Barry Coulter and Trevor Crawley
The architectural palimpsest that is the Cranbrook Hotel, and the residents who dwell there, suffered another hit of fate with the fire of Thursday, December 10, 2020.
The fire at Cranbrook’s oldest hotel — and one of the townsite’s first buildings — caught fire last week, but Cranbrook firefighters were able to tackle the flames and prevent more extensive damage to the 113-year-old structure.
Some 20 residents of the hotel had to be evacuated, and an Emergency Operations Centre was activated to get safe accommodation for those who were displaced.
Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services had run training exercises through mock responses to the three-storey building in case there ever was a call to that location, Fire Chief Scott Driver said.
So when firefighters arrived at the Cranbrook Hotel on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 10, those training exercises significantly influenced the on-scene response.
As firefighters arrived, about 1 p.m., hose lines were deployed to attack the fire from the outside, slowing it down so that personnel were able to get inside and conduct evacuations and interior fire response.
As two firefighters — who were quickly joined by two more — initially tackled the fire directly, an additional team of four simultaneously went through the building to assist and ensure residents were evacuated safely.
As firefighters worked through suppression and evacuation efforts, the fire — and resulting smoke, —had spread into the structure of the building, Smoke, as an unburned combustible, can ignite at any time under the right conditions elsewhere in the building.
The ladder truck was set up on Van Horn Street on the backside of the building, while a command team was positioned out front and at the side, along with a safety officer and a rapid intervention team.
The Emergency Operations Centre was activated and representatives with Emergency Support Services, along with Interior Health and the Salvation Army, got involved to provide assistance to those who were evacuated.
By Thursday evening, the fire was extinguished and the investigation into the cause, deemed non-suspicious, was completed by Friday morning.
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The original Cranbrook Hotel was built in 1897 by James Ryan and Angus Morrison, one year before the railway came through. It was considered quite prestigious, and in subsequent years its guests included “premiers of the province, high railway officials, mining magnates, commercial travellers and mule skinners.” Not to mention the various travelling celebrities of the day.
In time, the original hotel was raised and moved back across the alley to make room for a new hotel, which became the Cranbrook Hotel in its present form.
The Cranbrook Prospector reported from August 6, 1907.
“Plans are being made for a new hotel building on the site of the Cranbrook Hotel. The old structure will be moved to the rear and a more modern building erected.”
And the Cranbrook Courier, from August 8, 1907. “The Cranbrook Hotel building is assuming shape, and gives promise to being one of the largest and best hotel buildings in the interior of the province. Messrs. Hogarth and and Rollins (the owners) propose to spare no expense in furnishing the place and giving to the public a caravansary that will be a credit to the town and the district. With the large number of rooms, at their disposal and the new sample rooms, the new Cranbrook will be one of the favorite hotels with the travelling public.”
The original hotel became known as the Cranbrook Hotel annex, and it was one of the buildings hit by the worst fire in Cranbrook’s history, July 25, 1936, which razed seven other buildings between Hanson and Durick Avenues (8th Avenue and 7th Avenue today) in what was then Cranbrook’s business section. These included the Italia Hotel (which was rebuilt, and is now the King Edward Hotel), Dezall’s Garage, the Kootenay Motors building, and the Sunrise Bakery. It was determined that the fire originated in a room at the rear of the York Rooming House.
The Cranbrook Courier of described the inferno, and “the big fight to save the Cranbrook Hotel.
“… For a time, eight lines of hose were directed on the building. If the hotel building caught fire it is doubtful if adjoining buildings could have been saved.”
However, the historic annex was lost in the fire.
“One of Cranbrook’s landmarks was destroyed in the holocaust, the Cranbrook Hotel annex being the first hotel building in Cranbrook.”
Work began almost immediately to rebuilt the annex.
“The building will extend 74 feet along the alley, and will be 28 feet in width,” the Courier reported. “It will be two storeys in height, and while built of lumber will be metal clad, complying with second class fire limits within which it will stand.
“It will have five bedrooms on the upper floor, and the lower portion will be fitted up with sample rooms and laundry. The upper floor will be connected with the hotel by a passageway as before.”
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Eighty-four years later, on Dec. 10, 2020, the old hotel was subjected to fire again. Once again, firefighters managed to prevent the hotel from being destroyed. The residents had to be evacuated. But early indications from the owner are that the suites can be restored, and that a report from the building inspector shows the structure is still sound.
The venerable Cranbrook Hotel will be part of Cranbrook’s future, as well as Cranbrook’s past.