What's a road trip to visit the Salmo stone murals without a great road? The Salmo-Creston Highway is a steep and winding section of Highway 3 – the same highway that runs through Alberta's Crowsnest Pass. In BC, Highway 3 crosses Kootenay Pass in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, Canada.
Kootenay Pass sits at an elevation of 1,775 metres (5,823 ft) above sea level. It doesn't sound like much, but the drive from Creston is up, up, up for about 40 kilometres (25 mi) before reaching the summit. As a result of the big climb and shorter distance on the descent, it's even steeper down the other side towards our stone mural stop in Salmo!
Salmo, British Columbia
Salmo is an old mining town in the middle of the Salmo River Valley – about a half hour drive south of Nelson, B.C. In the 1880s and 1890s, prospectors found gold alongside the mountains near Salmo. As a result, the area boomed with activity.
Today, the town is a quiet testament to its heydays. Most people drive on by, but they are missing out on the unique artwork that graces the walls of several of the town's buildings. In the same way that Chemainus created a tourism attraction, Salmo seeks to draw in visitors with one-of-a-kind murals.
In 1990, a quarry owner named Iris Lamb was looking for a way to jumpstart stone sales. Creating demand for the product seemed like a good idea. As a result, the Stone Masonry Training Institute opened. As soon as local artist Charlotte Planidin came onboard, she created murals speaking to the vast cultural and natural history of the area. Charlotte designed and – with some help – created the very first stone mural in Salmo. It is a detailed, 6.7 metre high by 8.5 metre long (22' x 28') image of a placer miner complete with gold pan in hand.
Following on the footsteps of this amazing piece of art came five more murals. These were training projects for the students of the Stone Masonry Institute. In light of this focus, Charlotte Planidin designed each image and the students completed the work. Instead of paint by number, they were rock by number pieces of art.
These artists created Salmo's stone murals using local Flagstone. The flagstone is quarried in the nearby mountains from layers of hard quartz sandstone or quartzite. Furthermore, this quartzite is old. Really old. In fact, it was formed about 540 million years ago.
Quartzite is naturally white in colour but rusting of iron-bearing minerals such as pyrite can stain the rock brown, tan, yellow or cream. In other words, this creates a palette of colours for use in the design. Old rock, new mural – it's a melding of history and art.
Because the Village of Salmo is small, it's worthwhile parking your vehicle to take a little tour of the town and its art. Park along Railway Avenue (Highway 6) near Main Street. Walk along Railway Avenue to the first mural on the back wall of the Salmo Museum (the placer miner).
Continue along Railway Avenue past the historic Salmo Hotel to the Salmo Community Services building where a life-sized elk pops out of the side of the building! Both elk and bighorn sheep – focus of another mural on the opposite side of the building – are common wildlife found in the area.
Turn around head back to the Salmo Hotel for a glimpse of life underground. The mining mural is exquisitely designed with dark rock that draws you into the depths of the mine. The ore in the cart is actual ore donated by local residents Maxine and Doug Lukey.
Now head down 4th Street past the museum to Davies Avenue where springboard loggers stand waiting on the corner. This Salmo stone mural mural depicts a type of historic logging in the area. Note the level of detail in the creases of the clothing on the loggers perched on springboards notched into the massive tree they are cutting down.
Keep heading down 4th Street to Baker Avenue and the fiercest of the murals – a massive grizzly bear complete with long white claws and some seriously sharp teeth. Rock on!
New Rock Mural
Six stone murals have graced the walls of several buildings in the town of Salmo for the past 30 years or so, but there's a new kid in town. Another stone mural has been added to this one-of-a-kind attraction in 2020.
Local artist Tia Reyden created the design. A local mason, Jason Bourne, captured the picture in stone. The swimming salmon stone mural is located in the fence line in front of the recycling centre. You might want to do a quick drive by of this one – or stretch your legs with a little longer stroll to 1017 Glendale Ave. Note: Main Street curves around to become Glendale Avenue past the bear mural on Baker Avenue.
There are plans for two more painted murals to flank the rock art in the future. You can watch a short video of the mural-making process - or better yet, take a road trip to Salmo and see it for yourself!