It was a grand plan. Bigger than big. The biggest celebration in the history of the city, ever. It was the 1938 Cranbrook Pioneer’s Reunion, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the coming of the railway to Joseph Prairie.
And why not, after all? The chance doesn’t come often. If you wait too long the people are gone. Memories on the wind.
As it was, many of the Cranbrook pioneers of the days of ’98 were now in their sixties and seventies. It would be, for many, a final chance to renew old acquaintances and view the changes in the old burg. And there were changes, lots of them, from a one-horse town to a thriving city, from wagons and lamplight to automobiles and neon, telegraph to radio, dirt to pavement and wood to cement.
Why not take a moment, or six days worth of moments for that matter, “… when the time is opportune to pause in retrospection and take stock of what has been accomplished in our city during the past half century,” as the Courier newspaper of the day stated. Paint the buildings, spruce up the streets, beautify the parks and plant a cornucopia of vegetables and flowers “to greet the eye with a blaze of colorful blooms, the intermingling beauty of which titillates the senses.”
Cut the lawn, brush the dog, buy some new clothes, leave the porch lights on and have company over. Just do it up right. Send out a ream of invitations and then sit down and plan six days worth of things to do in the first week of September, 1938.
It’s safe to say that the entire town chipped in and pulled together under the direction of the Cranbrook Pioneer Association. Citizens opened their doors to provide additional room and board for the crowds that came in droves. Hundreds of old-timers returned along with friends, relatives and sightseers; people from across Canada and the U.S. of A.
The programme began on Monday, September 5th, with a baseball tournament, a children’s parade, bicycle and foot races, boxing matches, a bowling tournament, horse shoe pitching and a dance at the Blue Bird Inn. It ended on the following Saturday with a grand fireworks display, a torch light parade along Baker Street and the singing of Auld Lang Syne at midnight and, in between, the town celebrated at a relentless pace. The Gyros held a carnival every night on Baker Street until one a.m. There were competitions featured marching bands from throughout the district, teas and dinners, smokers, dances, bowling tournaments, school pageants and fire brigade and military demonstrations. The old auditorium was booked solid with lodge, railway and pioneer banquets, fun fests and concerts. Fernie declared Thursday a civic holiday in honour of the celebration.
Thousands took in the Grand Parade, led by the fire truck, the RCMP, the B.C. Provincial Police, the Kimberley Pipe Band and the Cranbrook City Legion Band.
The thirteen-ton mineral display was a big hit, drawing over 12,000 people to City Hall council chamber where it was held — an impressive turnout for a town of 3,000 people.
The Curio Exhibit in the Masonic Hall (now the Studio) did equally as well, featuring numerous displays including a pipe used by Louis Riel as a “gun” to escape from prison, a chair once belonging to actress Lily Langtry, ancient Roman coins from an England farm field, Syrian currency dating to the 13th century, a piece of wood from Palmer Creek inscribed 1865, a watch worn at the battle of Waterloo and a typewriter with separate keys for small and capital letters upon which A.B. Grace typed much of the old Prospector newspaper.
The big show at the Arena Rink, opened by Cranbrook pioneer Senator J.H. King, included a brilliant flower and vegetable show, handicrafts and cooking, all manner of fowl from roosters to racing pigeons, fossils, butterflies, photographs, and booths of electrical gadgets including a radio display by the many enthusiasts gathered for the town’s first “Hamfest.”
The Rod and Gun Club exhibited two very young fawns drinking milk from baby bottles, wild ducks and geese, a tank of varieties of trout and an eight-month-old brown bear.
On the civic side of things much of Friday was dedicated to the arrival of Sir Edward Beatty, president of both the Canadian Pacific Railroad and the Dominion Boy Scouts Association. Sir Edward was driven into town by a hand-picked local train crew, escorted to Baker Park by a Boy Scout honour guard and promptly declared a Freeman of the City of Cranbrook, the first recipient of the honour.
Throughout it all the weather was fine, a perfect fall for those in the autumn of their years.
And then it was over. The crowds headed home, leaving the city little worse for the wear and much greater for the experience. The final accounting showed a total income of $10,619.46 (well over $200,000.00 by today’s standards) and a total expenditure of $10,425.01.
All told, the 1938 Cranbrook Pioneer’s Reunion made a total of $194.45 in cash and a bank full of memories.
Jim Cameron in the author of “Janus: Cranbrook Then And Now, Vol. 1,” on sale at various locations in the Cranbrook area, including the Daily Townsman.