The Great Cranbrook Elephant Hunt

The Cranbrook Elephant Stampede

What did Cranbrook inherit? The Sells-Floto circus was a professional organization owned by the American Circus Corporation. They had Lewis Reed, one of the top American trainers, as the elephant superintendent and he claimed to have taught the elephant herd the "Charleston." Reed did not travel with the 1926 circus tour however. The season started with 24 elephants in the Chicago Loop . One of the publicists, Doc Waddell, reported:

"A great piece of publicity was turning 24 elephants into Chicago's Loop at noon hour when thousands were afoot and thousands more in autos passed through."
From the Top of CPR Coal Trestle, Cranbrook, B.C. : A view from the top of the CPR coal trestle, in the Cranbrook railway yard, looking north-east - c.
From the Top of CPR Coal Trestle, Cranbrook, B.C.

"Cheerful" Charlie Gardner was in Chicago along with James Dooley, but Gardner returned to the winter grounds to open the Hagenbeck-Wallace show, the other circus belonging to the American Circus Corporation. Eventually Jim Dooley became elephant boss for the 1926 Sells-Floto tour. So perhaps the elephant herd management was a little disorganized, or perhaps "Mad Mary" did have some medical problems. Some later work indicates she may have had brain tumors at the time. Whatever, the handlers were on edge and waiting to see what would happen when the Sells-Floto circus hit Cranbrook.

Cranbrook Cemetery : A postcard of the Cranbrook Cemetery, viewed from the approach road.
Cranbrook Cemetery

Cranbrook seemed blissfully unaware of any problems. The Fall Fair committee was preparing for the big event on the 16th and 17th of September. The normal round of dances and parties were happening in town, in keeping with the norm of the decade known as "The Roarin' '20s". The Sells-Floto publicity flacks assiduously worked at keeping the Edmonton and Calgary stampedes out of the news, tendering copy which promoted the nine young beautiful women of the Ward family. According to the news release "...members of the Flying Ward troupe - the entire group could qualify as winners in any beauty contest." The special Sells-Floto advertising car with its crew of twenty was in Cranbrook July 22nd and 23rd peppering the countryside with posters and distributing news releases. There was a small news item on August 5th, 1926, in the The Cranbrook Herald, which negated any property damage in Edmonton and concluded with "That there was not more damage done would seem to indicate that the animals have undergone exceptionally thorough training, as even in their wildest stampeding they offered no violence to any human being in their path." Other newspaper items indicated that the circus had 50 clowns, and these appealing performers would be available to youngsters prior to the big top performances.

Early Baker Street Scene : Baker Street looking east, 1904. Baker Street was longer then, with the first Fire Hall to the left
Early Baker Street Scene

And to be fair, the performances in Lethbridge (August 4th) and Blairmore (August 5th), Alberta, went off without any problems reported. The Sells-Floto circus seemed to be back on track. Thursday night the trains hauled over the Crowsnest Pass to arrive in Cranbrook on Friday morning, August 6th. Late Cranbrook resident Ed Woods recalled that the elephants were being unloaded on a siding near the former Burns Lumber Company office. "They took off in all directions, with trunks high in the air and ears wide." Ed took cover in an old culvert nearby, while others scattered in all directions. Harold Haslam and Pete Dallas were part of the C.P.R. train crew that brought the circus train into Cranbrook. Mr. Haslam remembered the elephants heading off everywhere. "Some came straight down Van Horne Street past the old Zenith Café and down Baker Street." Others claim the elephants headed across the tracks and toward the cemetery.

Nellie Davies Owen and Child : Nellie 'Davies' Owen at 300 - 9th Avenue S. in Cranbrook with a child who could be Mildred 'Davies'
Nellie Davies Owen and Child

Ed Reynolds, five years old when the elephants escaped in Cranbrook, was living down by the stockyard corrals on the C.P.R. His dad, Fred Reynolds, worked for the C.P.R. stores department and they lived in a large two storey house with closed porch on the second floor. Ed and his mom stood on the porch and watched as the elephants roared by and the circus people followed, trying to capture the fleeing pachyderms. From all accounts, there were elephants going everywhere in Cranbrook on August 6th. And, as advertised, there was NO parade.