Two plaques have been installed to explain the role of Salmon Arm’s Memorial Arena as a tribute to Second World War veterans – one in the arena and another in the Salmar Classic Theatre.
Longtime Salmar Community Association member Gary Brooke grew up in Salmon Arm.
Born shortly after the war, Brooke remembers the stories of sacrifice and service.
He also remembers how a group called the Salmon Arm Co-operative formed in 1946 to build a memorial to honour local veterans.
“I think something has been lost in community history, and I find it kind of distressing when you think of what Salmon Arm was like in 1946,” he says, noting the late Ernie Doe’s history of Salmon Arm contains a wealth of information.
Brooke says Salmon Arm was not a wealthy town and already had a long history of co-operatives, including the Farmers Exchange, Tappen Co-op and The Creamery.
Before the Salmon Arm Co-operative could build an arena, they had to find a way to fund it. They decided on showing movies and using admission fees, but the old Rex Theatre on Alexander Street was old and beyond repair.
So, the co-op purchased land across the street and set about raising funds to build their own theatre.
To become a member of the co-op, supporters had to pony up $25 – a large sum in 1946.
Brooke says the plaques contain a very abbreviated history of how the co-operative moved forward and opened a brand new theatre in May 1949.
The Quonset, or culvert as Brooke calls it, was named the Salmar Classic Theatre, an engraving of which is on both plaques.
“When the theatre was opened in 1949, the assets were transferred to a new entity called the Salmon Arm Community Association,” says Brooke. It is the same society today, but in 1987 they changed the name to Salmar Community Association because it was getting mixed up with the group who were fundraising for the rec centre.”
As now, profits were re-invested in the community.
“Based on what is in Ernie Doe’s history, roughly three-quarters of the cost of the arena came from Salmar operations,” Brooke says. “The arena was built and opened in 1958 but there was not enough money to put ice in – it took another three years before they could skate.”
In the interim, the arena, now called the Salmon Arm Savings and Credit Union Indoor Memorial Sports Complex, was used for other activities, including fall fair.
“The Salmar Association continued to pump money into the arena until 1972,” says Brooke, calling the old Salmar Theatre the arena’s umbilical cord until 1972 when the District of Salmon Arm took over operations. “It was all done to create a memorial to veterans; that’s what I think is so sad and that’s why when Salmar had a chance to work with the legion (to build a new building) it was a no-brainer. Without the veterans Salmar wouldn’t exist.”
Brooke says remembering and continuing to honour veterans is important.
“They were just kids, all the men and women,” he says noting of 14 million Canadians at the time, more than one million were wearing uniforms. “I think we owe it to them not to lose track of the purpose.”