May the road rise up to meet you

Janus: Cranbrook Then And Now looks at the early evolution of our streets and roadways

Stump pullers at work

Jim Cameron

“The road to success is always under construction” (Lily Tomlin)

Okay, here’s the quote, guess the year:

“Have you people of Cranbrook figured up your taxes for this year? Have you noted the increase? When you get them figured up and strike a total, take a sheet of paper and figure up what the public improvements in Cranbrook have cost the past year. Who have built the sidewalks? The people by subscription. Who has fixed the streets and repaired the sidewalks this year? No one. Who has cleared the streets on the hill where property has been sold and handsome homes erected? No one. What do the people of Cranbrook want? Do they desire to pay out taxes and increased taxes and get little or nothing in return, or do they want a square deal?”

Okay, are you thinking 1960s? 1940s, perhaps? The 1920s? Nope, nope and nope. How about July 13, 1905. Yes, indeed, city streets were a problem in the city of Cranbrook even before there was a City of Cranbrook. The writer in question wasn’t angry at the local city council simply because there wasn’t one. Cranbrook was not yet incorporated. People paid provincial tax and it was the governmental return, or lack of it, that was in question. But let’s back track a few years, shall we?

A small section of a map remaining from 1877 shows one road in what is now the city of Cranbrook. It was the Dewdney Trail (built a decade or so earlier and sometimes called the Walla Walla Trail), which crossed through the area of 11th to 14th Avenue, near what is now Baker Park. There may have been other roads but, if so, they’re on the missing section of the map.

In 1898, with the coming of the CPR, the town of Cranbrook sprang up and a few roads were laid down according to the townsite survey. Rail travellers disembarked at the CPR station and made their way through the city and surrounding countryside on roads emanating from the downtown core. Well, more like one main road actually: Van Horne Street to Baker Street to Cranbrook Street, with a few roughly cut tributaries to the business and residential district. As far as the townsite went there were a whole lot more roads on paper than on the ground. As the housing increased, streets and avenues followed the dictates of the townsite office, jointly controlled by town founder James Baker and the Canadian Pacific Railway: the area consisted chiefly of 1st Avenue to 16th Avenue and Baker Street to 3rd Street, pretty much the boundaries of the town.

Initially roadwork was hampered by a lack of bridges needed to cross the creeks and marshes within the townsite. Almost every avenue running to Baker Street required a bridge and bridges, in the hands of the provincial government, were slow to be built. Thus, it was the construction of numerous bridges that took precedence in 1898–99, many of them built by tradesmen and lumbermen who required passage for their work.

By 1901, a number of the roadways within the downtown core were more or less in place. They were all dirt and therefore very muddy in the spring and autumn, very dusty in the summer and gone in the winter. The difficulty, then, was to keep the roads wet when it was dry and dry when it was wet unless it snowed and people could use sleighs.

In August 1901, the government built at least one road. It was to the east of town. Everyone agreed it was not where it should be, especially Messrs. Robinson and McKenzie, who watched as the road cut through their oat field before they had time to harvest the crop. Of course, they may well have been farming on government land at the time.

By 1906, the local dirt streets were in a sad state of affairs, with Baker Street seemingly the worst of all. Ash heaps, ruts and ridges, ditches from recently installed waterworks, mud holes, garbage, rocks of all sizes and countless tree stumps (not to mention the odd tree or two) confounded the traveller. Add that to the mud and dust and it does not make a pretty picture.

There was hope in sight, however. The City of Cranbrook was incorporated in late 1905, and among the first order of business for the newly installed city council the following year was the task of improving local travel. Actually, it wasn’t among the first order of business. It was more like the 23rd order of business. It came after such pressing matters as Bylaw #7 to impose a dog tax and establish a dog pound, health Bylaw #9, Bylaw #13 concerning traffic, Bylaw #21 to raise money for the construction of municipal buildings, Bylaw #22 to construct a fire hall and seventeen others, but those are bylaws to be dealt with another day because, hey, everybody loves to study up on century-old bylaws. So saying, in April 1906, the city passed a bylaw to raise $10,000 for street improvements and the construction of new wooden sidewalks.

Next Week: “On the Level”, Roads and Sidewalks Part II. Study it carefully, you will be graded.

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