Life and times of Robert Earl Sang

Bert Sang was Mayor of Cranbrook for 15 years, the second-longest serving ringmaster in city circus history.

The former Sang residence

The former Sang residence

Jim Cameron

“Above all, we shall try to make our city not just another little city, but the most progressive and busiest little city in the interior.” – Mayor R.E. Sang, January 5, 1950.

On a warm evening in August, 1962, a simple ceremony was held in the Mount Baker High School auditorium in which Robert Earl Sang was made a Freeman of the City of Cranbrook, the ninth such inductee to that time.

Actually, it was a simple three-part ceremony in which Bert Sang received his freemanship, Joyce Metcalf received honours as leader of the Cranbrook Girls Bugle Band and Fred Clark of Wycliffe received a bursary for his high academic standing.

The modest ceremony was appropriate as Bert was generally a modest type of fellow. He lived in a modest house, drove a modest car, held modest jobs and, as Mayor of Cranbrook, held the reins of power in his hands for fifteen years, the second-longest serving ringmaster in city circus history.

Born in Hamiota, Manitoba, in 1897, and raised in Lethbridge, Bert found himself working for the Adolf Lumber Co. at Baynes Lake by the age of 17. He took a job with the Western Grocers Ltd. in Cranbrook in 1918 and became, according to the Courier of December 31, 1920, “… one of the best known and best liked men on the road, even in the days of high prices.”

Pictured: R.E. Sang

He soon courted Henrietta Mae Beryl Cameron, daughter of twice mayor of Cranbrook William Cameron and a popular young lady in her own right. They married in the Anglican Church on December 25, 1920, a union that was struck by tragedy less than two years later when Mrs. Sang died from complications following an operation for appendicitis, ever a danger in those years.

Bert’s relationship with her family continued and in November, 1923, he and his father-in-law purchased Lester Clapp’s tobacco business on Baker Street. Bert left Western Grocers shortly thereafter in order to run the business, a job in which his sales knowledge, work ethic and easy way with customers brought continued success.

He joined the local Gyro Club, taking part in their amateur theatre productions, baseball games and other fundraising events while continuing to expand business sales throughout the East Kootenay.

In October, 1929, he contracted A.E. Jones to build a “modern 6 room bungalow” on the corner of Dennis Street and Fenwick Avenue and it was there he lived for the remainder of his life. He married Gertrude Pearl Sweeney shortly thereafter and together they produced three children: Robert, Sharon and William.

Following the untimely death of his father-in-law William Cameron in 1934, Bert became the sole owner of Cameron & Sang which he moved from its old location near the present day Cranbrook Photo building to the P. Burns Block on corner of Baker Street and Armstrong Avenue. The structure — actuality two structures joined together, half of which still stands today — was among the earliest in Cranbrook. Built by Nils Hanson, it originally included the Cosmopolitan Hotel, in a section of which Cameron & Sang relocated, and the Hill & Co. store, taken over by Burns meats and, later, Stedman’s. The corner building burned down in the 1960s and is now the location of The Heidout Restaurant and Brewhouse.

Bert Sang ran for mayor in 1946 against A.J. Balment. Bert pledged to improve local street lighting throughout the city, undertake a program of road improvements, rigidly enforce the dog pound bylaw, institute effective garbage collection and deal with the post-war housing shortage. He was elected with a notable majority from 75% of the voters and took office in January 1947, a position he would hold for the next fifteen years.

He proved to be an effective and efficient leader, bringing to fruition the majority of his campaign promises in a timely manner and successfully handling civic affairs year after year.

In December, 1957, to the surprise of many, his firm was charged with both public fraud and conducting an illegal lottery. From 1923, the shop had held an in-store lottery for sundry prizes at Christmas time, never a problem until the local RCMP raided the place, shut down the lottery, seized the tickets and merchandise and levied charges.

Bert pled guilty in court, stating, “Had a warning been given it would have been stopped,” and was fined $500.00 on the lottery charge, later reduced to $1.00 in the Vancouver Court of Appeals.

As for the fraud charge it was noted in local court that of the 846 lottery tickets seized for the 104 prizes of varying value there was no corresponding winning ticket for at least ten prizes. Mr. Sang testified that youths in the store had tampered with the tickets and likely removed those which were missing. The case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence and it seems all was soon forgotten although someone should have gathered up the youths for further lotteries. They obviously had a knack for picking winning numbers.

Bert Sang’s run as mayor came to an end in 1961, when he was ousted by George Haddad by a vote of 1,040 to 801, with a record 76.6% at the polls. More than anything, it seems, it was simply time for a change. Bert left office as quietly as he entered, taking a long-awaited cruise with his wife and, upon his return, remaining active in civic affairs.

The Cameron & Sang store became Martin’s Gifts under proprietor Muriel Reade and, with the exception of the Christmas lottery, maintained business as usual well into the 1970s.

Robert Earl Sang, long-time mayor, Freeman of the City, Mason, and last living charter member of the Cranbrook Gyro Club died suddenly on January 30, 1968, on a jaunt to Las Vegas while he and his wife were wintering in Palm Springs, California. He is buried in Cranbrook Westlawn Cemetery.

Jim Cameron is author

of Cranbrook Then And Now, Vol. I, available at various locations in the Cranbrook area including the Daily Townsman.