, hang on … Right, the weather. It was wet and somewhat chilly for much of June 100 years ago. The waters rose early in the month causing fears of road and bridge washouts.
There were three remarkable storms that month. The first, a thunderstorm on June 8, saw lightning strike the MacKay residence in Slaterville, entering the house via the telephone wires. It tore down pictures, took a corner off the piano and flattened a partition next to the dining room where the family was seated. No one was injured. Mr. Leek’s house next door was also struck, throwing him from the lounge upon which he was sitting and setting it ablaze. He escaped unscathed.
The second storm on June 19 was much worse. Rain flooded a number of businesses in the lower part of town. Several smaller houses were uprooted by winds of up to 100 mph, small buildings overturned, trees downed and chimneys destroyed. The Powell cleaning shop roof was ripped away as was a section of the Cosmopolitan Hotel roof. Windows from the Wentworth Hotel fell into the street. No one was injured.
A severe thunderstorm the following month centred on 9th Avenue including a lightning strike that blew through the second-story roof of the Niblock & Barker store, passed to the ground floor and tore a large hole near the front door upon exiting, barely missing Mrs. Niblock and her young son. Local barber Kilby was struck at the back door of his shop. Though dazed for several minutes he was otherwise unhurt.
The ensuing summer turned hot and dry bringing both fears of forest fires and warm, sunny days — the same sun that is now setting on the fifth season of Janus, by the way.
A sincere thank you to Karen, Barry and the staff of the Daily Townsman, to Cheryl and Brian and the staff and volunteers of the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel and the Cranbrook Archives, to all those who have shared photos, writings, memories and knowledge and thank you, of course, to the Janus readers. Have a good summer and as far as the weather goes, as Charles Dickens said, “Bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler and a corkscrew.”