Skip to content

When Cranbrook's urban deer problem wasn't

A look back at the history of our relationship with the urban ungulates
Courtesy Cranbrook History Centre and Archives A little something for Throwback Thursday. Pictured is the deer that V. Hyde Baker transported from Wattsburg and put into his wildlife preserve in Baker Park in Cranbrook

David Humphrey

T here are literally thousands of stories waiting to be discovered and decoded in the collection of the Cranbrook Museum & Archives. It is possible to pull any item at random and be taken down a wonderful road of research to determine its story and its connection to Cranbrook. With the present ‘urban deer’ being a hot topic in the news let’s have a look for the story of the attached photo and other stories of problem animals in our city’s history.

An urban deer sighting is mentioned in the January 1909 Herald when a played-out deer ran past the St. Eugene Hospital, then crossed Cranbrook Street close to the school before heading back into the bush. Other deer made the headlines in 1928 when two came through Slaterville and headed down Baker Street “obviously bewildered by the city lights”. It was the final straw for A.B. Smith in September 1938 when the white-tailed deer ate all the plums he had destined for horticultural exhibitions.

Horses and cattle freely wandering through town seem to have been a real constant in Cranbrook’s early years. There are frequent complaints from Baker Hill residents of these animals trampling the lawns and boulevards, wrecking flowerbeds and generally leaving their excrement on the sidewalks. The police are the unfortunate officials who have to round up these wayward animals and try to extract fines from the owners. In 1943 it was said that some owners found it cheaper to pay the fines than it was to hire someone to look after their cattle.

There are also some amusing animal stories hidden in the archived newspapers. In April 1935 a grouse made several attempts to quench its thirst at the “government joy fountain” (liquor store) but Charlie Spence was finally able to chase it away. A mongrel dog made its presence known in two different stores in August 1937. It made the habit of quietly slipping into the stores just before the doors are locked. In both cases damage was done when the dog attempted to leave the building after a good night’s sleep.  The owners of the jewellery and magazine stores had to clean up the mess and pick up the tab for damage caused. Some of the urban wildlife can be downright vicious as is reported in May 1966 when schoolboy Ken Lythgoe was attacked by a persistent muskrat, once again close to the hospital.  The muskrat ended up dead and Ken ended up with an antirabies injection.

To get back to the story of the photo from the Archives pictured here.  The Herald of August 25th 1910 states; “V. Hyde Baker’s private game preserve has been further enlarged by the addition of two deer, a buck and a doe, which were brought in from Wattsburg (Lumberton) yesterday by Archie Elwell.”

This photo clearly shows the Baker home and so was taken in the neighbourhood of present day Baker Park and Cranbrook’s Tourist Park.  Are these two deer the ancestors of Cranbrook’s present urban deer population? And who says that deer cannot be successfully relocated?