Mackenzie Avenue is prominent in this photograph of pre-war Revelstoke

At the dawn of the First World War, Revelstoke was thriving

Revelstoke was one of the most important communities in the B.C. Interior at the start of the First World War.

August 4 marks 100 years since the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, bringing Canada along with it. In an ongoing series, the Times Review and the Revelstoke Museum & Archives will look at Revelstoke during WW1. We will look at the soldiers who went off to fight and the impact the war had on the community.

By Cathy English, Revelstoke Museum & Archives

Revelstoke was one of the largest centers in the interior of the province when war was declared in August of 1914. According to the 1911 census, Revelstoke had a population of 3,017 in the city and 2,655 in the district, for a total of 5,672. People had come here from other parts of Canada and the United States, from all over Europe, including the Ukraine, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Great Britain, France, and Germany, and from China, Japan and India.

A new courthouse had been completed in the fall of 1913 and the city boasted two elementary schools: Central, built in 1902, and Selkirk, built in 1911, as well as a new High School that officially opened on February 6, 1914.

A new and fully equipped hospital with two full-time doctors opened in 1913 and the next year, the hospital board opened a school of nursing that continued until the 1930s. A YMCA stood on First Street East and included a full gymnasium with equipment, bowling alleys and an indoor swimming pool. An opera house at the corner of Second Street West and Garden Avenue featured travelling entertainers and also hosted local productions.

Revelstoke was an important divisional point for the Canadian Pacific Railway and the company also operated a branch line to Arrowhead and a fleet of steamboats that connected traffic to the Kootenays and the United States. The CPR was the major employer in Revelstoke in 1914. Construction had begun on the Connaught Tunnel in 1913 and continued until completion in December of 1916. The CPR was also double-tracking much of their main-line, with about 1/3 of line completed in B.C. Grading on the double track between Revelstoke and Taft was completed in the early summer of 1914.

Glacier National Park in Rogers Pass and Mount Revelstoke National Park, proclaimed in April 1914, both drew tourists to the area, with Glacier House attracting more than 1,000 visitors every summer. Work had begun on the summit auto road on Mount Revelstoke in August of 1912 and in 1914 they were continuing with construction, with 70 men working on the road.

A consortium of local businessmen owned and operated the steamboat S.S. Revelstoke, which travelled north and south of Revelstoke supplying the farmers, miners and trappers who lived in those areas. There was considerable mining activity throughout the region, particularly the Big Bend, Illecillewaet, and the Lardeau. Several active forestry companies were in operation, including the  Dominion Sawmill Company that had a large office complex on Victoria Road, and mills and logging operations throughout the region, including Three Valley, Revelstoke and Comaplix. There were also two large mills operating at Arrowhead.

Mackenzie Avenue and First Street had seen a considerable building boom in the years prior to 1914, with the commercial shift from Front Street almost complete. Mackenzie Avenue and First Street were paved in 1914, and cement sidewalks were constructed. Three large banks, Molson’s Bank, the Imperial Bank, and the Bank of Commerce all had large buildings on Mackenzie Avenue, and C.B. Hume’s Department Store, at the corner of Mackenzie and First, was the largest of its kind in the interior of the province. Other businesses in the city included a candy factory, cafes, clothing stores for men and women, drugstores, cigar stores and pool halls, tailors, launderers and dry cleaners, meat markets, bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, jewellers, barbers, shoemakers, plant nurseries, dairies, breweries, and a wine and spirit manufactory. There were also plumbers, electricians, tinsmiths, blacksmiths, harness makers, and fur buyers. Two newspapers, the Mail-Herald and Revelstoke Review were in operation, each with their own printing presses.

In June of 1914, a disastrous fire wiped out seven businesses on Mackenzie and Victoria Road, where the parking lot next to the Canadian Avalanche Centre is now. The businesses included Trueman photography studio, a barber shop, Alex Hobson’s grocery and bakery, a real estate office, the London café, G.S. Adams jewelery store, and Reid & Barton photography studio. These buildings were never rebuilt.

Several hotels were in operation on Front Street as well as on First and Second Streets. The Windsor Hotel had been in operation since 1906, and the Selkirk was built on First Street at Orton in 1914. Those two hotels were later amalgamated into what is now the Regent. The CPR also operated Hotel Revelstoke on the hill above the station.

At the beginning of August in 1914, 18,000 acres of land in the railway belt south of Revelstoke were granted for homesteading, including 400 acres six miles south and 1,400 acres above Halls Landing. The land was available in 40 acre blocks and Ukrainian settlers had already begun homesteading in that area.

Revelstoke had several sports teams and recreational clubs, including lacrosse, basketball, baseball, cricket, lawn tennis, football (soccer), hockey, and a gun club.

The Rocky Mountain Rangers militia unit had been established in Revelstoke since the late 1890s, and the Drill Hall (currently Trans-Canada Fitness) had been built in 1902.

There were several lodges in Revelstoke, including the Masonic Lodge, Orange Lodge, Oddfellows (all of whom had their own halls); as well as women’s branches of several of the lodges, railway-related lodges, a Scandinavian Aid & Fellowship Society, and an Italian lodge. The Women’s Canadian Club had been formed in 1913, and they had local and national speakers coming to address them. There was a city band, and an Italian band, known as the G. Verdi band.

Revelstoke was an important city, and in 1914 was just starting to feel the effects of a global economic depression. The onset of World War I would change the community irrevocably.

Next week’s article looks at Revelstoke’s reaction to the start of the war.

 

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