February 15, 2012 · Updated 12:21 PM

Power on: Photographer Rex Lingford’s“Cleaning up Day Salmon Arm,” was taken after the city as powered up in 1913 and reveals the telephone and power poles. / archive

Celebrating the Heritage Society of B.C.’s theme used to be hard. Topics didn't always fit with the history collected at the museum at Haney Heritage Village. This month, the provincial theme is the history of electricity. The topic has voltage, but isn't lively. Besides, there are few images in the museum’s archives. No one at city hall or the Salmon Arm Observer thought to photograph the first switch being turned on at the community owned electric plant in 1913. Luckily, the Observer sent a reporter to cover the event.

Something as simple and taken for granted as electricity speaks volumes of how our community has changed. It connects to a time, pre First World War. One project undertaken by a relatively new city council was the electric light plant.

Council had the mandate to install power to participating households within city boundaries. Lobbying started in 1912. They offered a carrot to subscribers. A free gooseneck lamp for each porch.

The job of tracking historical events like this one used to be difficult. On days off from work, museum staff would sit and read the microfilmed newspaper at the public library.

Then the Salmon Arm branch of the Okanagan Historical Society donated cash to buy the museum its own film reader and copy of the Observer. The gift was huge, $15,000 raised by selling Denis Marshall’s history books one at a time. All of a sudden museum staff could look up the coverage at work, on staff time.  Life was better.

In those days Denis Marshall regularly came out to the museum. He was the former owner and publisher of the Observer and keen about community history.

He’d comment, “you need to index the paper,” correcting himself, "someone has to.”

So Denis began a project that he hadn’t intended to. He worked for two years, logging the daily happenings beginning in October 1907. His aim was to complete the years to 1950. Unfortunately, Denis fell ill to cancer and was only able to finish 1948.

Thanks to Denis, we know that the city first purchased lots on Front Street (Lakeshore) for a plant.  Mrs. McGuire had two lots on the other side of Palmer Street. near the city school.

The two properties were compared. Test holes proved Mrs. McGuire’s lots were superior. Taking the advice from consulting engineers Dutcher, Maxwell and Company of Vancouver, the City of Salmon Arm purchased Mrs. McGuire’s lots where the downtown fire hall sits today. With that purchase, the project was set in motion and a lovely brick plant built.

Telephone poles had been installed earlier in 1911. The company operating the telephone exchange, Okanagan Telephone, didn’t have a relationship with the City of Salmon Arm like it did in Enderby where the two sets of lines were strung on the same poles.

In Salmon Arm separate poles were installed. Telephone poles were painted white with a black base. Power poles were unpainted.  The two sets help isolate and date photographs by early photographers Rex Lingford and Frank Duncan.

Thanks to the Salmon Arm Observer and Denis Marshall, we’re able to research this and other topics. Salmon Arm has light and we’ve come a long way since the first switch was thrown. Diesel-powered electricity is a thing of the past and we’ve become used to calling it hydro. Of course Denis Marshall would correct us.