Cranbrook

Choo-choo! All aboard for Cranbrook, B.C.

There are trainloads of history to be found at the Cranbrook History Centre

The Argyle dining car is one of the standouts among the collection of train cars at the Museum of Rail Travel.
The Argyle dining car is one of the standouts among the collection of train cars at the Museum of Rail Travel. — Photo courtesy Char Murray

A trip through Cranbrook without visiting the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel would be like travelling to northern Arizona without so much as a peek at the Grand Canyon. It wouldn’t make any sense.

“People come to Cranbrook to come to the museum,” said Char Murray, executive director for the Cranbrook History Centre, which houses the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel. “The railway is part of who we are as Canadians. If it wasn’t for the railway, the dream would’ve ended.”

Riding the rails

The museum is best known for its rail car collection, the largest in North America. One of the most popular lines consists of a seven-car refinished, restored, 1929 Trans-Canada Limited collection. You can take a look at the 10-layer furbishing process in the museum’s restoration area. “They’ve had many coats of paint slapped on the cars,” Murray said. “Our restoration area shows the gradual progression from mint green to yellow, down to the beautiful inlays with flowers and mahogany.”

A giant display of the Kootenay landscape can be admired within the Cranbrook History Centre. Its lone occupant is a model train that winds throughout its curves and caves.
A giant display of the Kootenay landscape can be admired within the Cranbrook History Centre. Its lone occupant is a model train that winds throughout its curves and caves. — Photo courtesy Char Murray

The Canadian Museum of Rail Travel also boasts trains of the miniature variety. “Kids love the model railway,” said Murray. Two separate train tracks envelope a large room where you push a button to make the trains go up the mountain or through historic Cranbrook.

Another feature that’s sure to catch your eye upon entering the Cranbrook History Centre is the Royal Alexandra Hall. It was originally the Oak Café in Winnipeg and became the CPR Hotel. In 1974 the hotel was demolished. All the wood, French doors and plaster were put away in semi trucks and sat for 25 years before being rebuilt in Cranbrook. Marvel at its brilliance while educating yourself about Cranbrook’s past.

The Royal Alexandra Hall
The Royal Alexandra Hall was torn down in Winnipeg and then rebuilt in Cranbrook. — Photo courtesy Char Murray

Prairie town

Cranbrook has come a long way since it was originally known as Two Little Prairies Together (translated from “A ‘Kkis K’a’ ktleet A’Qkis Ga’ktleet” from the area’s Indigenous Peoples). The first white settler in the area was Henry E. Seelye in 1873. The location came to be known as Joseph’s Prairie. Next came John Galbraith and his wife. They established a farm known as the Diamond “G” Ranch. It was sold to Colonel James Baker (more on him below) to extend his 259-hectare (640-acre) farm. Baker procured another 2,104 hectares (5,200 acres) of land that he fenced in and named Cranbrook after his home town in Kent, England.

The Cranbrook townsite was surveyed and plotted in 1897. Streets and avenues received the names of several of the pioneers of the town and district. The Cranbrook Hotel was the first building to be erected in Cranbrook, and the town quickly filled with business blocks and residences thereafter.

Inside a train car
The railway is an integral piece of Cranbrook’s history. — Photo courtesy Char Murray

Cranbrook was a CPR division point, which was an integral key in the town’s success and growth. Railroad employment has always been an important factor in Cranbrook’s industrial existence. In 1905, Cranbrook became incorporated as a City Municipality.

There’s a lot to learn and see in Cranbrook, and it all starts at the Cranbrook History Centre. “We’ve got Cranbrook history nailed down,” Murray said.

Choo-choo-choose to visit Cranbrook’s most popular attraction this summer. 

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