One-hundred sixty-ninth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Salmo is the Latin form of salmon and takes its name from the Salmon River (now Salmo River) that flows through it.
In British Columbia Place Names, G.P.V. and Helen Akrigg said the river was mentioned as early as 1859, but the first reference we can find is in the Victoria Daily Colonist of July 28, 1864: “Another party of miners have also arrived from the Salmon River mountains, who report rich discoveries both of quartz and placer diggings on the new trail made by the citizens of Colville from the mouth of the Pen D’Oreille to Kootenais. [sic]” (There are four other Salmon rivers in BC, but none in the Kootenays, so it’s a good bet they were talking about ours.)
The site that became Salmo was called Laprairie on Perry’s Mining Map of March 1893. Although the description was accurate, that name doesn’t appear in any other source. A settlement had appeared by that time, though, because contractor Pete Larson had his headquarters there during construction of the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway.
It was rough place, first mentioned in connection with the murder of camp cook Stephen (or Steven) Hamlin, who was robbed and kicked to death following a poker game. A warrant was issued for Billy O’Brien, “a notorious ruffian,” but he skipped across the border and was never heard of again.
The Nelson Tribune of Oct. 5, 1893 reported: “The scene of the crime was a saloon in Salmon City situated near the forks of Salmon river and about two miles from where the Nelson and Fort Shepherd [sic] railway crosses the north fork of the Salmon. Besides being the contractors’ headquarters, it is the rendezvous of the placer miners on Salmon and Hall creeks.”
When the Nelson and Fort Sheppard’s stations were announced in the Tribune on Dec. 14, 1893, Salmon City was simply called Salmon. But it was also known as Salmon Siding, for five days earlier the Nelson Miner mentioned mining properties “located at about seven miles from Salmon Siding.”
Three years later, the area experienced a mini-boom. A Vancouver Daily World correspondent wrote on Nov. 9, 1896: “G.R. Linklater has opened a store at Salmon Siding, which by the way may be called Salmon City before many years.” (In fact, as we’ve seen, it had already been called that.)
That same month the name was changed to Salmo. Why and by whom?
Postmaster Sidney Ross, replying in 1906 to an inquiry from James White of the Canadian Geographic Survey, said: “Salmo was first named by the Nelson and Fort Shepherd [sic] Railway Salmon but the townsite company (Messrs. Davies-Sayward of Victoria) changed it to Salmo.”
A story in the Trail Daily Times of Aug. 5, 1957 suggested the name “was cut down from Salmon Siding on the insistence of Caddy Donaldson and others …”
In the March 1959 edition of Cominco Magazine, Rollie Mifflin further explained: “Salmo [was] called Salmon Siding by the people who built the railway in 1893. The townsite owners disliked the name. It is said that the postal authorities took the view that there were already too many places with the word salmon in their names. After some discussion the word Salmo, a contraction of salmon, and in fact the scientific name for the family of fish to which salmon and trout belong, was selected.”
The Rossland Miner of Nov. 27, 1896 announced “There has been quite a business done during the last ten days in ‘Salmon’ townsite lots. It is said to be a beautiful level spot, and well situated for a supply point for the Salmon River country. We are informed that over 130 lots have been sold in the last ten days, Smith, Dean & Co., Rossland are sole agents.”
The next day the Nelson Miner revealed the original townsite survey was done by an American, but because he wasn’t a BC land surveyor, his work wasn’t accepted. John Maclure, the father of noted architect Samuel Maclure, was brought in to redo it.
The first newspaper mention of the new name was in the Vancouver Daily World of Nov. 28: “The principal owners … have taken the initiative in laying out a townsite at the spot hitherto known as Salmon Siding and to be known as Salmo.”
Maclure’s initial survey plan covered 33 blocks, including Main and 1st through 7th streets, plus Baker, Sayward, Davies, Railway, Hutcheson, and Maclure avenues. Apparently you got to name a street after yourself if you surveyed the townsite. The other avenues were named for principals in the West Kootenay Land Co., which owned the property.
Only eight blocks were divided into lots by the time the initial plan was deposited with the land registry on April 13, 1897, but Maclure divided the rest and deposited a revised plan on July 3.
So to recap, the name was either Laprairie or Salmon City for a few months, Salmon or Salmon Siding for three years, and Salmo for the next 120 years and counting.
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