Most people have childhood memories of being dragged through boring museums and historical sites buried deep in their psyches. Today’s museums and history centres have come a long way in upping their appeal to kids, and after an extremely fun visit to Lethbridge’s Fort Whoop-up, my kids have made it a point to ask about educational stops when we’re planning trips.
One city that impressed us with their commitment to making learning about history fun was Cranbrook, British Columbia. Situated in the East Kootenays, the city of Cranbrook (population 19,319) is the largest urban centre in the region. It’s a beautiful mountain city, and we enjoyed spending time learning about the region’s storied past.
A gold rush city … sort of Cranbrook is the city that wasn’t supposed to be. In the late 1800s, the large gold rush settlement Fort Steele was the logical choice for development. However, Colonel James Baker had acquired nearby, and managed to convince Canadian Pacific Railway to establish their Crowsnest Pass line through Cranbrook rather than Fort Steele, making Cranbrook the region’s centre of economic activity.
Today, Fort Steele is a preserved heritage town, worthy of a few hours’ time to fully explore. Families can take horse-drawn carriage rides, watch blacksmithing demonstrations, ice cream making, try their hand at gold panning, and see leather working. The old style candy shop is a popular stop, as is the bakery. The site has several vintage buildings from the area and some that have been moved to the site, including a theatre that has plays each summer afternoon. Costumed interpreters give tours and can answer questions, and train rides on one of the three preserved steam locomotives are available seasonally.
Cranbrook History Centre In the heart of downtown, the Cranbrook History Centre houses a collection of 28 railway cars and historic rooms. Seventeen of the cars and three historic rooms are currently available for tours. Highlights of the collection include the beautifully restored cars of the 1929 Trans-Canada Limited, a classic Jazz Era Art Deco design. Children and adults alike will enjoy learning about the intricate workmanship of the era.
St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino Depending on the age of your children, they may have already studied residential schools in their own classroom. At the St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino, a resort built around a former aboriginal residential school, you can continue their education on the subject. A First Nations Interpretive Centre is located on the lower level and visitors are encouraged to visit the displays containing examples of the Ktunaxa life and traditional stone, bead, hide work.
NorthStar Rails 2 Trails In 1899, the Canadian Pacific Railway completed the 20.1 mile line from Cranbrook to reach the mines near today’s Kimberley. Daily passenger train service between Cranbrook and Kimberley ran until the late 1950s. Eventually the line was abandoned, and work began in 1998 to create a scenic multi-use trail. NorthStar Rails 2 Trails was completed in 2010 and adopted into the Trans Canada Trail in 2012. This paved 28 kilometre cycling route connects the cities of Cranbrook and Kimberley.