As the holiday season approaches, it’s hard to look forward to Christmas 2020 without comparing it to holidays past. As we work together to keep each other safe during the pandemic, certain holiday events and traditions are going to look different for many of us. While we look back on our own traditions, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the history of Christmas celebrations in Cranbrook.
The first account of Christmas celebrations in this area happened before we were even a town. Mr. John Galbraith and his wife had come up to Canada from Washington in 1869. They made their home here at Galbraith’s Ferry (which was later called Fort Steele). In her 1929 letter to The Cranbrook Courier, Mrs. Galbraith recalls their first Christmas on the banks of the Kootenay River. There were very few people around, as most of the men and their families had gone away for the winter. Without a proper cookstove they had to roast their meal – a wild goose – over an open fire. Despite the rustic conditions, Mrs. Galbraith recounts that it was “the best gray goose (she) had ever had for a Christmas dinner”.
In another account of Cranbrook’s early Christmas celebrations, there is a record of the first Christmas dinner held in the Cranbrook Hotel. Construction of the hotel, the first building in what would became the town of Cranbrook, had been completed December 23rd, 1897. It hosted its first Christmas celebration two days later. Although there were no people living in town at the time – since there was no town to be lived in – the men who worked at the sawmill came to the hotel and made up that first Christmas party.
Cranbrook Christmas celebrations over the years have continued to be recorded in the form of newspaper advertisements. The Cranbrook Hotel, the L.D. Café, and the Victoria Café would publish their Christmas dinner menus in the newspaper. The advertisements enticed patrons to come try dishes such as chicken salad, young turkey with cranberry sauce, and goose with baked apples. There were also deserts such as hot mince pie and English plum pudding.
As for Christmas 2020 in Cranbrook, we here at the Cranbrook History Centre would like to wish you all a very merry and safe holiday. Stay warm, stay safe, and be kind. We look forward to seeing you this holiday season and in the new year.