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Sweet Music

Cranbrook as a town came out of nowhere, one day a quiet prairie that was summer home to some of the Ktunaxa Nation and the next a divisional headquarters for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Sure, there was a little transition with the Cranbrook Hotel opening on December 23, 1897 and standing alone on the prairie for a few months, but essentially the shift was sudden and direct. And the culture of the town evolved almost as quickly. Some sources credit a wandering musician and his wife with giving the first musicale in Cranbrook on April 26th, 1898, at the Leitch Brothers’ “Opera House.”

Steel was laid into Cranbrook on August 23rd, but the Cranbrook Herald of August 11, 1898, tongue-in-cheek, upstaged that event by declaring that a contractor, Mr. Reid, volunteered to form a brass band in town. As preposterous as the idea seemed with the town little more than a future vision, the positive response was immediate. The reading room at Kootenay house is reported to have responded in the following manner:

“Some of the boys smiled incredulously at the idea of Reid being a bandmaster, but Long Oliver said the statement was all right as he had often heard Reid blow his horn; McGil chipped in and said he too knew it was right for he had seen Reid playing the foghorn on a Newfoundland fishing smack when Reid retorted that he used to cut bait for him while he fished. All this was taking place in the reading-room of the Kootenay house when Reid chanced to look around and saw a talking machine – not Pieper’s, but a phonograph belonging to a traveling exhibitor; it had a brass funnel attachment, resembling a French horn, and Reid picking the latter up, told them he would show them whether he could play or not, and said that he would proceed to give them an imitation of Prof. Levy playing the “Last Rose of Summer,” and he started in. At the first note McQuiston’s dog Slim went through the plate glass front; Slim went up against a cougar once, and thought there was another one lurking round in the vicinity; then Reid produced a tremola passage which sounded something like the wail of lost Scotch spirits crosscut by a heartrending strain resembling the mourning of a young man with an attack of James Preserves; then a window opened in the story above and a voice shouted, “Glory, hallelujah! O Lord, I’m comin’!” followed by a dull, sickening thud on the outside. An investigation followed and Jack Lamont was found lying in a heap on the pavement below; he recovered breath enough to ask if Gabriel hadn’t “blowed his horn.” He said he woke up and tho’t it was the call of Gabe, that he had a pair of wings and was going to fly right away to heaven. McQuiston explained matters to him, and helped him to his room, Jack remarking that if that was an imitation of Levy’s music, he could easily understand how it was that Levy’s wife was granted large alimony and a divorce. Reid then essayed that good old French hymn, “Paddy’s Lament;” at the first blast Long Oliver fell off his chair and his legs and arms were afterward found to be tied in such a hard knot that it took fifteen minutes to untangle them; the paper commenced to peel off the wall and tried to get out of the windows; the perspiration rolled off McQuiston and Frank said the next day that the scales showed that he had lost 20 pounds thereby; McGil was observed to be shedding tears, and when asked what affected him so he replied that Reid’s music carried him back to his boyhood days when he worked in a boiler factory holding the hammer inside while the rivets were being headed, whereupon Reid retorted that he had always wondered how McGil had come by his boiler plate gall, and then stated that he would conclude by rendering “Nearer My God T Thee,” whereupon McCrimmon, who had just came out of a faint, told Reid that if he put that horn to his rosebud lips again, that moment would find him a whole lot nearer his God than he ever had been before or would be again. To top it off Constable Cole came in and said that he had a ‘phone from Fort Steele that the quiet of the town was being disturbed; also that there was a man sick in Wardner who was then in convulsions, and requested that the concert close.”

Tongue-in-cheek it may be, but Cranbrook quickly had musical groups forming, boys’ and girls’ bands being created at St. Eugene Mission and Salvation Army bands playing in Cranbrook and Fernie. Every town sees musical expression as an outward gesture of a civic soul being formulated.

St. Eugene Mission
The Saint Eugene Mission, just north of Cranbrook about 7 miles, was established by Jesuit missionaries in the 1870s and…
Cranbrook Parade
A Cranbrook parade passing the old Provincial Courthouse at the end of Baker Street, looking to the east.
The St. Eugene Mission Boys' Band on Baker Street in Cranbrook BC c.1950
The St. Eugene Mission Boys' Band marching in a parade on Baker Street in front of the Royal Bank c.1950
Beresford Practical School of Music, 1937
Beresford Practical School of Music, photographed in Cranbrook, B.C., 1937.
Cranbrook Musical Group
Cranbrook Musical Group. Standing, L-R: Garnet Patmore, Mr. Bailey, Mr. McKay, Mrs. W.B. McFarlane, Mr. Riner, Mr. W.T. Reid, Mr.…