By Deborah Chapman
When a group of movers and shakers gathered in Salmon Arm in 1946, they had a vision.
W.E. Whitlock, Stuart C. Elliot, Ken A. Hunter, Newton S. Minion and Frank Marshall wanted to create a living memorial to the soldiers who did not return from the Second World War.
They also had a plan. They knew that Salmon Arm needed an arena. There had been no indoor skating since 1942 when the stockyard sheds burned at the Fall Fair grounds. The men wanted to create a community asset for all to enjoy while perpetuating a memory.
At the same time, a local entrepreneur was looking to retire. Matthew M. Carroll was the community undertaker, owned the sheet metal shop on the corner of Hudson and Alexander and operated the Rex Theatre. He had been the Police Commissioner for many years and served as an alderman. Carroll didn’t have to put an ad in the Observer. People just knew that he wanted to divest himself.
Someone in the group knew that Matty Carroll wanted to get out of the movie business. Carroll’s Rex Theatre was profitable. It, and its predecessor the Empress, had been in business long before Ethel Belli-Bivar played piano for the silent movies.
The five businessmen formed a society and began selling debentures and subscriptions to raise money to buy Carroll’s theatre in 1946. The next year Carroll sold his plumbing and heating business to Rollie Jamieson, and a newcomer, Thomas Bowers, bought the funeral home. Carroll moved to Vancouver.
The society decided to build a modern movie house. There was a lot available down the street on Alexander. Plans were drawn up that incorporated a familiar Second World War surplus-style Quonset Hhut for the seating area, fronted by an elegant Art Deco lobby.
The Salmar Board of Directors held a naming contest and, to the community’s excitement, opened the Salmar Theatre on May 5, 1949 ,with the movie “Life with Father.” Admission was 5¢ and there was a free matinee for school children.
The Salmar Community Association continues, to this day, to sell tickets, popcorn, and drinks. It has long since paid back its loans from community members. It raised money for the arena that opened in 1958. It continued to support the arena until 1972 when the District of Salmon Arm took over the operation, freeing the Salmar’s board to purchase the Starlite Drive-in, upgrade and enhance both the Salmar and Starlite theatres, grant scholarships, and support other community projects. The organization also managed to keep out competitors Odeon, Famous Players and Paramount theatres. Today the Salmar Community Association is the proud owner of a debt-free multiplex, the Salmar Grand, and continues to maintain the Classic for community use. M.M. Carroll would be impressed.
This 70-plus year history is the subject of an inspiring exhibit called Pass the Popcorn located in the Montebello Gallery at R.J. Haney Heritage Village. The Village is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven-days a week through August and Wednesday through Sunday to mid-September.
Deborah Chapman is the curator at RJ Haney Heritage Village and the Salmon Arm Museum.