Historic Tourism


After the gold rush to Wild Horse Creek in 1864-1865, the place that would become Cranbrook sat on Joseph’s Prairie, sun-baked in the summer and frozen in the winter. A few European visitors passed through in hunting parties. Gradually work took place clearing the cottonwood and undergrowth along Joseph’s Creek, opening Baker Street eastward away from the Canadian Pacific Railway operations. With the collusion of the C.P.R. Baker began to build up the town core. One wag muttered that “Mr. Baker’s belief in Cranbrook is greater than the length of his purse.”

In 1898 assays on the Sullivan Group near Kimberley came in, yielding amazing values. Investment from America and Europe, fleeing the political instability in South Africa, flowed into the area. Talk of another railway connecting Kimberley with Cranbrook quickly became a reality.

By 1901 South East Kootenay was starting to become recognized as a “health resort,” with people from eastern Canada and the United States seeking the benefits of the climate and hot springs of the region. As rail connections and road networks expanded the lumbering and mining industries experienced huge growth. The Crow’s Nest pass Coal Company payroll was an amazing $150,000/ month by 1904 and twenty-four sawmills in the region were employing an additional 1,800 men. The expanding economic activity brought East Kootenay to prominence on a world stage. Visitors began to bring friends, as the following from a Mr. Coleman of England, printed in The Cranbrook Herald of July 27, 1911 indicates:

“…my sincere thanks to the president and members of the Cranbrook board of trade for the opportunity afforded myself and friends of seeing St. Mary’s Prairie and adjacent country yesterday… From the summit of Crows Nest to Cranbrook, with a day at Michel and Fernie, their time so far in B.C. has been one of continual surprise, having started with vivid imaginations of red Indians and gun play, with their relatives trembling for their safety… It really is disheartening when I know how they would all revel in a visit to this country… Nothing but the most strenuous advertising will help to remedy this appalling in=mpresision of B.C… We are visiting the Windermere country tomorrow, and I am returning almost immediately to England till next April, but the other two have come to settle and East Kootenay will see their future home.”

The Cranbrook Board of Trade and similar organizations throughout the Columbia Basin adhered to this and similar advice. They took out full page ads in English publications such as “British Columbia – Its History, People, Commerce, Industries and Resources” (1912). At the same time residents of the region began venturing forth with automobiles, exploring and expanding the potential of the region. Their interest in expanded automotive touring possibilities began to place more emphasis on the need for an expanded and improved road system

Congruently the C.P.R. finally began to actively push the Kootenay Central Railway, connecting Cranbrook and the B.C. Southern Railway with Golden and the C.P.R. main line. English syndicates began investing in large expanses of property at Tobacco Plains, Wasa and Windermere.

Ever vigilant for opportunity, the Board of Trade representing those commercial interests remaining at home during the Great War, saw potential in tragedy. In a special meeting on the 18th of September, 1917, the Board of Trade squarely addressed the local impacts of the destruction in Europe:

“The matter of the Tourist Traffic through British Columbia during the past year and the certainty of a still greater traffic during the next few years was introduced by the Secretary. As the old lanes for this traffic, in Europe, will be closed for some years it will naturally turn to the scenic parts of Canada and the Western States. We, in this district, are so familiar with the many beauty spots and scenes of rugged grandeur that we scarcely realize the appeal they would have to the tourist looking for just such effects….”
The Cranbrook Herald, September 27, 1917

The Board of Trade then went on to state that they would work with the City to provide parking for cars staying overnight, the forerunner of the Municipal Auto Park. They also decided to create advertising cuts for mailing by their members and others, to the end of promoting the city and region as a tourist destination.

This desire to promote the region and make it more appealing and accessible to tourists continued, resulting in the Banff-Windermere highway, followed by the Kicking Horse Trail and large promotions of the national parks contiguous to the Columbia Basin. The tremendous growth in use of the city tourist park is one measure of how successful all these undertakings were.

This project is sponsored by:

Cranbrook City Hall, Cranbrook, B.C
Cranbrook City Hall, Cranbrook, B.C. This card has been issued as a promotional piece by the Cranbrook Board of Trade.…
Cranbrook Board of Trade Card
A view of Baker Street in Cranbrook, looking toward the Government Building at the end of Baker Street. Note that…
The Fernie Alpine Club
The Fernie Alpine Club on the Summit of the Lizard Range, Fernie B.C. Postcard front, linked to 0039.0316.
C.P.R. "Trans Canada Limited" Near Field
C.P.R. "Trans Canada Limited" with open platform observation car near Field, B.C., about to enter upper portal of the Lower…
Kootenay River & the Rockies from Wardner, B.C
Beautiful postcard view of the Kootenay River & Rockies from Wardner, B.C. Postcard front, linked to 0457.0056.
Elk River Canyon
Elk River Canyon near Fernie B.C. Postcard front, linked to 0457.0002.