1915. A Cranbrook summer: the balmy nights of June, the sudden storms of July, the withering heat of August and the war of course, always the war. The previous year it was, “The boys will be home by Christmas,” but they weren’t.
Still, for the most part, it was a good summer back home. It was a good summer for growing crops, especially those at J.W. Hallett’s mushroom farm just outside of city limits featuring the wild meadow mushrooms with which he had been experimenting for several years. Grain harvests, however, would prove a challenge throughout the district with so many young men gone away.
It was a good summer for driving automobiles and fishing and swimming and strawberry lawn socials — the berries were ripe by the second week of June — and dancing under the moonlight or even under electric lanterns upon occasion.
It was a good summer for Baker Street beautification but not so much for the local prisoners that spent their days hauling rocks, filling holes and pulling weeds to make it happen. Actually, a lot of people pulled weeds all over town that summer, the biggest collection of noxious weeds in the district as a matter of fact.
It was not good for Jack Bardgett’s horse when it became tangled and backed through Little & Atchison’s plate glass window. Still, no real harm done. Nor for the 41 Meat Market horse who just up and died, which was news in those days.
It was special for George Carter, who left by train for Montreal to get married. He was bid adieu at the station by a crowd who showered him with rice and rose leaves and tied a five gallon oil drum full of slippers (shoes were often tossed at newlyweds for good luck) to the back end of the Pullman railway car. You could hear the clattering and clanging for miles.
But that was nothing compared to the crowd that gathered at the station in early June to see the latest group of young recruits of the 54th East Kootenay Regiment leave for Vernon and thence overseas, the fifth group of soldiers to leave the city since the war began. One-hundred and thirty-five men and officers paraded through city streets decorated in vivid displays of patriotic colours as the entire town turned out to say goodbye.
“Look whatever way you might, you were met by a solid ‘phalanx’ of faces — the faces of people whose doors and to whose hearts every day the struggle yonder across the Atlantic is being brought home with grim reality.”
“Many tried to cheer but most of the people were too full of emotion to shout.”
And then they were gone.
Pictured: The latest in ladies summer fashions -Herald, August. 1915.
The Cranbrook Patriotic Society went all out in hosting a Sports Day in July billed as (arguably) one of the biggest events in Western Canada and (arguably) the biggest day in Cranbrook’s history, which it may have been since no argument was heard. It was certainly an unqualified success. Over 1,000 people from Cranbrook and beyond attended the all-day programme at the old fair grounds on Moir Hill. Numerous children’s and men’s running races, the teepee building contest won by Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Barnes with a time of 15 seconds, the blindfold boxing contest in which referee Police Chief Adams received just the one misplaced uppercut, much to enjoyment of the crowd, the tug-of war featuring the men of the CPR versus those of the local 107th Regiment — “1,800 pounds of mellow sunshine on either end of the rope,” the wrestling on horseback, the bucking demonstration in which Francis the horse refused to move, the Midway, the refreshment booth and the evening dance at the old Auditorium showcasing “the youth and beauty of the city,” all combined to raise over $800 for the soldiers far away.
As usual, though, it was the horse races that took center stage. When all was said and done The Herald noted, “The Indians of St. Eugene Mission turned out in large numbers and … when it comes to horse racing, are the best sports in the country. They never kick nor wrangle … and never enter a protest. The white man of Cranbrook must doff his hat to the Indian on this occasion.”
Still, the best race of the summer surely occurred later that month when Norman Gardner, returning from Calgary in his little Ford auto, overtook a CPR train at Galloway. “I am Gardner. You are the big engine on the train. Let us see.” And the race was on. With the Ford floored and flying at top speed it was leaving the train in its dust until — and all sources here point to the appearance of a fly on the windshield which required swatting — Gardner lost control and, to the dismay the passengers on the train, the citizens of Jaffray and Gardner himself, executed “the most sensational loop-the-loop ever attempted by mortal man.”
Luckily the baggage man on the train witnessed the somersault and brought the train to a halt whereupon the crew assisted in removing Gardner from beneath his shattered auto. Gardner finished the journey into Cranbrook on the train, little the worse for the wear.
And with that, Janus, not unlike a five gallon can of slippers tied to a railway car, clatters off into the summer sunset, stopping on its way just long enough to give grateful thanks to the good folks at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman, to all those who stoke the furnace of the memory train we ride and of course you, dear readers.
“But say, Walt, what’s that sign on the back of the caboose?” Coming to your town! Cranbrook Then and Now – The Collected Works, Volume One. On shelves soon! “Well, I’ll be jiggered, Walt, it sounds like a book or something. Sure hope it’s got pictures.”
Janus will return to these pages in September.