Updated: Oct 9
The Salmo Hotel, which was severely damaged by fire on Sept. 15, has long suffered from … well, if not an identity crisis, then a very confusing history which has left a lot of people puzzled about its age. To wit:
• “The Salmo Hotel was originally built in 1912 … There has been a hotel on this location continuously since 1860, but all four previous hotels on the site succumbed to one of the heating systems of the time.” — Go & Do, Winter 2012/13, p. 43
(Nearly identical words once appeared on the International Selkirk Loop website and at travel.bc.ca, but I’m not sure where they originated. The pages have both been removed but survive in the Wayback Machine.)
• “The Salmo hotel, which was constructed about 1910, was not insured.” — Nelson Daily News, Sept. 1, 1931
• “Fire tears through roof of 127-year-old Salmo Hotel” — CBC News headline, Sept. 15, 2023
• “The hotel … has stood in the same place in the community since 1896 and was largely reconstructed in 1932.” — CBC News, Sept. 15, 2023
• “In fact the Salmo hotel was built in 1981 … [It] is a replica of a hotel that burned down in 1935 which occupied the same location.” — Kootenay Cameos, Vol. 2, 2015, p. 24
So which of these is correct?
None of them, actually. The simple answer is that the hotel was built from scratch in 1931-32 to replace a hotel on the same site that burned down. It had a new facade added in 1981 that made it look a lot older than it really was. The much more complex answer follows.
The Salmo Hotel in October 2015.
First of all, I have no idea how the notion there were five hotels on this site originated, nor the idea that they dated to 1860. In fact, Salmo (nee Salmon Siding or Salmon City) didn’t exist until the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway was completed in 1893.
However, there certainly were a lot of hotel fires and the first Salmo Hotel was indeed built on this site (Block 4, Lot 12, corner of Railway Avenue and 4th Street), but it didn’t have the same footprint as the current building. It went up starting in late 1896, constructed by or for George Reid Linklater who ran it with his wife Alice.
Linklater previously ran a store in Salmo which the Nelson Miner said he “turned into a primitive hotel.” Obviously it didn’t have much room, for “People staying in town overnight have taken their meals at his house and slept on the floors of the cabins in town.” Alice was reportedly an excellent cook.
The Vancouver Daily World noted: “It is Mr. Linklater’s intention to erect an hotel at once. It may not be a rival to the Hotel Vancouver but it will in every way be a model of neatness, comfort and up-to-date as regards the manner in which the guests will be entertained.”
The hotel was in business no later than February 1897 and soon had several competitors: the Northern, Grand, Pioneer, Windsor, and Spokane, most of whom were short-lived.
Railway Avenue in Salmo in 1898. This is by far the earliest photo of the town. From left, the Pioneer Hotel, two unknown buildings, a store that bears the sign “head quarters miners supplies” (later the site of the Benson and Ross store and still later the Salmo Trading Co.), the Northern Hotel, and the Salmo Hotel. The building on the right in the top photo is the original Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway depot.
The earliest known photo of the Salmo Hotel shows it to be a very unpretentious two-storey false-front affair, like many others of its kind at that time. A couple of doors down, separated by a vacant lot, was the Northern Hotel on Lot 10 and on maybe Lot 6 was the Pioneer Hotel, whose histories are interrelated.
The Northern was built by Manuel S. Bittencourt and managed by W.T. Beadles and John A. Benson. (Side note about Bittencourt: in the late 1880s he was co-proprietor of a floating store on the Snohomish River in Washington state.)
The Pioneer, meanwhile, was built by Thomas Shank, who might have actually opened his hotel a little before Linklater. Shank ran into financial troubles and by 1898 moved on to the Arrow Lakes boomtown of Brooklyn to run another hotel. The Pioneer probably closed after that. An Alberta man named A.P. Gillies somehow ended up with the property.
The Benson and Ross store and Hotel Northern, 1906 or earlier.
Curiously, Linklater didn’t apply for a liquor license right away, and when one was finally granted in 1899 it was in the name of Paul Fitzgerald, who had presumably been hired as manager or bartender. The arrangement didn’t last long, however. A new application was filed in 1900 under Alice’s name but rejected. George tried again in 1901 under his own name and was successful. The following year the Linklaters sold the hotel and transferred the license.
Rollie Mifflin, author of The Early Salmo Story, didn’t think much of George Linklater, calling him a “pompous little man” and said “he and his wife consumed more of their stock in trade, liquor, than they sold. They seldom had paying guests in sufficient numbers to be profitable, so they sold out and left Salmo for parts unknown.”
(George died in New Westminster in 1916, age 73, and Alice in Vancouver in 1934, age 70.)
The hotel’s new owners, William and Ida Gray, would earn a much better reputation. The family would be involved with Salmo hotels for the next 45 years.
Ida (nee Simola) emigrated to the US from Helsinki at age 14. She met William, a Welsh immigrant, while working in a logging camp cookhouse. They worked around Spokane before coming to Salmo, attracted by the lumber business there.
Here’s where things start to get real confusing real fast. It took a lot of staring at photos and a few critical newspaper items to sort it all out.
In 1906, the Grays bought the Northern Hotel from A.P. Gillies and moved the Salmo Hotel next to it on Lot 11 of Block 4, planning to “make a first class building out of the two.” (The Northern had most recently been operated by the Blanchard family of Pilot Bay, who I’ve previously written about.)
If the Grays felt it important to connect the buildings, I don’t know why they didn’t instead construct an annex or breezeway between them, which may have been easier.
Subsequently, the Pioneer Hotel further down the block was renamed the Northern, although I’m not sure if the new Northern had any connection to the old one. At any rate, brothers Edward and Frederick McArthur were proprietors of the new Northern.
Railway Avenue in Salmo, circa 1906-09. The Salmo Hotel (two-storey building second from right) has now been moved on to Lot 11 to be combined with the first Northern Hotel. Is that a sidewalk to the right of the hotel or are those the skids it was moved on? To the left of the hotel complex is the Salmo Trading Co., the second Northern Hotel (formerly the Pioneer Hotel) and a mystery building. This photo also reportedly depicts a harness shop, which I am guessing is to the right of and behind the hotel. (Image B-05021 courtesy Royal BC Museum and Archives)
From left, the Northern (nee Pioneer Hotel), the Salmo Trading Co., and the Salmo Hotel following its amalgamation with the first Northern Hotel.
In 1909, two fires struck, each with terrible consequences.
On Feb. 3, William and Ida’s son Willie, either age three or five, was playing with matches and set his clothes ablaze. He was severely burned, despite his sister’s heroic efforts to save him. Ymir had a hospital, but the southbound train had already left. Instead, Willie was sent to hospital at Northport, where he died the following day.
News stories said the fire occurred at the Gray home, which I infer was not the hotel. However, this terrible incident would later lead to the mistaken belief that the fire destroyed the hotel (for instance, as stated by Helen Gray Gilbertson in the book Salmo Stories). It didn’t.
Then on Dec. 15, a lamp in the Northern Hotel was knocked over in a room belonging to Frank Kennedy, 52, who arrived the day before to take over a barber shop. Flames quickly overran the building and forced 15 guests to jump from windows. A woman and her two children narrowly escaped thanks to the efforts of several rescuers. Alas, Kennedy wasn’t so lucky.
The fire also damaged the neighbouring Salmo Trading Co. and threatened to engulf the entire town, but after an hour’s effort, firefighters stopped it from spreading. They were no doubt helped by the fact that less than two months earlier the McArthur brothers installed a large water tank and gas engine to pump water in just such an emergency. The fire also came less than one month after the McArthurs began work on an addition to the hotel.
The Northern was partially insured and the McArthurs soon received a settlement and went to work on a much larger replacement. The new three-storey Northern, on Block 4, Lots 6 and 7, opened on May 6, 1910. Initially it was very boxy, but was enhanced considerably with the later addition of second and third-storey verandas.
The new Northern Hotel, as depicted in the Nelson Daily News of Sept. 24, 1910.
The Northern Hotel, probably later in the 1910s. (Courtesy Salmo Museum)
Not long after the Grays buried their son, they were adding on to the Salmo Hotel. Photo evidence shows they constructed a separate two-storey building to the south, on Block 4, Lot 12, where the hotel originally stood before being moved next door. Once again, I don’t know why they didn’t construct this building on the previously vacant Lot 11 between the Salmo Hotel and the original Northern Hotel.
The addition was complete in May 1909 and the Grays leased two storefronts in the newly-expanded block to Mr. Watkins, a barber, and Arthur Longhurst, a men’s clothier. That summer they added a 16-foot verandah along the front of the hotel and the Royal Bank established a branch in the building.
Salmo, circa 1910-12. From left, Northern Hotel, Salmo Trading Co., and the Salmo Hotel complex: the former Northern Hotel, the original Salmo Hotel, and the 1909 addition. This photo hangs in the Salmo Esso.
Inspired, perhaps, by the Northern Hotel, a major renovation began around 1912 to tie the three buildings of the Salmo Hotel complex into one with a common facade. It appears this also meant raising the roof of the original section of the Salmo Hotel and lowering the roof of the former Northern Hotel.
While I haven’t been able to find anything in the newspapers about this project, photographer W.G. Barclay caught the work in progress as part of a fabulous panorama, of which this is but a small part.
From left, the Northern Hotel, the Salmo Trading Co., and the Salmo Hotel being stitched together from three buildings. (Courtesy Salmo Museum)
Longhurst’s sign still stood above his storefront at far right, but later R.B. Bell took his spot. The newly-refurbished hotel boasted bay windows and second-storey verandas.
This probably accounts for the oft-cited but inaccurate claim that the Salmo Hotel was built in 1912. While it had already been standing for quite a while, in one form or another, this was the year it adopted its classic look, seen below. Surprisingly, though, we only have a few photos of it.
The Northern Hotel, Salmo Trading Co. and Salmo hotel, 1912 or later.
Fast forward to Feb. 15, 1929. Fire breaks out in the kitchen of the Northern Hotel due to a faulty stove pipe. The flames spread at “disastrous speed” into the upper portion of the hotel and smoke is soon seen coming from cracks in the exterior walls. A bucket brigade saves the nearby home of the Great Northern railway agent while wet blankets hung on the Salmo Hotel save that building.
However, the Northern, now owned by Oscar Moe and George Summers, is a total loss. On the bright side, its contents are saved and this time no one is injured.
Trade tokens from the Hotel Northern. The one on the left is courtesy Stan Sherstobitoff.
Slightly more than two years later the Salmo Hotel — now the last of the town’s pioneer hotels — suffers the same fate. On Aug. 31, 1931 a fire begins in the home of Walter Shiell, although the cause is never established. It spreads to two other homes plus the hotel and a building behind the hotel that houses its water and lighting systems. All are destroyed. Nothing is saved. The fire also scorches the Salmo Trading Co.’s store and post office, but the fire department saves the building yet again.
By this time, Ida Gray, a widow since William’s death in 1923, runs the hotel with help from son Archie. Despite initial reports that they have no insurance, in fact the building is insured for $7,000 ($135,000 in 2023 currency). It’s not long before Ida decides to rebuild, with cost estimates ranging from $10,000 ($193,000 today) to $25,000 ($484,000).
This building is the current Salmo Hotel, and here’s the critical story from the Nelson Daily News of Nov. 28, 1931, revealing both its architect and builder:
Salmo is enjoying an outstanding building boom, according to A. Carrie, Nelson architect. On the site of the Salmo hotel, recently destroyed by fire, the proprietress, Mrs. William Gray, is having a new two-storey frame hotel with concrete basement erected, the builder being H. Matatall and the architect Mr. Carrie. The hotel, which is at the basement stage, will have 11 bedrooms.
Alex Carrie was Nelson’s most prolific architect and the city owes its present look to him more than anyone. But this was a late commission in his career and in keeping with the style of the day, the new hotel had a Tudor look, with white stucco and blue trim.
The second Salmo Hotel, ca. 1941. (William S. Lythgoe photo/Image E-05348 courtesy Royal BC Museum and Archives)
(From GR-0048 BC Liquor Control Board records, courtesy Royal BC Museum and Archives)
The new hotel was smaller than the previous one, with part or all of Lot 12 now devoted to parking, something that had not previously been a consideration.
Ida Gray took out an ad in the Nelson Daily News of April 30, 1932 that simply announced “Salmo Hotel is now open for business.” However, it apparently was not completed until December. Ida put the hotel up for sale in late 1933, but there were no takers. She tried again in 1935, still unsuccessfully.
On April 21 of the latter year, fire broke out in the hotel’s washroom in a box of toilet paper. A.G. MacDonald, who had been running the dining room with his wife, was charged with arson because Ida found him near the fire, acting strangely, but he insisted he was only putting it out. MacDonald conducted his own defence and a jury acquitted him after only 10 minutes deliberation.
Testimony at the trial established the hotel was so full at times that it turned people away and at other times provided them with cots. Up to three men had been known to sleep in a storeroom opposite the washroom.
The hotel was advertised for sale again in 1940 but it wasn’t until 1947 that the beer parlour license was finally transferred to Leon Cremers and Bert Carlson of Whonnock. Fred Faminow was the proprietor from 1948-52, although as of 1950 Ida still held a mortgage on the building.
In 1952, a consortium called Salmo Hotel Ltd. acquired the business. The shareholders and proprietors were Noble and Florence Armstrong and Frank and Elnore Burger. Under their watch, an addition was put on the southwest side that year, on Lot 12, the former parking lot. It added six rooms, a larger beer parlour and a cafe. However, the addition was shaped like a backwards L, leaving a space so the existing second-floor rooms could still get some sunlight, even if they no longer had much of a view.
Circa 1948-52 floor plan. (From GR-0048 BC Liquor Control Board records, courtesy Royal BC Museum and Archives)
Nelson Daily News, June 2, 1952
The photo above reveals the hotel still had its original Tudor appearance as of 1952, but it disappeared during this reno (except for the above-mentioned passageway at the back, where original details remained before the recent fire).
Salmo Hotel, September 1952 (Courtesy Marion Gora)
The hotel sold again in 1959 to Steve Gora Sr. who made alterations in 1970 and 1977 involving new paneling, a raised floor, and new washrooms. Steve Gora Jr. and wife Marion then acquired the hotel in 1978. They ran it for decades, with Marion continuing after her husband’s death in 2007.
When she finally sold it to mining executive John Mirko in 2021, the hotel had been in the Gora family for 62 years. Between them, the Grays and Goras were Salmo hoteliers for 107 years. (Marion had a connection to both families; her first husband was a grandson to the Grays.)
Salmo circa 1960s, with the hotel at left in light green. Note the backwards L-shape of the addition, which was also a little shorter than the original part of the hotel. (Ellis Anderson photo)
But when Marion and Steve took over, she felt it “looked like an ugly old box.” In 1981, provincial funding became available for a downtown revitalization. Working with guidelines created by local designer Bob Inwood, the village decided on a turn-of-the-20th century theme.
Photos of the first Salmo Hotel circa 1912 inspired a new facade on two sides, featuring wraparound balconies. And this became the most confusing thing of all.
The hotel gets a faux facade, 1981. (Courtesy Marion Gora)
The job was so well done that it wasn’t long before people concluded the hotel must be much older than it really was, or, in one case cited above, that it was a replica rebuilt from scratch. In fact, it was a 1931-32 hotel gussied up to look like something from 1912.
I’m of mixed feelings about this. On one hand it inadvertently muddied the historical record and misled people about what they were seeing.
Nelson Daily News, Aug. 6, 1981
Salmo Hotel, circa late 1980s. I don’t have the original of this postcard, but judging from the style, the photo is either by Ellis Anderson or Don Lyon.
I was especially puzzled by CBC’s contention that the hotel “stood in the same place in the community since 1896 and was largely reconstructed in 1932.” In fact, it was entirely rebuilt. News stories at the time were explicit that the first hotel was “destroyed” by fire. So despite its facade, in no way can the hotel be considered 127 years old, although it’s true a hotel has been on the site for that long, in several configurations.
On the other hand, the facade made the hotel far more striking and an even bigger focal point, solidifying its status as the most important building in town. Rather than being plucked out of thin air, the faux facade also paid tribute to a hotel that once stood on the same site.
4th Street side, August 2000
April 2001, after the veranda, doors, and window frames were painted.
June 2006. Not sure if the building had been painted gray or if it is just brightened by the sunlight. But the take-out restaurant, which later became the liquor store, had by this time been painted pink.
The north side and rear of the hotel, seen here in October 2015, are more demonstrative of its early 1930s construction.
One other very interesting thing contributes to the hotel’s mixed-up identity: it was turned into the Bull Mountain Inn in 2000 for the movie Out Cold. The name was subsequently given to the hotel’s liquor store and a couple of signs were still on the building until recently. Following the fire, I didn’t see them.
One of Salmo’s rock murals, depicting a mining scene, can be found on the hotel’s north side. This was taken in October 2015.
I hope the hotel can be saved. Owner John Mirko, who bought it specifically to preserve it and invested a significant amount in upgrades, is optimistic.
In 2018, the Salmo Valley Historical Society got a peek inside the hotel, specifically the second floor and basement. That is the subject of a separate post.
Two Salmo Hotels have operated on the same three lots in six different configurations. Three Northern Hotels operated in two locations. The first Northern Hotel became part of the first Salmo Hotel, while the second was originally the Pioneer Hotel.
1896-97: Salmo Hotel (I) built on Block 4, Lot 12
1896-97: Pioneer Hotel built on Block 4, Lot 6?
1897: Northern Hotel (I) built on Block 4, Lot 10
May-June 1906: Northern Hotel (I) sold to Salmo Hotel owner William Gray; Salmo Hotel (I) moved to Block 4, Lot 11, and combined with Northern Hotel (I) to operate as Salmo Hotel on Block 4, Lots 10-11
April-July 1909: Addition built on Salmo Hotel (I) on Block 4, Lot 12
Dec. 15, 1909: Northern Hotel (II) (former Pioneer Hotel) burns down
May 6, 1910: Northern Hotel (III) opens on Block 4, Lots 6-7
ca. 1912: New facade ties together three buildings of Salmo Hotel (I) complex on Block 4, Lots 10-12
Feb. 25, 1929: Northern Hotel (III) burns down
Aug. 31, 1931: Salmo Hotel (I) burns down
April 1932: Salmo Hotel (II) opens on Block 4, Lots 10-11.
September 1952: Addition to Salmo Hotel (II) completed on Block 4, Lot 12.
1981: New old-fashioned facade added to Salmo Hotel (II), paying homage to original hotel
2000: Salmo Hotel (II) becomes the Bull Mountain Inn for the movie Out Cold
Sept. 15, 2023: Salmo Hotel (II) badly damaged by fire
Salmo Hotel owners/lessees
1896-1902: George Reid and Alice Linklater 1902-23: William and Ida Gray 1923-47: Ida Gray 1947-48: Leon Cremers, Burt Carlson 1948-52: Fred Faminow 1952-59: Salmo Hotel Ltd.
(Noble and Florence Armstrong, Frank and Elnore Burger) 1959-78: Steve Gora Sr. 1978-2007: Steve Jr. and Marion Gora 2007-21: Marion Gora 2021-present: John Mirko
I had a title search done for Block 4, Lot 12, which didn’t reveal a lot more than I already knew. Alice Linklater acquired the property from the West Kootenay Land Co. Ltd., but her name didn’t appear on the title until 1900, more than three years after the hotel was built. Ida Gray acquired it in 1902. While the license was transferred in 1947, title to the property did not change until 1951 when Fred Faminow was listed as the owner, followed in 1952 by Noble Armstrong, and later in 1952 by Salmo Holdings Ltd. This company continued to be listed as the title holder following subsequent ownership changes.
Updated on Sept. 30, 2023 to add another photo of the Northern and Salmo Hotels and info from the title search.