An old survey was recently donated to the Salmon Arm Museum. The plan was folded in three and came by Canada Post in a legal envelope with a single stamp on it. It had a Washington return address. 

The Museum’s book keeper, Mary, picked up the mail at the post office. It was an ordinary looking letter. She opened it. Tucked inside were a copy of an email and a technical drawing on drafting linen. The ink drawing was carefully folded around a piece of acid-free padding. Salmon Arm plan.jpg

The donor had emailed ahead, trying to find a good home for the plan. He knew it was special. He wrote that he had rescued it decades earlier when it was destined for an office dust bin. 

The plan was hand-drawn by R.H. Lee and dated 1895. It made reference to the railway and Salmon Arm’s Station. Three streets were listed: Front, Main, and Cameron. None of the street names stood the test of time. The names have disappeared. Lee noted the legal description, NE ¼ Section 14, Township 20 Range 10, and titled the work “Plan of Townsite of Salmon Arm, B.C.” 

I knew that the NE ¼ belonged to Mrs. Agnes McGuire in 1895, so figured she likely commissioned the survey. But who was Lee, the surveyor?

A little internet research found Robert Henry Lee in Kamloops from 1884 to 1935. Ohio born, Lee immigrated to Canada in 1881, arriving in Kamloops in 1884 to work as a civil engineer and land surveyor. Lee served as Mayor of the City of Kamloops from 1894 to 1896. In May, 1895 he began advertising as an architect. In 1898 Lee was appointed as the City Engineer until his retirement in 1928. Lee passed away in Kamloops in 1935 at the age of 76. 

I wondered if there was more to the story. Robert Henry Lee image.jpg

Scott Owens at the Mary Balf Archives in Kamloops knew the name. Lee had designed many buildings in Kamloops including the Roman Catholic Church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, the Bank of British Columbia, the Robson & Lee Store, residences for R.E. Smith and Frederick Young, and alterations to the Gaol and Courthouse. 

Because he worked as an architect too, I wondered if the plans to Cameron House were Lee’s collection in the Kamloops Museum. “Were there any plans of buildings with Mansard roofs?” I asked Scott, thinking of the first hotel in Salmon Arm. 

Scott told me that, of the surviving collection of Lee’s drawings in the archives, only one had a Mansard roof. It was the Bank of British Columbia, built in 1887. 

I needed help understanding the extent of the survey. Jon Turlock at City Hall looked at the digital version of the plan.
“Lots 1 through 12 are on the north side of Hudson Avenue between Shuswap and Alexander,” Jon wrote. “This distance seems correct.”
  Jon agreed that Cameron St. could be the road to the inner core, “but the north-south measurements on the plan don’t add up. Lot 6 would be quite a bit south of the corner of Alexander and Lakeshore.” 
“The plan is signed by R.H. Lee. Have you seen that name before?” Jon asked. 

No I hadn’t. I wanted to see if this plan was on record. I contacted my surveyor of choice, Joe Johnson. Joe and I had worked on an exhibit together more than a decade ago. He has always taken the time to answer my questions.

Joe hadn’t seen the plan before either, but he had other resources. He connected me with Robert Allen, a member of the Association of B.C. Land Surveyors.

Robert referred me to the publication L.S. Group, British Columbia’s First Land Surveyors. Lee had also laid out the Kamloops, Nicola, Merritt, and Princeton town sites and was involved in the construction of the Nicola Valley and Similkameen Railway from Spence’s Bridge to Princeton. That’s where I found a hint to Lee’s work ethic.

“No man wanted to go a second time on a survey with Lee. He went at a terrific pace,” concluded the article.

I told Joe about who I thought Cameron Street was named for. cameron house.jpg
J.D. Cameron had come to Salmon Arm to build a hotel. He had been running the Landsdowne Hotel near Armstrong and the Victoria Hotel in Vernon before that. Cameron might have thought Salmon Arm would be a choice location because it was on the CPR mainline. There were no other hotels in the community. His hotel would be the first on the scene. Cameron purchased the biggest lot on the survey.

In any event, the yeays outnumbered the nays and Cameron’s petition for a license was successful. In 1895 he hired Mr. Bolton to build the hotel for $2,475. It was a unique piece of architecture for Salmon Arm: two storeys high and a Mansard roof that could be easily seen from the Salmon Arm Station. That same summer, Father Augustine Dontenwill offered Mass in the sitting room of the hotel.  In December Father Edmond Peytavin, an Oblate from the Kamloops Mission, baptized Grace Cameron - the first Baptism on record in Salmon Arm. Coronation Hotel.jpg

Cameron ran his hotel for seven years before selling it in 1902. He moved to the Valley to farm, purchasing the R. Davis property. Did it matter that Mrs. R. Davis was one of the original I.O.G.T. tee-totalers? I wonder what the other members of the failed I.O.G.T. Lodge thought of their new neighbour? We’ll probably never know. 

We’ll also never know if Lee, the surveyor and architect, designed Cameron’s hotel. 

And we’ll probably never know why the name Cameron Street, now the access to Salmon Arm’s inner core parking lot, was dropped on the next known survey in 1906.

We do know the Robert H. Lee, the Mayor of Kamloops, was working in Salmon Arm, surveying so that Mrs. McGuire could subdivide her farm. 

I wonder if Lee stayed overnight at Mrs. McGuire’s rooming house. Since she was a Methodist, she probably did not offer him a drink after he was finished work. The offer would have been turned down, anyway. Lee would have been in a hurry to catch his train back to Kamloops.

Image of Robert Henry Lee, L.S.  from publication

The L.S. Group, British Columbia’s First Land SurveyorsThe book can be ordered from the website: BC Land Surveyors,