What goes around comes around — an advertisement from 1966

Sink your teeth into this …

Referendum '66, and the advent of fluoride in Cranbrook's water supply.

Jim Cameron

It has been forty-four years since the good voters of Cranbrook decided to add fluoride to the city’s water supply. The bad voters did not show up. The upcoming municipal election will see the local majority not only choosing a slate of alderpeople but also deciding whether or not to continue to fluoridate city water.

The topic of fluoridation in Cranbrook water first arose in the 1950s. By that time scientific links between fluoride and its benefits in the reduction of caries (cavities) established in the early 1930s in the U.S. had taken hold in numerous Canadian cities based on strong recommendations from various respected provincial and national health groups despite anti-fluoridation protests which continue to the present day.

In Feb., 1957, the local city council discussed the matter and allotted $10,000 to authorize a company from Calgary to conduct a survey and submit plans to determine the cost of local fluoridation.

Apparently the idea was shelved soon after as nothing was heard again until Oct., 1966, when the East Kootenay Health Unit asked city council to hold a referendum concerning the question of fluoridating local water. The council was at first somewhat skeptical, seeking more information on the issue.

In a letter to council, Cranbrook’s school medical officer Dr. J.M.H. Hopper pointed out the results of dental exams of children which “indicated a high rate of decay, magnified by a lack of treatment.” Of 49 local children between the age of five to six there were 250 decaying teeth, 34 missing teeth and 103 teeth filled, averaging eight per child, 65 per cent of the children inspected required some dental treatment.

“Every effort should be made to improve this deplorable situation,” stated Dr. Hopper.

Dental consultant Dr. Allan Richardson attended a Chamber of Council meeting to outline the benefits of fluoridation and soon thereafter the Junior Chamber of Commerce also requested a referendum on Dec. 10, 1966, to which council agreed, in essence following recommendations from such groups as the World Health Organization, Health Canada and other recognized organizations.

The Cranbrook Courier newspaper joined both Mayor George Haddad and the Chamber of Commerce in supporting the concept, pointing out that there were about 3,000 youngsters in Cranbrook – from babies to teens – which, based on Dr. Hopper’s study, could mean an excess of 20,000 teeth requiring treatment. This figure proved somewhat diaphonous but the general point was made: fluoridation would cost between 15 and 20 cents per year per capita, it would result in many happier mouths and it would save people a whole lot of money in dental care in years to come.

That year the municipal election took place at Tenth Ave. School. Incidentally, along with the fluoridation bylaw was another allowing the school board to borrow $451,600.00 for items including land purchase and building construction. Further, the voters were asked to select three candidates for city council out of a total of six who were running (voters elected half of the six-person council to a two year term each year in order to provide continuity).

The election saw 54 per cent of eligible voters casting ballots. The three incumbents were removed from office, replaced by three with no prior experience. The school referendum was passed as was the fluoride question with 1,076-yes, 479-no and 24 spoiled for a total 69 per cent in favour. Sparwood also voted in favour but, according to an editorial of the day, “Nelson, plagued by fanatic literature of almost vicious content and torn by misleading communication from the militant anti-fluroidationists, voted the measure down almost two to one, which is a shame. Fernie, finding it hard to accept change, did likewise.”  Almost vicious content, indeed.

The councilors, it was conjectured, were turfed for a number of reasons, not least of which was a major change in the city tax structure earlier in the year (which roused the local Ratepayer’s Association to sponsor two of the incoming aldermen), drawn-out negotiations between the city and Stewart-Green properties concerning the construction of what would become the Cranbrook Mall; opposition to a proposed well-water program for the city at a cost of $300,000.00; a general lack of support on the part of council for various community groups and, last but not least, the city’s inaction concerning the purchase of a radar set.

The local paper stated “if all seven members [of city council] had been running, all seven would have been creamed…the pot finally boiled over in an exciting example of democracy in action.”

So there it was, Cranbrook water was to be fluoridated. The big question was not fluoridation of the water but rather finding water to be fluoridated. Cranbrook was, and had been for many years, running short of the old H2O.

In truth, Cranbrook had always been short of the stuff and the ongoing debate as to how to access more would continue for years to come.

But that’s all water under a different bridge, what water there was was to be fluoridated.

In July, 1967, council, moving at the pace of a fully-loaded mule, approved a bylaw to borrow $18,500 over five years to install a fluoridation plant.

The scheme faced numerous delays until Aug., 1968, when Cranbrook citizens were informed that fluoridation of the local water supply had begun one month earlier without, it was noted rather smugly, a single complaint registered at city hall.

Cranbrook is presently one of a handful of cities in B.C. to fluoridate water. With the exception of Nunavut and the Yukon, B.C. is the lowest fluoride provider in Canada at 3.7 per cent of the population.

Quebec is next with 6.4% and it moves on upwards throughout the provinces to Manitoba at 69.9 per cent, Alberta at 74.7 per cent and Ontario at 75.9 per cent. In total, as of 2007, Canada provided fluoridation to approximately 45 per cent of the population (14,258,078 people) compared to about 72 per cent of the U.S.

Still, perhaps the real question this year is not the fluoridation of water or who will be elected to council or where will the next mall be built, or does the school board need more money? Perhaps the real question should be:  “When will we get a radar set?”

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