Through the looking glass into Cranbrook’s past

“Janus: Cranbrook: Then and Now: Volume 1” hits the shelves in book form

Cranbrook Then and Now is on sale at Lotus Books and at the Daily Townsman

Cranbrook Then and Now is on sale at Lotus Books and at the Daily Townsman

Ferdy Belland

“When Cranbrook celebrated its 100th Anniversary as an established city, back in 2005,” explains Jim Cameron, “I was inspired to write historical columns for the Daily Townsman.”

Over the past decade Cameron has published over 300 articles (under the Janus heading), describing in detail and with  flair the depth, richness, and excitement the Cranbrook has enjoyed over the past century; notable citizens, startling events capturing the imagination and the headlines of the nation, fallen buildings, rising stars.

And this coming Thursday July 30 at Lotus Books will see Cameron  launch Volume One of “Cranbrook: Then and Now” for the glory of Cranbrook and the World.

“There are countless Cranbrook stories needing to be told, and remembered forever,” says Cameron. “It’s the feeling you have when you’re standing somewhere and looking at some old building, or a place, and you wonder: what did that look like when it was first built? And then I happened to chance upon some photos of a building that I recognized — original photos. I thought: there’s got to be a story here. Why was it built like that? Why was it built there? Who built it? What was of utmost interest was finding out more about the people.

“So the themes of the Janus columns began with the focus on the buildings of Cranbrook, but then gradually I discovered that the better stories are about the people who built them. And who settled in the area and made Cranbrook into Cranbrook.”

Born and raised in Cranbrook, Cameron’s family’s roots stretch back before World War One.

Jim Cameron

“As far as researching goes,” says Cameron, “I’ve gone pretty much everywhere this journey will take you. The Townsman was my first stop, and was a huge resource, what with their vast archive of newspapers going back to the old Cranbrook Herald. The Cranbrook History Centre at the Railway Museum was also invaluable.

With the advent of the Internet, it made so much more information readily available. And complex! It’s pretty amazing where you end up going when you’re seeking something out online…bouncing off one thing onto another. A lot of it, too, is simply talking to people. Talking to someone who knows someone that you end up having an interview with, or sitting down to coffee with, and learning about their family, and then contacting more family members and friends. It’s hard! It’s pretty complicated, the amount of groups you go through to try to sort out one story or another.”

Volume One of “Cranbrook: Then and Now” collects several dozen of Cameron’s Janus columns across his 2005-2014 publication run. Stories of rockabilly concerts, stampeding elephants, burning Chinatowns — and even Boris Karloff. “It’s funny,” says Cameron. “I wasn’t sure at first how I wanted to lay things out. I thought I’d start with a story about the beginning of Cranbrook that I’d written a few years ago. And one thing lead to another. It was a natural progression of the book, but it’s certainly not chronological in terms of how I’ve written. It’s just what seemed to flow.”

When asked if Cameron plans on releasing follow-up volumes on a semi-regular basis, he responds: “I was looking at something along the lines of a sequel every two years or so, but it really depends on how well this first book does, more than anything. As a self-published writer, the best I can hope for is to break even.”

Cameron has printed a first run of 1,000 copies, and one can only hope that the tome finds it way into the eager hands of every 19th resident of our fair Key City. At the moment, Cameron has the material to run at least three more volumes of “Cranbrook: Then and Now” if desired — a veritable Encyclopedia Cranbrookica.

“I’m always finding new information and new stories and unearthing forgotten local legends,” remarks Cameron. “So if I’m sifting through my already-published stuff and ruthlessly compiling another volume of recollections, the thing is: I’m still actively writing, and Cranbrook’s just so much of a great city with a great past that I can easily write 30 or 40 new articles every year. And if I keep doing that, it’s a regenerative thing, you know?”

It would appear that Cameron’s book is garnering excitable interest beyond our corporate city limits.

“There are folks out in the West Kootenay who are interested in distributing the book there; there’s another fascinating chunk of British Columbia I’d love to explore.”

As for Thursday’s book launch event itself, Cameron has been busily shuffling through his collected tales to decide which ones he’ll regale the audience with. “I’ve narrowed it down to about 10 stories,” he says. “And I’ll narrow it down further to one or two. It’ll all depend on the mood of the crowd.”

“I’ve lived here in Cranbrook all my life,” Cameron states. “My grandfather was here in 1908. My mother’s side settled into Lumberton in the 1920s. I’ve always heard a lot of neat stories and met a lot of neat people. But I had not idea until I was inspired to begin writing about the local history just how deep and rich the stories really are. What’s truly exceptional is that I’ll begin researching one particular person, or one particular place, and that’ll ricochet into five other new, different stories…because of the people involved. It was quite a pioneering crew who came out here. It wasn’t like they sat down for breakfast in Toronto and then drove out to Cranbrook to settle a town. There were people from all over the world who had done some pretty amazing things, really, when you start putting them together. And for them to all settle here? What a wealth of stories to draw from.”

Jim Cameron’s book launch for Volume One of “Cranbrook: Then and Now” bursts forth Thursday July 30 (7 pm) at Lotus Books (33-10th Ave. S., Downtown Cranbrook). Limited seating available.