Cranbrook's Wandering War Memorial

The Second Move

Canadian Legion, Cranbrook, BC : Unused B&W printed postcard of Royal Canadian Legion building on Baker Street in Cranbrook, BC.
Canadian Legion, Cranbrook, BC

The Cenotaph stood at the end of Baker Street for a good long time. With the Government Building behind it to the east, the Legion building just up the street and the United Church to the south, it held a place of honour and stability. But the city grew as cities do. Baker Street filled up and pressure developed for more retail space downtown.

Then in 1955 the Government Building was torn down, replaced by a new facility on 11th Avenue. A park with lawns, benches and an artistic fountain was slowly developed. Of course the Cenotaph still remained at the west side of the property. Proposals came forward in the mid-1960's to develop a large shopping mall at the end of Baker Street between 12th and 14th Avenues. Pressure mounted to clear the area to make way for business development. The First World War was in the distant past and the memories of the Second World War were fading. Arguments circled the town that this was not sacred ground.

In April of 1966 the Cranbrook City Council enacted a bylaw which paved the way for moving the Cenotaph. After more than two years of negotiation between the city and Stewart-Green Properties an agreement was signed to facilitate the development of a "shopping colonnade" at the east end of Baker Street. It seemed as though the fate of the Cenotaph was sealed.

Cranbrook Cenotaph on Baker Street : A view of Baker Street from the east. The foreground lawn is in front of the Government Building.
Cranbrook Cenotaph on Baker Street

In May of 1966 a special ceremony was held at the Baker Street location to commemorate the battle of Vimy Ridge and Victory Europe day. Veterans of both World Wars I and II paraded to the Cenotaph and laid wreaths in memory of those who died. It was thought this might be the last such commemoration in this particular location.

The fortunes of commerce dictated otherwise. The proposed 1.5 million dollar development ran into financing problems. Norman Green appeared before City Council on April 30th, 1968 appealing for concessions from the City. The delays were costing his firm between four and five thousand a month, and he sought removal of the $25,000 penalty if construction was not underway by fall. He also sought many other concessions. Council refused, and eventually moved to sue Stewart-Green Properties Ltd. for the bond. Then in February of 1969 Council reversed itself, dropping the suit and imposing a $50,000 performance bond if the project was not completed by December 15th of that year.

Cenotaph in Rotary Park : Cranbrook Cenotaph in Rotary Park in summer.
Cenotaph in Rotary Park

The discussions were in camera and the outcome was publicly upsetting when Council voted 3-2 to accept the new performance bond. Alderman Leonard complained that: "They got the land for 72 cents a square foot." The other declining Alderman, Mr. McFarlane, stated: "We sold them the property at thirty per cent of cost. It will take us fifteen years to make that up." Other critics pointed out that land in a similar location sold for $4.40 per square foot in 1964 and soared to over $11 per square foot in a recent transaction.

In mid-June of 1969 an unidentified contractor began tearing up the ground that would one day become the Cranbrook Mall. Stewart-Green Properties Ltd. had not even applied for a building permit and no performance bond had been posted with the City. The newspaper identified the contractor as Watson Construction Ltd. of Calgary, low bidder, in conjunction with C. Hanaemayer Construction Ltd. of Cranbrook. On June 17th, 1969 City Council tabled a request for a building permit for the construction of the Cranbrook Mall. The aldermen refused to grant the permit. The war memorial still sat on the construction site. Finally, on June 23rd, the City accepted April 15th, 1970 as the new deadline for substantial completion and a $50,000 letter of credit in lieu of the contentious performance bond.

Within days the Cenotaph was relocated to where it still stands, in the middle of Cranbrook's most treasured green space - Rotary Park. On November 11th, 1969, the first Remembrance Day Commemoration and Memorial Service was held in Rotary Park. Reverend E.A. King gave the address and Legion President Hank Mayberry the memorial charge.