Cranbrook’s colourful history is well-documented, and we who live in the present often send our minds back there. However, history is a complex region to visit, and what we find back in the past might surprise and astound us.
A new book by Andrew Boden presents to us a Cranbrook that actually did not happen, but that may have: “The Secret History Of My Hometown.”
Boden grew up in Cranbrook, and now lives in Burnaby. But his hometown looms large in his imagination. His new book charts Cranbrook’s alternative, counterfactual history, with currents of world events and characters coursing through it.
Counterfactuals explore the “what ifs” of history, following alongside it in a parallel reality, just slightly askew.
Newly published, “The Secret History Of My Hometown” brings an element of the fantastic to Cranbrook’s story, but in ways that would seem entirely possible, if the little details and day-to-day accidents of history had twitched just a little.
One sees the same town, but in a new light.
“The kind of contrast [in an alternative history] highlights certain things you wouldn’t otherwise see,” Boden said, in an interview with the Townsman.
The six stories in “The Secret History of My Hometown” explore a counterfactual Cranbrook, from its establishment in the late 19th century to its destruction in a 1983 Soviet missile strike. Along the way, Ernest Hemingway comes to town to hunt the escaped elephants of Sells Floto Circus in the 1920s. After Pearl Harbour is bombed, a Chinese family-run grocery store depends on the intervention of the Monkey King (a legendary character from Chinese mythology). Fleeing Stalin’s takeover of the Bolshevik Revolution, Leon Trotsky makes his home in Cranbrook during a period of local labour unrest, instead of Mexico City (where he was assassinated with an ice pick to the head in 1940).
It was Leon Trotsky who led Boden to “The Secret History.” While in Mexico City some years ago, Boden visited the municipality of Coyoacán, an historical neighbourhood.
“Not far from La Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo’s residence) is the Leon Trotsky Museum,” Boden said. “So essentially the house that he stayed in while exiled in Mexico City. When I was there, for some curious reason, the idea came to me that what if Leon Trotsky had stayed in my hometown, instead of Mexico City. What would happen?
“And then it just grew from there — the middle story in the book. What if I just rewrite the whole history of my hometown and do a bunch of counterfactuals?”
Would the agents of Stalin have been able to track down Trotsky to assassinate him if he had been in exile in Cranbrook? One will have to read the story to find out.
Boden prepared himself for parallel reality by boning up on the actual reality.
“I did a lot of historical research at the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History — I went through old articles, old photos, old newspaper clippings, to give my surreality a realistic background.
“[The writing] was reasonably easy once I figured out the trajectory: From the birth of my hometown in the late 19th century to its purported end in the nuclear war in the 1980s. And it just kind of went like that.”
For every moment that has occurred, of course, there are infinite other moments that could have occurred. There is an alternative Cranbrook running in a parallel reality, with countless other fascinating stories to be told.
So, will there be a sequel?
“Other stories did occur to me,” Boden said. “But is there enough for another book? I don’t know yet. The literary gods will let me know I’m sure.
“I was just so pleased to produce something like this. I grew up in Cranbrook, I grew up steeped in its history, the field trips to Fort Steele, walking with my parents on the Wild Horse River … I was pleased to take all of that, coalesce it into this book.”
“The Secret History Of My Hometown” is available at Huckleberry Books in Cranbrook.