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Author mines Salmo history

Did you ever hear about the housewife who tried to kidnap a Golden Gloves contender at gunpoint just to liven up her party?

Or about Canada Bill Feeney, who lived outdoors while cruising timber at 30°F below?

They’re just a couple of the characters in Salmo Stories: Memories of a Place in the Kootenays, a new history book being launched this week by author and former resident Larry Jacobsen.

It’s really several books in one, for it reprints Rollie Mifflin’s long out-of-print memoir The Early Salmo Story in its entirety, and includes a previously unpublished manuscript by Cliff McIntosh, who arrived around 1904 and kept a journal.

Stumbling across the latter was sheer luck, according to Jacobsen.

“I went into a coffee house in Salmo and a guy had this photocopy of a photocopy he picked up at a garage sale,” he says. “A lot of the print was very difficult to read. But with a lot of hard work I managed to turn it into a readable manuscript.”

McIntosh, whom Jacobsen calls a “precocious youngster,” played piano at local dances as a teen. He left Salmo in 1920 and died in 1986, but not before completing an autobiography, which few have seen. Jacobsen tracked down McIntosh’s sisters in Williams Lake, who gave him permission to use the material.

There’s also a history of the Grutchfield and Hearn families, early pioneers, compiled by Nellie McLaughlin, nee Grutchfield, who was born in Salmo and lived to 102.

Jacobson further drew on family stories collected by the Salmo museum and supplemented them with over 100 interviews to paint a picture of the community from the 1890s to 1960s. (It took him almost three years and close to 3,000 hours.)

The accounts vary in style, but while Jacobsen edited them for space and readability, he tried to preserve each person’s voice. “I introduce each storyteller and my connection to them,” he says. “Apart from that I get out of the way.”

They’re presented roughly in chronological order of each family’s arrival, beginning with the above-mentioned Feeney, who showed up in 1892, even before construction of the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway put Salmo on the map.

What struck Jacobsen most was how tough people had to be to survive in the wilderness.

“Self-sufficient would be the best term,” he says. “It came through over and over again. I think some of it is genetic.”

That might explain Feeney’s daughter, who at 81 is a full-time office manager for a hardware supplier in Langley, as well as three women in their mid-90s Jacobsen interviewed who still live independently.

The other recurring theme he heard was that Salmo was a good place to grow up, where everyone looked out for each other. While neighbouring mining towns like Ymir and Erie stagnated after their initial booms, Salmo remained viable thanks in part to its location.

In the 1950s, it was a hub for three major mining operations — the HB, Canex, and Remac — and after those deposits played out, logging and farming ensured the community’s survival.

The 377-page book builds on Jacobsen’s previous work, Jewel of the Kootenays, about Canex’s Emerald mine. Its 467 photos include many published for the first time.

And that housewife-turned-kidnapper? Kay Read. With her house party proving dull, she donned a mask, grabbed a rifle, and stopped the first passing car, planning to force its occupants to join them. The victim was Dick Grimm, a local truck driver and boxer. Unaware it was Read, he brushed the rifle aside and punched her in the face.

“The next day she’s got this great big shiner and gets pulled over for a driving infraction,” Jacobsen says. “The Mountie took one look and said ‘Oh, I heard about you. You’ve got enough trouble. Get out of here!’”

What’s more, Jacobsen says it isn’t the only attempted kidnapping in the book.

His launch tour begins Thursday night at the Castlegar library at 7 p.m. He’s at Touchstones Nelson at 1 p.m. on Saturday, and at the Salmo museum on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

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