Phase I of Cranbrook History Centre’s Cranbrook Museum set to open

The museum and archives complex will be holding a grand opening of Phase 1 of the new museum and model railway display May 1 and 2.

  • Apr. 24, 2015 1:00 p.m.
Char Murray

Char Murray

Barry Coulter

Exciting days are at hand for the Cranbrook Heritage Centre.

The museum and archives complex, formerly known as the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, will be holding a grand opening of Phase 1 of the new Cranbrook Museum and model railway display. Events are set for Friday, May 1 (members only) and Saturday, May 2 (general public).

“The conceptual designs were done a year and a half ago,” said Charlotte Murray, the Centre’s Executive Director. “It’s been evolving ever since.

“Different members of the community have loaned us artifacts”

Phase 1 of the Cranbrook Museum is the lower flow of the eastern side of the complex, known as the freight shed. It is now home to a growing collection of displays and artifacts representing a comprehensive history of Cranbrook and the East Kootenay. These include paleontological and paleogeological artifacts, natural history and wildlife (including donations from  Aasland Taxidermy), examples of heritage fashion (including, notably, one of the first wedding dresses ever worn in Cranbrook), and business and railroad history. There is also a section devoted to the Ktunaxa.

The model railway section will also be available for the viewing on Grand Opening. The HO scale mountain landscape features more than 200 metres of track, and is the largest such display in the B.C. Interior. “It’s a work in progress,” Murray said. “Members of the Model Railway Club have been coming in and working on it for six years.”

Next on the museum agenda is Phase 2 of the project — to create the Natural History Gallery which will house all paleo and natural history components. This will be located in the lower freight shed.

Phase three will be comprise the upper floor of the freight shed area, 5,000 square feet that will be comprised of four galleries, studio space and possibly a cafe.

The museum expansion is contributing to what is already a heritage gem, central to the region.

The Cranbrook History Centre, is probably best known for known for its extensive collection vintage rail cars, the sumptuous Royal Alexandra Hall, and the Cranbrook archives — which are the second largest such archives in B.C.

But the whole Centre contains “tons of history, waiting to be unleashed for residents to see,” Murray said, and the expansion and renovations currently in the works extend beyond  the freight shed to the western end of the complex. The gift shop has been expanded, and the space above the gift shop will be renovated as office space.

Murray says ideally these offices would be rented out to like-minded heritage or culture organizations. Currently these rooms are used for storage, including the original table and chairs from Cranbrook’s first city council.

The Cranbrook History Centre, as it is now known, has always been a great tourist attraction — 2 million cars a year drive by on Van Horne Street. But an increasingly important part of the Centre’s mandate of is to make locals aware of the resource that is key to Cranbrook’s historical self, to bring them out the Centre and enjoy it as much as passing tourists.

“We want to engage local residents and welcome them,” Murray said. “Times have changed.”

The grand opening will be a two-day affair. The May 1 relaunch will feature a reception for Cranbrook History Centre members and invited guests.

On Saturday, May 2, the Museum will be open to the public.