Cranbrook, October 3, 1903: Provincial Election Day, the first B.C. election fought by political parties.
The polling booth on Baker Street is busy. Baker Street is busy. Knots of people discussing politics on a cloudy autumn day turned warm. Conservatives versus Liberals. Opinions are plentiful, predictions rife. The betting heats up along with the temperature, odds and cash are exchanged openly. It's not all just about politics.
Things quiet down during suppertime and then once again crowds gather on the wooden sidewalks, along the rutted roadway. When the final tally is posted a mighty cheer rises from the Liberal committee rooms, taken up by fellow Whigs on the boardwalks. A large number of French Canadians (supporters of national Liberal party leader Wilfred Laurier) set brooms afire and march the streets in grande jubilation. The newly elected local representative appears on the balcony of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, gives a brief speech and is then placed on the shoulders of his boisterous admirers and carried the length of the street. A large electric banner spelling his name in glowing electric lights bulbs appears over the middle of the street and the crowd cheers wildly. There follows a general imbibing of spirits, shaking of hands, patting of backs and occasional throwing of fists. One for the books, a great day for democracy.
And who is this hero, this political champion of Cranbrook? Why, he none other than our town's first doctor, 30-year-old J.H. King.
James Horace King was born in Chipman, New Brunswick, on Jan. 18, 1873, of a closely knit family - two of his brothers would also make their home in Cranbrook. His father George G. King, a self made man, rose from lowly store clerk at age 13 to general store and lumber mill owner to Central Railway commissioner and finally, as a staunch Liberal, to a seat in the Canadian Senate, a position he held from 1896 to his death in 1928. Although James was not one to ride on his father's coattails, as regards politics, the apple would not fall far from the tree.
Educated at St. Martins Academy and McGill University as a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery, he first practiced medicine in Andover and St. John, N.B. In 1898 he accepted the post of chief surgeon of the Crows Nest line of the CPR, no doubt a daring move for a 25-year-old from eastern Canada. Life for railway workers was extremely hard with the injury and death toll generally fluctuating between steady and alarming. Dr. King seems to have taken it in stride, inspiring confidence in his patients and making many friends along the way.
With the establishment of Cranbrook as a main CPR centre Dr. King found himself not only the chief medical officer for the railway but the only general practitioner in a rapidly growing community. He soon took charge of the original St. Eugene Mission Hospital, travelling dutifully in his horse and buggy to and fro. In August, 1899, he ordered a telephone line installed from his Cranbrook office to the Mission hospital, an early sign of his commitment to modern methods. Timber rights near (Jim) Smith's Lake, mineral rights up the St. Mary and a few days stolen here and there for fishing and hunting trips helped occupy his infrequent idle hours.
The arrival of Dr. Frank W. Green in May of 1899 did much to relieve the workload and further improve the health of the community. It also allowed Dr. King two months of the year to study new advances in medicine in New York City, a habit he continued as circumstances allowed.
A formal partnership with Dr. Green began in June, 1903, and became the cornerstone of local medicine to which the present day Green Clinic bears witness. Drs. King & Green - from their purchase of an x-ray machine for the St. Eugene Hospital in 1904 to the use of an automobile in their practice in 1906 - consistently exemplified the ways and means of the modern doctor.
Dr. King was re-elected handily in 1907, although during the final days of the campaign, in a rare dereliction of duty, James King found himself in the Union Baptist Church in Andover, N.B., on the arm of his new bride Nellie May Sadler. Their honeymoon appears to have been the railway trip back to Cranbrook.
As politics began to take up more and more of his time, Dr. G.E.L. McKinnon took over Dr. King's role in the medical partnership. Dr. King rose through the political ranks at a steady rate from provincial to federal cabinet to Minister of Public Works through countless committees to a seat in the Senate - a position he held until his death 25 years later.
Always a loyal benefactor and supporter of his adopted home of Cranbrook, Dr. King was instrumental in securing improvements for both the town and the district and remained a regular visitor, often at New Years when he and Mrs. King - herself a tireless worker for the community (including her work for the IODE memorial children's drinking fountain removed from Rotary Park by the City of Cranbrook three years ago and never returned) - visited with their many friends and relations. The Hon. Dr. J.H. King died in Ottawa on July 14, 1955. The British Medical Journal obituary described him as "an efficient administrator and modest and friendly man who played a useful part in Canadian politics for some fifty years without seeking the limelight." To us he was, and will remain, the city of Cranbrook's first doctor.