Every once in a while a photograph gets inspected and new discoveries made in the archives. It happened this month when Susan Mackie, R.J. Haney Heritage Village’s GM, asked, “do you have a photograph of the Sprig of Heather?” Susan wanted a photo of the lunch room that served Salmon Arm patrons from 1914 through the war years.

I knew I had a photograph of the sign and references in the newspaper, but a shot of the building? Not likely.

The newspaper mentioned the opening of the tea room in 1914. It was in the Ashton Cottage. I checked the fire insurance plan for 1910. There was only one house on any of the Palmer/Alexander intersection corners: on the north west. No one knows when Ashton had the cottage built but a W. Ashton had a telephone listing in town from 1913-1914.

I went to all the street views of Alexander Avenue, knowing the Sprig of Heather was located on the corner of Alexander and Palmer. History buffs will tell you that Palmer was swallowed up by the Trans Canada in 1952 when it bypassed Salmon Arm, in stead of turning north onto Alexander and west at Bedford’s Corner on Front Street.

On a hunch I did a search through the digitized photograph album of Nina Stirling, knowing that she or one of her sisters was once an owner of the “Sprig” as staff call it at the Village. According to the Salmon Arm Observer, Miss Stirling went into business with a Mrs. Simm and launched their tea room at the Ashton Cottage – with plans to open a circulating library in the facility. They initially advertised catering to the fairer sex who wanted a cup of tea when in town shopping, but ran a correction in the newspaper a week later saying gentlemen were also welcome. The women opened the Sprig of Heather on May 7, and by the time Rex Lingford photographed the tax payer’s “Cleaning Up Day” in June, a new sign was in place on the street.

In 1915 Mrs. J.K. (Rachel) Gardner, a friend to the Stirling family, took over the tea room and operated it for two years. In 1916 a photograph was taken of Radha Gardner, her mother Rachel Gardner, and an unidentified young woman on the front lawn of the cottage. A year later Mrs. Gardner put an ad in the newspaper calling the business a going concern with an offer for sale. The Observer reported that Mrs. A.A. Read purchased “the Sprig” in 1917.

By 1918 the Health Board was closing schools and banning events and public gatherings. The Spanish ‘flu was spreading through the community.

By 1919 the tea room had closed its doors permanently and the cottage became the home of Mr. and Mrs. Marcus Pott, who returned to the community.

But how could I prove where was the Sprig located, a hundred and six years later? Lingford’s 1914 Clean up Day clearly shows the business sign. We always assumed that the tearoom was on the north east side of the intersection near the sign, in an unassuming building with posters pealing off of it. When the photographs of the owner, Mrs. Gardner, surfaced in Nina Stirling’s photograph album in 2017 a light bulb turned on!
The photo was taken on a lawn, with a fence defining a yard, with the E.H. Grier Contractor across the street. Looking closely at the photograph showed that Grier had the unassuming building with posters peeling from its south walls. Grier was a contractor who was also a chimney sweep. He was a contemporary and could not have shared his space with the tearoom proprietors!

According to the President of the Okanagan Historical Society – Salmon Arm Branch and grand daughter of W.J. Honey, Linda Painchaud, south of Grier’s building was another small building that looked like home with an addition on it. It was the Studio – the business belonging to Rex Lingford and W.J. Honey, the town photographers. In 1914 Lingford and Honey were back in business together, dividing their work. Lingford took the landscape photographs and Honey specialized in portraiture. Things were falling into place.

Several landscape photographs showed the cottage in question with its pretty gingerbread decorative trim. Not many buildings in Salmon Arm had ridge cresting on their roofs. The lot had the same rail fence as the photograph of the women – probably to keep horses out, and a lovely deck wrapped around three sides of the building.

Why was the sign across the street? There was no arrow to point to the cottage. History buff Linda Painchaud offered one plausible explanation.

“It is one of those puzzles that I wish someone from the day could tell us why! That would put it close to or behind the Tavern Inn, if I am thinking correctly.”

“Just a thought,” Linda added. “People drove on the left hand side of the road then. Perhaps it was more visible from that side of the street.”

Perhaps indeed. Salmon Arm’s first billboard!


Miss Stirling could be one of three daughters of C.J.R. Stirling who came to Salmon Arm in 1910. Nina was the photographer and only 17 in 1914. Ethel was 22, but madly in love with Roderick Belli-Bivar, and determinedly followed him to England to marry in 1915. Elvira was 28. Elvira left the community to study nursing in 1918. It would be so nice to solve this mystery too!