Historic Tourism

Cranbrook Auto Club

The politics of transportation have always been with us. Whether trail, railway or road bed, large sums of money are required for land acquisition, surveying, construction and surfacing, as well as maintenance. Usually these sums are controlled by political bodies, provincial or federal, outside the region of need. Such has universally been the case in the Columbia Basin.

As “putters,” “motor wagons,” “lizzies” or autos became more prevalent, the owners began to agitate for better access to reasonable roads. Paralleling this feeling was a growing realization that automobiles and good roads were good for business. Faster and better transportation meant faster access to supplies and materials. It also meant access to new markets, in particular the emerging tourism market. As early as June, 1911, Wasa businesses were announcing expectations of a heavy tourist traffic and, at the same time were agitating for more of a voice in roads and transportation.

“NEWS OF THE DISTRICT – WASA – Some time ago the suggestion was made through your columns that an automobile club be formed in Cranbrook. That is what Cranbrook ought to have and it is to be hoped that the suggestion is taken up. Get together, Cranbrook automobilists, and take the initiative. Let us have the ‘Cranbrook Auto Club’ before the season is over.”
The Cranbrook Herald, June 1, 1911

It didn’t take long. By July, 1911, the Cranbrook District Auto Association had convened its first meeting, with one of the first motions being to interview the Board of Trade as to how the groups might best work together. Another motion dealt with the conditions of district roads. The first board demonstrated how connected and powerful this group could be. The Honorary President was Nils Hanson of Wasa, owner of much of that townsite. The President was V. Hyde Baker, townsite agent for Cranbrook with extensive interests in West Kootenay. The Vice-President was Dr. J.H. King, soon to be provincial Minister of Public Works (controlling disbursement of all road funds), then later federal Minister of Public Works. Tourism and the automobile found a ready voice to political power with the formation of local and provincial auto clubs.

The initial contact between the Cranbrook and Calgary auto clubs resulted in an automotive expedition through the Crows Nest Pass, with five autos leaving Calgary on July 10, 1911, for Wasa, B.C. Two had made it to Fort Steele by July 13th. Excursions began to happen with great frequency – to Windermere, Perry Creek, St. Mary’s Prairie, Wasa and other points. The excursionists worked at trumpeting far and wide the beauty and natural endowments of the region. They were also very vocal with regard to road conditions.

“The Cranbrook motorists, who made the trip to Windermere in the early part of this week, complain bitterly of the state of the road. Considering the large sums being expended on road work this year, they had a right to expect to find a better road than they did.”
The Cranbrook Herald, July 13, 1911

One sees the continued good political sense exerted by members of the Cranbrook District Automobile Association when, in 1912, they just happened to hold their annual general meeting at the Wasa Hotel – at the same time as a meeting of the Alberta and Eastern British Columbia Press Association. This ensured that the motions passed regarding road committees, “Rules of the Road,” the establishment of a legislative committee and the decision to grow the automotive association were all well covered by the press. The members of the press were toured around the district by the auto club. This resulted in the editor of the Edmonton Journal determining to organize an auto expedition from his home to East Kootenay. as well, the chairman of Nelson’s publicity bureau journeyed home singing the praises of East Kootenay. The Cranbrook Prospector summed it up on April 27, 1912 with an ad titled “Cranbrook ‘The Star City’ of the Kootenays” wherein it was suggested that automobiles are a sure index of the general prosperity of the inhabitants, and Cranbrook had so many that passed you so quick they couldn’t even be counted.

Links were made with many clubs and groups. The “Good Roads” organization, lobbying for a cross-Canada highway route, found support and good will with the Cranbrook and Nelson auto clubs. Strong links were built with the Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest auto club in the world in 1926. These contacts were employed in publicizing the growing network of touring roads, such as the Banff-Windermere road, and the increasing number of National Parks with their scenic wonders. Also in 1926, Jack R. Gardom, official organizer of the Automobile Club of British Columbia, spent time in the region assisting the local club to meet a target of two hundred members and helping to nourish a provincial sense of the need for good roads and publicity to attract tourists. The work resulted in the opening in 1927 of a tourist information bureau in Cranbrook and the sanctioning of the Hanson garage in Cranbrook and Sutherland’s garage in Kimberley as official garages of the Automobile Club of B.C. (with 7,000 members).

By 1930 much of the political lobbying with regard to roads, as well as development of promotional materials for the Columbia Basin region, had been assumed by Boards of Trade. They had an Associated Boards of Trade group that produced maps, leaflets and other promotional materials and sent them far and wide. They had a Roads Committee pushing for a completed main trunk highway to Vancouver. As well, the Boards assumed the continued push to develop tourism awareness and destination appeal for the Columbia Basin.

The local auto club worked with the B.C. Automobile Club to place road marking signs from Kuskanook to Crows Nest and from Cranbrook to Golden, guaranteeing that tourists would find their way to the best the region had to offer. In 1930 they also brought a new map off the press fresh for the summer onslaught of auto tourists, ensuring that everyone knew that Cranbrook had an excellent auto camp and that facilities were in place for autoists throughout the Columbia Basin. As well, the club continued to work with the provincial association to open an information bureau, with Miss Maud Wright performing the role of office manager and secretary.

The auto club remained active in regional affairs and continued to work with everyone to build the awareness of the huge treasure box of natural wonders that the Columbia Basin held. The emerging World War II finally sapped the energy of the auto club members, as it did of many community and regional interest groups, pulling all into the vortex of world conflict.

This project is sponsored by:

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