The ‘Golden Summer’ 100 years ago

Those dwindling days of 1914 before the Great War graced the globe with its ever-lasting litany of death and destruction.

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Ah yes, “The Golden Summer” — those dwindling days of 1914 before the Great War graced the globe with its ever-lasting litany of death and destruction.

Summer, to be sure, but as for “Golden” well, not so much. The first week of June brought news of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence River following a collision with another ship at a cost of 1,012 lives, including an estimated 28 Kootenay/Boundary residents.

Closer to home was the horrific death of young Flora Woods, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Woods, residents of the second floor of the former East Kootenay Butcher Co. on 9th Avenue. Flora, age four, was playing in the alley with several children when she appeared to step on a match which ignited her shoelaces, fanning onto her clothing as she ran. She was a mass of flames when she was caught by Mr. Carson at the next street. He burned himself badly trying to save her but to no avail. She died a few hours later.

Despite its tragic start, it was a typical summer in many ways; a time of baseball, tennis and especially lacrosse, which drew crowds to the newly leveled field now covered by Mount Baker School. The city brass band played regular concerts at the bandstand near the old courthouse (the Cranbrook Mall parking lot) and June lawn socials were regular occurrences consistently accompanied, it seemed, by bad weather which cut short the activities.

Vaudeville continued to be a big draw at the old Auditorium with miniature elephants, trained chimpanzees, Italian accordion quartets, hoop rollers and numerous other novelties. Next door the Rex Theatre (now Muriel and Jane’s General Store) featured one and two-reelers of the day.

As a stormy June gave way to what would become a hot, dry summer, the city came under enforced water restrictions.  Cranbrook was in dire need of a proper waterworks system and a bylaw was duly passed to allow the borrowing of $110,000  — a very large sum of money at the time —  to allow the work to proceed. The Retail Merchants Association approached city council requesting that white help be given preference when hiring laborers for waterworks construction in order to aid numerous families in “destitute circumstances” unable to find work. Mayor Simon Taylor voiced the council’s sympathy and agreed to consider the appeal.

The middle of June brought tragic news from the Crowsnest Pass: an explosion in the Hillcrest coal mine near Blairmore, Alberta, took the lives of 189 men, many of whom were known to the people of Cranbrook. It remains the worst coal mining disaster in Canadian history.

On July 2, a short article appeared on page five of the local newspaper reporting the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent to the Austrian throne. It was to be the catalyst that would lead to the war in Europe one month later although few in Cranbrook would have recognized it as such at the time.

Della Drummond was elected to represent Cranbrook at the annual Nelson Chahko Mika carnival, 200 boys competed in the Cranbrook Farmer’s Institute potato-growing contest, 12th Avenue was graded and opened to automobile traffic, the first Kootenay Orchards school prepared to open in the fall and merchants enjoyed their new Wednesday half-day holiday.  Beatrice Greaves — a longtime resident — unaccountably screamed, threw up her hands and collapsed on the corner of 9th Avenue and 1st Sreet, dying soon thereafter. Malcolm Ferguson was struck on the head and killed by a falling tree while out walking near Bull River and Evelyn Barr, age three, died from burns while playing with matches on her family’s farm outside of town.

In late July a series of purported gold strikes on Perry Creek, Hospital Creek (near the old St. Eugene Hospital) and St. Mary’s Creek between the Mission and Wycliffe brought would-be prospectors out in droves. No-one got rich. The economy was down and lumber sales slow but real estate was still moving as numerous houses changed hands. A chicken ranch on Baker Hill — four fenced lots, three-roomed cottage, well-equipped 75 x 15 foot chicken house with water on the property – sold for $1,000.

Canada entered the war on August 4 and Cranbrook quickly stepped up to the plate. An East Kootenay contingent was raised and immediately attracted young males eager to enlist. The entire city stood draped in bunting of red, white and blue to compliment the emergence of Union Jack flags. An Empire War Fund-Raising Meeting took place at the Rex Theatre on Aug. 17, replete with speeches and songs honouring the volunteers. Shortly thereafter the newly inducted young soldiers were paraded from Baker Street to the lawns of the Baker Home (now mostly a senior housing complex) led by the city band and the Boy Scouts. The evening celebration featured coloured electric lights, a large dancing pavilion, refreshments booths, a fish pond, fortune telling, a shooting gallery and a large bonfire, all looking “truly tropical and romantic under the moonlight.” Eleven days later, over 2,500 people turned out at the railway station to bid good-bye to the troops. The water works project was cancelled due to financial exigencies, the Fall Fair was cancelled out of respect and the Golden Summer was forever cancelled by the Guns of Autumn.

Janus now ends its sixth season for the, as yet, unlabeled summer. As always, sincere thanks are due to many, most notably the management and staff of the Cranbrook Daily Townsman, David Humphrey and the Cranbrook Archives, the Royal BC Museum, the many friends, families and local historians who have shared their knowledge and memories and, of course, you, the readers; may the rains sweep gentle across your fields.

Janus: Cranbrook Then and Now will be on hiatus until the fall.