The first CP Rail. station built on the north side of the tracks. This photograph was taken between 1909 and 1913 by Rex Lingford. (Salmon Arm Museum photo)

Railway carried mail, circus animals and royalty to Salmon Arm

  • Feb. 15, 2020 10:00 a.m.

By Deborah Chapman


Imagine how excited the community was when Charles McGuire was awarded Salmon Arm’s first mail contract in 1890!

Settlers could pick up their mail at the counter in his log store during his regular retail hours, at their convenience, rather than having to meet the train’s baggage man during its brief stop here on the single track.

Charles would keep settlers’ correspondence, parcels and newspapers until they made it into town.

The year the mail contract was awarded, the Canadian Pacific Railway opened a station on the north, or lake side of the railway tracks. The community of 200 was better connected to the outside world.

But its location was unfortunate. In 1894, water completely submerged the tracks between the Reserve and Dan Sinclair’s farm. A.J. Palmer had a hard time shipping his milk to Kamloops. He had to row his milk cans by boat to the C.P.R. slough bridge to make the train, and water was so high it periodically extinguished the fires in the trains’ engines.

A new station was constructed in 1913 nearer town, on the town side of the track and on slightly higher ground. Late passengers no longer had to crawl under a train in depot to purchase tickets from the station master’s wife.

Read more: Looking back: Salmon Arm gives royal welcome to Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth

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The railway station was an important link for Salmon Arm. Strawberries, milk, apples and other fruit were shipped to markets. Residents took the rail to Kamloops, Revelstoke and Vancouver and points between and beyond.

The three trains a day were also a source of entertainment. Town folks strolled to the station. They were curious. Who was visiting? Who was back from away? Did anyone notice when Jimmy Day boarded the train to elope to Vancouver with Daisy Gerrard? Did the couple buy their tickets separately?

All the while the McGuire family took care of the mail until Sam McGuire resigned in 1912, and a new post office was built on Front Street. J.L. Jackson was appointed post master and served until 1950. He hired Vern Trotman in 1922 and Trotty became a familiar site walking his cart to the railway station to pick up and send the community’s mail.

The railway brought the Al G. Barnes’ Wild Animal Circus, Rice Brothers Circus and King Brothers Circus, including their animals. It loaded thousands of boxes of apples each fall.

At the station the community bade farewell to Salmon Arm’s young men excited to enlist in two wars. The railway also brought royalty. Although her father King George VI and his Queen Elizabeth did not stop in Salmon Arm in 1939, the community gathered to welcome Princess Elizabeth in 1951. The 10-minute stop was long enough for Clarice Cameron to present a bouquet of flowers to the future queen and Mary Meek to have a private chat.

Read more: Celebrating Shuswap history

In 1982 Pierre Elliot Trudeau gave three people his famous salute with his son and future P.M. on board.

In 1990 the last passenger train stopped at the station.

The station has been painted, re-roofed, and repurposed by the CP Rail. According to sources close to the museum, when a new furnace was installed ice formed on the roof. The company added supports for the eaves.

In 2011, the Community Heritage Commission proposed adding the station to our Heritage Register.

Now more than 30 trains pass through our community daily.

A new bypass is planned for 2020 to allow traffic unimpeded access to both sides of the tracks while the 107-year-old heritage building witnesses yet another change.

Join the celebration of Bringing the Past into the Future during Heritage Week. To see displays courtesy of the Salmon Arm Museum at R.J. Haney Heritage Village and others, visit the Mall at Piccadilly between February 18 and 22nd.

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