If the BC Southern Railway had been routed through Fort Steele, there would be no Cranbrook today.
However, Colonel James Baker, a British ex-pat who knew how to work the system for his own benefit, made sure the railway did come to Joseph's Prairie – the site of present-day Cranbrook. Land sales in both Fort Steele and Cranbrook made Baker rich enough to retire in comfort to the old country.
Cranbrook's Railway History
By the time the track-laying train had arrived in 1898, the construction of Cranbrook was well underway and businesses were ready to supply the railway and its workers. The town became a major rail depot, and the commercial hub of the entire region.
The early years of the 20th century brought the commercial harvesting of the area's forests and new industry to town. Provincial government offices were relocated from a declining Fort Steele in 1903, and the City of Cranbrook was incorporated on November 1st, 1905.
Circus Elephants on the Run
In the summer of 1926, the Sells Floto Circus came to town, but with unpredictable consequences. On August 7th, a memo to all CPR employees read "All trains west – Cranbrook. Keep lookout for elephants on track. Advise if sighted from first telegraph office, giving location." Only one of the six escaped elephants survived; after he was recaptured, he was renamed Cranbrook Ed.
The largest employers are the College of the Rockies and the Cranbrook Regional Hospital, and there's a healthy small-business sector. The city is also a shopping centre and has a number of big-box stores.
Cranbrook is a city which places a high value on family, hockey and a strong work ethic. In recent years, a new wave of early retirees has moved into the city. Perhaps that explains the proliferation of golf courses.
Learn more about Cranbrook's railway history and visit Colonel James Baker's house on a self-guided heritage tour. Brochures for tours are available at the Cranbrook Visitor Centre.