A researcher asked me that last week.

I’ve been a resident of Salmon Arm since 1989 and had always assumed the name was related to an underground tank near the police station. I believed it was the water supply for those downhill. But, that wasn’t the true origin of the name.

A quick search of the Salmon Arm Observer index showed it goes back to at least 1923 when the Tank Hill section of the “Enderby Road” was doubled.

Denis Marshall’s book Salmon Arm’s Historic Routes described Turner Hill as "tank hill". He went on to say that, “. . . there was an eight-sided wooden water tower opposite the Junglemania building, on the Trans-Canada Highway, [which was] part of the early City of Salmon Arm water system.”

Opposite was a bit vague. Where was it really?

I emailed Darin Gerow at Public Works about the tanks I thought were by the police station.

Darin said, “Yes there are two tanks in the ground by the police station. One is a 200,000 gallon structure built around 1947. The second has a 250,000-gallon capacity and was built in 1981." Both are currently used as water reservoirs.

Darin confirmed that the older reservoir is called Skelton Reservoir. I made another assumption that the reservoir was named for a former mayor, Bob Skelton, who worked full time as the head of the creamery.

Time to go back to the newspaper index with another word: “Reservoir.”

In 1947, work started on the 200,000 gallon Harvey water reservoir. Concrete was poured in December and the City hooked up by the following summer.

In 1951, the name changed from Harvey to Skelton. Darin was contacted again. Yup. The name was right. And so was the size.

Still, there were more questions.

Was the Harvey Reservoir on Helenita and Bob Harvey’s property near the police station? Where brides and grooms had their wedding photos taken? Where the original willow trees that beget all the current willows at McGuire lake park?

So I went back to the newspaper index. This time, for “Harvey.”

They got married in 1943, had a birth announcement posted in 1946, and baptized the baby “Mary Ellen” a few months later.

Then, in 1947, the Harvey property was secured for a reservoir and a new road was built between Lakeshore and the Trans-Canada Highway through the Harvey and Sinclair properties.

I was pretty sure I had the right Harvey. I emailed Helenita’s daughter, Val Smith. Val confirmed that the tank was on “their” property, so the name Harvey Reservoir made sense.

She said: “the tank was on our property, or at least right beside it. I always thought the Tank of Tank Hill belonged to us when I was a kid. In the winter we tobogganed down the mound over the reservoir and in the summer it served as our backstop for our small ball diamond where neighborhood kids played scrub softball games . . . I wonder why they renamed it?”

Another answer to find. 

The renaming was timely.

A search of the BC Archives showed that Skelton died suddenly (at the age of 65) in 1950. He had congestive heart failure.

Skelton was Mayor of the City of Salmon Arm, the downtown core, from 1943-1946. He was an alderman before that. He was a trained butter- and cheesemaker and graduated from Ontario Agricultural College with a BSc.

But where was the original "tank" of tank hill? I still didn’t have an answer to that initial question.

Private detectives, like archivists, have their sources. Mine was John Pottie.

For those who don’t know John, he was a Salmon Arm Museum board member for years. He grew up in Salmon Arm except for the years he was sent away to St. George’s in Vancouver.

John remembered the stave tank. Where was it, I asked?

“About where the Uptown Credit Union is today.”


“Oh, it was there in the mid-1940s.”

“I can tell you about it. My friend, David Hugh Barton, he’s still alive you know, played in the area.

We were being punished one summer and weren’t allowed to go to the beach. We discovered that something had undermined the footings on the tank. There was a hole between the posts. Water must have overflowed. That’s how we crawled underneath the outer structure to the ladder that went 20 feet up to the water supply. It was an outside wall, kind of a tank within a tank. It was about four feet tall.

We were just kids. Maybe ten.”

I could tell where this story was going. I asked John if he came prepared.

“I imagine we stripped down. Returning home in wet clothes would have been a giveaway. We climbed up the tower and went swimming.”

John chuckled. He ran into Hugh a while back and reminded them of the adventure.

“There was a shake roof. It wasn’t tight, so gave us light to see – there were rays in the water. It was magical.”

And John admitted that they did it more than once, but it had to be really hot out because the water was so cold.

I laughed and told John that I hoped the town’s water supply wasn’t compromised!

No images have been discovered in the archival holdings - but this trench was dug through the McGuire/Turner orchard to town in 1914. Where was the source?

No matter how hard this archivist squints, she can't identify the tank's location in this archival photograph dated 1928.

But the Jim Hall 2001 photograph below shows the intersection with the tanks buried east of the RCMP station in the lower right corner. The photo was taken before the underpass was installed. 

Post Script:

Thank you Morgan Reichlin for your drawing of the featured  watertower image.