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The Last 30 Years

In its last 30 years, the citizens of Cranbrook continued development and growth as the largest BC city east of Penticton. The post office clock tower was rebuilt in 1982 as the central feature of a plaza on Baker Street opposite Ninth Avenue. Renovation of Col. Baker's home and trading post was completed in1983 and put to use as government offices and, later, a day care centre. Protected by heritage legislation, it was later sold to help finance the move to Cranbrook and refurbishment of the Royal Alexandra dining room, once a central feature of the CPR's Winnipeg hotel. Central School's turn to be renovated came in 1984, when Crestbrook Forest Industries moved in, continuing to allow public access to the modern gymnasium that had been an add-on to the city's first brick school. East Kootenay Community College, which became the College of the Rockies in 1995, moved out of locations all over the city into its new premises in 1982. Work on the gymnasium started soon after. In 1986 Cranbrook hosted the BC Summer Games, and with that came the construction of an oval track at the College that met official size and material requirements. In that same year, the first woman was named Freeman of the City, and the first woman to run for and win provincial office in the constituency was elected. The former was Rene Newhouse, who began as Sam Steele Sweetheart and became Miss BC and then Miss Canada. The latter, Anne Edwards, had served the riding with the Courier and Townsman, and then with the regional college here.

The Key City Theatre, largely supported by a provincial grant celebrating BC's centennial of joining confederation in 1886, was opened in 1991, ending years of having to stage big events in Kimberley, unless they were, like high school graduations, big enough to justify opening the Memorial arena. The next year, the voting age in BC was lowered again, this time to eighteen. By 1995, the Columbia Basin Trust was proclaimed, an initiative to recognize the significant economic cost paid in this regionfor the province-wide wealth generated by the Columbia River power developments. Benefits under the Columbia River Treaty were directed back to the area. Power generation traded to the province in exchange for support at Cominco's Trail smelter, as well as potential dam sites, were managed by residents of the Basin through the Trust, in partnership with Columbia Power Corporation. Millions of dollars came into the Kootenays for economic, social and environmental development.

In 1999, after 100 years of being owned mainly by local investors, Crestbrook Forest Industries sold to Tembec Industries of Quebec, which now operates the complex of sawmills, a pulp mill and logging activity. Tembec now has 10,000 employees in all its holdings, although it started in 1973 as a consortium of employees, management, townsfolk and government in a small city like Cranbrook, Tembec has become Cranbrook's largest employer, a title it took from the CPR, which had held it for most of the 20th century.

In 1998 Cranbrook duly celebrated the arrival of rail a century before. With the expansion of the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, the central feature of the city and its economy had a focal point for residents to appreciate their rail heritage. Many cities and towns in BC have a railway museum, many of them supported by the CPR, but only Cranbrook's was granted the title of "The Canadian" Museum of Rail Travel. It has sets of cars from five different eras, including the Soo-Spokane line thatfirst ran through Cranbrook in 1907. The Royal Alexandra dining room with its CPR splendour opened officially in 2004.


Recreation and tourism developed late in the century to vie with lumber and mining as key drivers of the economy. Ski hills and golf courses drew hundreds of thousands of visitors, along with the continuing stream of businesspeople. Fort Steele and the Railway Museum drew hundreds of thousands of people. A new ice arena and swimming pool, known as the Rec Plex, opened its doors in 1999 and brought a new hockey team to town. Cranbrook's famous support fo hockey helped the Ice decide to locate here to replace the Junior A Colts, who had dominated in the area ever since the Royals. The Royals had won the Allen Cup in 1982. They eventually gave way to the Colts, a Junior A team in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League which had been started in 1969. From that time until 1998, the Colts topped the league 11 times, and they went on to win the Cyclone Cup for Western Canadian supremacy 7 times. With the larger arena, the Colts gave way to the Kootenay Ice, who won the national final, the Memorial Cup, in 2002. Thanks partly to its enthusiastic support for hockey, Cranbrook produced enough National Hockey League players that one or another of them played on a Stanley Cup team ten years in a row, from 1995 to 2004. Cranbrook also produced good coaches. Colin Patterson coached a number of Canadian amateur teams, and Tom Renney, once coach of the Vancouver Canucks, is currently coach of the New York Rangers.

Perhaps the longest operating mine in the world, the rich Sullivan, finally closed its doors in 2001 after 98 years in operation. Kimberley had diversified into tourism, but Cranbrook was significantly affected, too, with many residents having worked at the mine or at industries that served it. The next year another Cranbrook landmark, the St. Eugene hospital which had been turned into a hotel, burned to a ragged brick shell.

Forest fires plagued the East Kootenay over the years, coming, some feel, in seven-year cycles. As a part of the ecological cycle of our forest and grassland environment, they have sometimes been controlled, but never stopped. 2003 was a huge fire year, with people evacuated from their homes all the way from the north end of Moyie Lake, where the fire roared, to the outskirts of Cranbrook. Other fires raged south and east of the city. Over the years, Cranbrook has hosted hundreds of fire crews as well as bombers of mud and water, fixed wing planes and helicopters.

One hundred years of growing has left Cranbrook with, according to the 2001 census, 18,275 residents, 9,390 of them female and 8,890 male. The balance has shifted! The population is 92 percent Canadian born, with only 55 "non-permanent" residents-clearly a record for this city that serves so many transients for work, speculation and various other reasons. Of the total population, 6.1 per cent is aboriginal, and 2.77 per cent belong to a visible minority.

The inhabitants include 5,250 families, 72% of them married couples, 12% in common law marriages, and nearly 17% lone-parent families. The percentages don't add up because of rounding off. The median family income for all families is $53,317, $1,523 less than the provincial median. Families that live as couples make a median income of $58,974, but lone-parent families make less than half that at $25,975. The city has 7,525 dwellings, 69% of them owned, the rest rented. The average value is $121,234, compared to the provincial average value of $230,645. The census counted 4,290 Roman Catholics among the residents and 7,055 Protestants, with the majority of the Protestants declaring themselves "Christian". A big change from what was so in 1905 is that 5,525 people declared themselves of no religious affiliation. Those in the labour force who have been employed fifteen years or more totalled 8,280.

As Cranbrook faces its second centenary, it continues to think of itself as a growing community, developing in ways that make it a better place to live. Its economy is healthy. It has a distinct personality in its attraction and loyalty to, for example, its hockey players; its assurance that it has much to offer tourists from throughout the world; and its faith in its youth, who have till now spread throughout the world as businesspeople, artists, professionals and entertainers. A rural community with the vibrancy of centre that defines self-motivating cities, Cranbrook looks to its second century with humility and assurance that is unique. It has shown its sense of community, its vibrancy, its generosity and its imagination and resourcefulness-not just to others, but also to itself, and so this city is a confident, stable and exciting place to live.

May the next 100 years bring such success and maturity!

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