After 66 years in the same family, Salmo’s most prominent building has been sold.
On Aug. 17, a deal closed that saw mining executive John Mirko acquire the Salmo Hotel from Marion Gora for an undisclosed sum.
Gora’s father-in-law, Steve Gora, bought the historic building in 1955. She and her late husband, Steve Jr., took it over in 1978. She’s been involved in running it ever since, although it’s been for sale for more than a decade. Many prospective buyers have looked at the building over the years, and a few made offers, but until now none were able to follow through.
“Oh my gosh, so many people,” Gora says. “Everybody had to sell their house first, or do this or do that. Even after I lowered [the price] quite a bit … It’s just a big, big relief. A headache gone.”
Gora says she considered closing the hotel many times, and was going to do exactly that if this sale didn’t go through: “I made up my mind, more or less. I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
She kept the hotel going this long out of loyalty to longtime customers. At their urging, she was also choosy about who to sell it to.
Gora has lived in Salmo for 60 years and recalls when the village was still a mining hub in the 1960s and ‘70s. Back then, the hotel did a roaring business.
“It used to be crazy,” Gora says. “If you weren’t in the bar by 4 p.m. on Friday you wouldn’t get a seat. We had two hotels, and it was the same in both. We had the sawmills, the mines. Now people have changed their ways, and have one or two beer, but as far as going out and partying all the time, it just doesn’t happen.”
‘Ugly old box’
The original Salmo Hotel was built on the same site in 1896 and sold around 1902 to William and Ida Gray. (Gora has a connection to them too: they were her first husband’s grandparents.)
While the town briefly had nine or 10 hotels, the Salmo was one of only a couple that survived beyond the early years of the 20th century. In 1909, the Grays combined several adjacent buildings into a much expanded hotel, which included space for a barber shop, men’s clothing store, and branch of the Royal Bank. A common facade with balconies tied them all together.
Ida continued to run the hotel after her husband’s death in 1923 with help from her son Archie. But in 1931, a fire in a nearby home spread to the hotel and three other buildings, destroying them all.
While they carried no insurance, the Grays nevertheless rebuilt. Their new hotel, completed the following year, was originally a Tudor-style building, with white stucco and blue shutters. It may have been a late work by prolific Nelson architect Alex Carrie.
The Grays sold the hotel in the 1940s and it changed hands several more times before Steve Gora Sr. acquired it. An addition was built on the southwest side in 1952. But by the time Marion Gora and her husband assumed management 25 years later, she says it “looked like an ugly old box.”
In 1981, Salmo took advantage of provincial funding for a downtown revitalization project and, working with guidelines prepared by local designer Bob Inwood, chose a turn-of-the-20th-century theme.
Inspired by photos of the first Salmo Hotel, a new facade was constructed on two sides of the present hotel, complete with wraparound balconies. Although not actually a restoration, the job was so well done that it continues to fool people into thinking the hotel is much older than it really is.
“One guy stood on the back of his truck to take a picture, stopping traffic,” Gora says. “Another guy from Nova Scotia did up a postcard of the hotel and sent it to us.”
The facelift succeeded in turning what had long been a community focal point into a tourist attraction.
Before her husband died, Gora tended the bar. Later, she worked in the beer and wine store that opened in part of the building. In recent years, she’s filled in whenever someone was sick.
No major changes
New owner John Mirko is very familiar with the West Kootenay through his extensive mining background, which has included projects at Trout Lake, Duncan Lake, and the Salmo Valley.
He first spent time in the hotel in 1976 as a young prospector and has maintained friendships in Salmo ever since. He’s co-owned a Vancouver restaurant and has looked after providing room and board in mining camps, but this is his first crack at running a hotel proper.
“It’s not anything you’re going to get rich doing, but it had been on the market for years and I didn’t want to see it covered with plywood,” he says.
“I love historical things. Because I travel up and down B.C. and do work in the Yukon, I watch these buildings come down. It seemed like something I could help avoid happening here. Keep people on the payroll and keep it running. Maybe make some money, but if not, have some fun anyways.”
Mirko has kept on all of the staff. His daughter is now managing the hotel along with another woman who worked with him on some of his mining projects.
He says they aren’t planning any major changes, but the building will get a general cleaning and sprucing up, along with some electrical and plumbing upgrades. He’d also like to see the balcony opened as a dining area.
“It’s a small town and everyone has opinions of what you should or should not be doing, but we’re going to give it our best shot,” Mirko says. “It’s a really iconic hotel.”
Mirko, who has a home in the Okanagan, travels extensively to various mining sites around the world, but expects to be in Salmo occasionally, renewing old acquaintances. A few weeks ago in the hotel bar he ran into a man he hadn’t seen since the early 1980s.