Cranbrook’s fire hall is a public building and a public building it should remain
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
It was early in 1929 when citizens of the fledgling community of Cranbrook took a big step into the future.
At issue was a false-fronted, wooden building next door to City Hall that served as the city’s third fire hall in pioneer days. A bent-up, old crow-bar hung in front of the building and when a fire broke out someone would bang on it until the loud clanging roused the volunteer fire team into action and they would trundle off with a hose and reel to the source of the flames.
But on March 25, 1929 the far sighted citizens of Cranbrook decided they needed something better and reached deep into their pockets and by a margin of 269 to 27 approved a bylaw to build a new $31,000 fire hall. Thirty-one thousand dollars was a lot of money on the verge of the Great Depression, but an editorial in the March 28, 1929 Cranbrook Courier congratulated the City on its move.
The real civic booster, the editorial said, “is the fellow who at all times is interested in all things for community betterment . . . he realizes that the success of the whole community is his individual success. Likewise, he makes his individual success reach out in good uses for the entire community.”
Oh that we had such far-sighted civic boosters in Cranbrook today!
Then again, maybe we do. At a recent City Council meeting an item was pulled from the agenda at the last minute that would have resulted in the city’s ornate, heritage, downtown fire hall being put up for sale to the highest bidder. This despite the fact that the previous Council had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Cranbrook District Arts Council (CDAC) to potentially repurpose the building as an Arts Centre and Gallery. A new Council, of course, is entitled to set its own priorities, but in moving so quickly to tear up the MOU to explore the possibility of creating the city’s first true, stand-alone arts centre and gallery can the current council claim to be acting in good faith? Hardly.
What’s the hurry here?
Since 1972, the CDAC has worked its buns off to elevate Cranbrook as the artistic centre of the region by promoting local artists, staging artistic exhibitions and bringing renowned artists to the community. Just look at this season alone: “Let Them Run,” an exhibition of paintings and sculpture dedicated to the restoration of the ancient Kootenay salmon runs. “Small Glories,” an in-house folk concert, “Stories of the Yukon,” by a renowned northern story teller and a “Junior Arts Exhibition” by local kindergarten to Grade 6 budding artists.
Not every exhibition draws a good crowd, but this is partly because the cramped, rented facility operates in a space that looks more like an office than a gallery.
But think what it would be like if the arts council operated out of a downtown, heritage building with the space to show major exhibitions like the Touchstones Museum of Art and History in Nelson, a city only half the size of Cranbrook.
In anticipation of Council falling through on the MOU, the CDAC has been furiously fund-raising and applying for every possible grant they can obtain to create a facility that would do Cranbrook proud and give the city a sensibility it now lacks and would add another civic attraction.
It would be as the Courier editorial writer said a facility for “community betterment” and “reach out in good uses for the entire community.” The Cranbrook Fire Hall was built as a public building, paid for by the public and served the public for more than half-a-century. That’s how it should remain. It would be a sacrilege to sell this building off for private use.
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and former Cranbrook City Councillor.