What a disaster for Cranbrook. Four businesses destroyed in a sudden fire early Tuesday morning, April 24, a chunk of our history gone, a gaping charred scar now the most visible aspect of downtown from the highway. An economic blow to downtown.
No one was hurt, thanks to the heroic efforts of our emergency personnel. And it's gratifying to see residents step up to help the victims. Here's our best wishes to the victims; it seems it could happen to anyone of us, at anytime, no matter how careful we are.
The long arduous clean up is now underway. Maybe something good will eventually rise up in that spot like a phoenix - a small green space, an art park, some brilliant new architecture or brilliant new businesses. Here's hoping that hole can be healed.
There are plenty of Canadian towns where fire has destroyed historical neighbourhoods - Trois Rivieres, Quebec, and Lloydminster, Sask./Alta, to name two. Or think of famous fires from history - Rome or London, for example. Fire is not unique to Cranbrook.
But it seems Cranbrook's recent history can be divided by chapters of fire. Here's an incomplete table of contents:
• The old Murial Baxter school lit up the night in 2008.
• In 2002, the former St. Eugene Hospital/Tudor House went up in a fierce blaze, watched by an afternoon crowd of hundreds. Shortly after that, across the highway, the Ranch Steakhouse caught fire in the early morning and burnt to the ground (for a time these two ruins served as a "gateway to Cranbrook" as you entered from the west).
• Also in 2002, the Windsor Arms Hotel downtown burnt down - a vacant lot still stands.
• In 1995, the Chamber of Commerce building was burnt down (suspected act of arson).
And further back in time:
In 1959, fire destroyed the Norbury Hotel and the whole Hanson Block (Baker Street and Norbury Avenue - now 10th).
• In 1931, a large fire (suspected act of arson) destroyed a large section the district on Durick (now 7th) Avenue - Cranbrook's Chinatown.
And of course, we all of us have friends and acquaintances whose homes have been damaged or destroyed over recent years. Those who followed our recent Janus series of features on the history of the Cranbrook Fire Brigade know how essential that service has always been our community, a town built out of wood.
But meanwhile, at this very moment, Kimberley is at this moment dealing with its own historical bugbear. In Cranbrook we have famous fires, in Kimberley we have famous floods - 1948 and 1976 are remembered particularly.
The streets are awash right now, evacuation alerts are in effect, and the creeks of Kimberley are flexing their muscles, like the River Scamander in the Iliad.
Compared to Kimberley, Cranbrook is a tinderbox dry town. Kimberley's five creeks also follow different timelines in terms of being of being fed by melting snowpack. Thus, while Lois Creek and Kimberley Creek are currently rising, Mark Creek, Trickle Creek and Sullivan Creek, though moving quickly, have not yet begun to see the full run-off. The snow in the Mark Creek Valley is still a metre deep, so Kimberley could be facing an awful lot of floodwater over the coming months. The freshet still has several higher gears to kick into.
We hesitate to use the words "historical proportions," but - well, good luck to you up in Kimberley. Let us in Cranbrook know if you need any help.
On one hand fire, and the other hand flood. We'd better get stockpiling food now; surely famine is just around the corner.