Century Sam

Fibreglass and paint.

In 1958 British Columbia celebrated the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Colony of British Columbia, using the theme of the 1858 Gold Rush. Women tried on old family historic clothing for picnics and pioneer events. Men dressed as gold miners and entered beard-growing competitions. Voyageurs and Overlanders canoed down the Fraser River. Stagecoaches went up to the goldfields, followed by station wagons of tourists. Antique automobiles climbed through the Rockies towards the coast. Nanaimo baked the world’s biggest birthday cake. A Royal Princess toured the province and a naval regatta was held. It was loud and brash, slightly crazy, filled with optimism and a lot of fun.

In the middle of 1958 was a cheerful mascot-like cartoon figure, an 1858 miner who had just woken up after a 100 year sleep, Century Sam. The idea of Provincial Secretary Lawrie Wallace, Sam was created by Bob Banks, a Vancouver illustrator. First seen in 1956 Century Sam was given out to allow for promotion, community use, and inclusion on goods being sold during the celebration. Century Sam, a cheerful gold miner, would welcome the world to British Columbia’s birthday party.

Century Sam was an instant hit and reappeared in other centennials that followed 1958. In 1966 he was at the 100th anniversary of the United Colony. Bob Banks introduced him to a companion, Centennial Sue. The couple often appeared as square dancers. In 1967 Sam and Sue celebrated Canada’s centennial and they attended the Province’s 100th birthday in 1971. It was a long career as a professional party starter!

Sam also caught the attention of Roger Elias. Roger worked in the first firm to use fibreglass in BC’s marine industry. His fibreglass and wood Century Sam was a three dimensional prototype for a BC Parks contract, one that sadly never happened. Roger’s Century Sam went home but continued to welcome one and all on the Elias family lawn on BC Day, before finding a final home in our collection in 2007.

Today in light of decolonization and reconciliation we more know far more about the Gold Rush and its violent past: smallpox devastation; the Fraser Canyon War; the hanging of the Chilcotin Chiefs who sought peace; the creation of reserves; and mining’s early environmental record. It is a far cry from the cheerful enthusiasm of Century Sam.

For more on about BC centennials see Dr. Mia Reimer’s doctoral dissertation, especially chapter 5 on the response of British Columbia’s Indigenous communities. Lawrie Wallace’s papers are held here at the BC Archives. For more on BC illustrator Bob Banks I(1923-2009) try: http://tomhawthorn.blogspot.com/2009/08/bob-banks-illustrator-1923-2009.html and https://buzzer.translink.ca/2009/05/a-fond-farewell-to-bob-banks-1923-2009/

Images in order:
1. Century Sam, fiberglass figure. 2007.18.1
2. 2007.73.21 Invitation to British Columbia’s 100th birthday.
3. 2007.73.20 “BC-ing you” travel folder, 1958.
4. 2007.73.61 Jacket patch, 1958.
5. 2007.73.28. Riley’s Toffee tin, 1958.
6. 2007.73.60 Souvenir pennant, 1958.
7. 2007.73.33 Button, 1966?
8. 2007.73.24.1 Advertising matches, 1966-67.
9. 2007.139.1 Button, 1971.
10.Roger Elias and his son, with Century Sam on the family lawn on the day of their donation to the Royal British Columbia Museum, 2007. Photographer Dr. Lorne Hammond.

This object selected by Dr. Lorne Hammond, Curator of History.