In the days of water transport along the Kootenay River, Fort Steele was an important centre but the railroad by-passed this town, establishing a divisional point at Colonel Baker’s Cranbrook. The result was the appearance of a new town in which both Presbyterians and Methodists established congregations. In the summer of 1898 a Presbyterian student, J. R. McPherson, held services in the Cross Keys hotel while Rev. Charles. W. Gordon (the author Ralph Connor) preached one September Sunday. In the autumn Rev. Joseph Ball became resident minister and under his guidance, Cranbrook’s Knox Presbyterian Church was erected and opened on December 11, 1898.
That same summer the first Methodist service in Cranbrook was conducted by Rev. Mr. Cattanach in the Manitoba Hotel. The next spring Rev. George Smith became pastor and held services in the newly built Presbyterian Church where the same choir led the singing, for Presbyterians in the morning and for Methodists in the evening. Later that year a Methodist Church was erected on 8th. Avenue.
Knox Presbyterian congregation in Cranbrook voted against entering union in 1925 so the Methodist church became the first United Church in the city. Rev. Bryce H. Wallace was called to be pastor and during his five-year tenure, a new edifice was erected. Built of red brick with a square tower which had a conical roof and louvered windows, it cost forty thousand dollars and had a seating capacity for two hundred worshippers.Dedicated on November 17, 1929, Cranbrook United Church began its long successful ministry to the people of the town. The former little Methodist church building was sold and [in 1956] it is used as a garage for the Kimberley–Cranbrook stage line. Above its entrance doors and on a side wall may still be seen the outline of arched windows of the old church.
Cranbrook for a period was the headquarters of a mission to Chinese. Work among these nationals in Kootenay Presbytery began in 1917 under C.Y. Chow who was stationed in Nelson. Three years later Mr. Chow was moved to Cranbrook where he ministered to families of eight hundred Orientals living in the area. A building with chapel and night school on the ground floor and living quarters above was purchased. It stood in the heart of the Chinese community, one block from the Methodist church. Mr. Chow Ling continued in this work until 1934 when he was moved to Kamloops. The Chinese population in Cranbrook dwindled to such an extent that the building was sold in 1935 and oversight of the mission was undertaken by Rev. R. W. Hardy, pastor of Cranbrook United Church.
Excerpted from Church in the Kootenays: The story of the United Church of Canada in Kootenay Presbytery ,
by Elsie G. Turnbull, published for Kootenay Presbyterial United Church Women,
Trail Times Limited, 1965