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saga of Sam the Axeman

30-foot fiberglass lumberjack captured the imagination, drew in tourists and drummed up controversy


Duncan, B.C.'s got the world's biggest hockey stick, Vegreville, Alberta's got the world's biggest Easter egg and Saskatchewanwell, they've made an entire industry around the "world's biggest" moniker - there's a paperclip, a loonie, a moose, a gopher and a kielbasa, just to name a few.

Folks in these towns revel in their kitschy attraction, and more significantly the tourists drawn to them every year. But in Squamish, the love just wasn't there for the 30-foot, fiberglass logger, Sam the Axeman. And in late May, the town's council asked that he be taken down from his perch beside the beautiful Adventure Centre, home of the Squamish visitor information office.

The decision did not sit well with some.

"I'm totally pissed off Sam the Axe Man was removed from the Adventure Centre," wrote Squamish councillor Bryan Raiser in his June 28 newsletter.

The Sam saga began in 2003, when Squamish Days Loggers Sports festival president Bryan Couture bought the massive prop and erected it next to Highway 99 to commemorate the annual B.C. Day long weekend event.

It went up in the weeks preceding the festival, and came down shortly afterward in peace and tranquility for six years.

Then it was decided Sam would stay up throughout the Olympics.

The sight of the giant lumberjack overlooking Highway 99 stopped vehicles, drew untold camera lenses and crowds to the nearby Adventure Centre, and left visitors with a slightly better idea of what Squamish was about.

All in all, a winning tourism strategy.

But behind the scenes, an increasing number of environmentally-minded residents drawn to the area's natural surroundings were changing the way Squamish viewed its logging history. And to those wanting to show Squamish's sophisticated side the cartoonish giant was deemed an "absolute eyesore."

So in hopes of pleasing everyone, within two months of the Olympic Games closing ceremonies, Couture was asked to take Sam down and bring him back only in the weeks leading up to Squamish Days Loggers Sports. But Sam did not go quietly.

Young Vancouver resident Robyn Murray, who called the statue an "icon," summed up the affection some had come to feel for Sam in his Facebook petition.

"Any day, rain or shine, Sam is welcoming people to Squamish and will gladly have his picture taken with anyone who stops in at the Adventure Centre."

Then came a back-to-back Vancouver Sun article declaring that Sam had been "beheaded and banished" from Squamish, and a CBC Radio interview with "the voice of Loggers Sports," Al McIntosh, who had MC'd the competition for 47 years, denouncing Sam's removal as a slap in the face to the people who built the town back in its logging heyday.

Mayor Greg Gardner publicly admonished the Sun for using the term "banished," saying councillors had hosted the statue through the Olympics despite opposition -he did not go into what kind of opposition. He reiterated his conclusion that tourists did not make an explicit trip to Squamish just for Sam and left it at that.

The damage was done, and it appeared Sam would not grace Highway 99 again -at least not this year.

However one highway-side business, keenly sensing a way to divert traffic into its parking lot, struck a deal with Couture in early June. Now Sam can be seen gazing down at northbound highway travellers, just a few miles away from his former spot, in the Chances Casino parking lot.

"It'll be good for Loggers Sports, it will be excellent for the casino and it will be good for Squamish," said Chances general manager D'Arcy Stuart.

"[Chances] is a major sponsor of Squamish Days this year," said Couture. "They're kind of helping us and we're kind of helping them."

But the matter remains a sore spot for some.

"Regardless of your opinion of tacky tourist lures or our logging history, it is undeniable that he actually got people off the highway and out of their cars," said Coun. Raiser. "Our community has spent countless millions of dollars trying to figure out a way to get people to do just that and when we finally do, he gets removed.

"So now, instead of getting people off the highway to our Adventure Centre he's getting people to gamble. That's kind of sad."

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